I observe my birthday each year by taking a trip out of the country. While the actual date is yet two weeks away, I've already completed the first leg of this year's journey. I'm currently in Hohhot, capital of Inner (Chinese) Mongolia. I'm travelling together with Meengday, we came here by rail from Urumqi. We plan to spend two to three weeks crossing Mongolia itself, then returning to China.
The trip has been fairly smooth so far, I'm always surprised how conditions continually improve each time I take a train across China. The first line, an overnight train to a small city in Gansu Province, was clean and comfortable. Tickets for the journey to Hohhot from Gansu were unavailable in Urumqi, so we had to take a chance that tickets would be available for the connecting train. Not only were we able to buy the connecting tickets, but other travelers at the station seemed far more willing to wait in order, rather than scrum together and cut in line the way I expect at Chinese railway stations. The Hohhot station seems similarly civil, I hope this is the start of a trend.
Hohhot doesn't strike me as a terribly interesting place, it's not very different from many other cities around China. While here I had been hoping to buy some scrolls of Mongolian calligraphy, though that's proven more difficult than I expected. Mongolian doesn't seem to be that widely spoken around Hohhot, for whatever reason such artwork isn't common. We wound up tracking down a professor of Mongolian studies at Inner Mongolia University who seemed a bit confused as to who I was and what I wanted. He kindly gave me one of his recent artworks and a book for studying the Mongolian language.
I don't know if I'll acquire much of the Mongolian language, I haven't made any effort yet. I have skimmed enough though, to know that I should drop the 'g' from Meengday's name. Reading and re-reading a Mongolian phrasebook I couldn't figure why there was no letter making an 'ng' sound. I finally asked Meenday herself, she said that in Mongolian her name is Meenday, the 'ng' sound I'd heard comes when saying her name in Chinese.
We went for a foot soak and massage last night. I go frequently with friends in Urumqi to get body massages and foot washes, so have high expectations. The service was mediocre and short, though there was an amusing encounter afterwards.
On our way out, a midget masseur came in: he couldn't have been half my height. Recognizing me as a foreigner he spoke what must have been the only words of English he knew: "I love you!" Again and again he repeated it, I'm sure he must have thought it meant something else. I could have answered in Chinese, but wasn't quite sure how to respond.
Finally he showed me what he wanted by turning me around and giving my back a good pounding. He was strong, giving a far better massage than the one I'd just received from the young, bored girl upstairs. I wasn't sure whether to be more confused or amused by the situation, being beaten by a midget who kept repeating, "I love you!" over and over.