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Baotou and Wudang Temple

On Thursday, July 11, I traveled by bus to Baotou , a city about two hours west of Hohhot . It turned out that it is about twice as large as Hohhot , which is unusual in China . Usually the capital city is the largest city in the province. Baotou is large in that it is very spread out. From the time I got off the bus until I arrived at John's school, was 45 minutes. It has very wide streets, green parks, and modern buildings. I met John and his brother Matt, who has had a really great adventure this summer, working on an archaeological dig in Mongolia, the country, and was with John until he finished school and then they will travel in China; their father will come in early August and they will continue to travel, ending up in Beijing before Matt and their dad fly back to the US. I actually was with them in Xi’an ; I arrived in Xi'an on Saturday and they got there on Monday. We all, Abby, Sarah, Matt, John, and I, had dinner together on Monday evening. And will be with them in Beijing . They will leave on the same plane carrying Abby and Sarah back home.

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The sculpture above is a centerpiece of the middle school which houses the program John teaches in. He does not teach the middle school students, but middle school teachers, mostly from outlying towns and villages; they use classrooms at this school. The sculpture's number 9 represents the name of the school: Number Nine Middle School. The walkway behind John leads to the building where his classes are held. The bank building on the right is just to illustrate an interesting practice in Inner Mongolia. All official buildings include the language of the Inner Mongolians and Chinese, even though few people can read the Inner Mongolian language. The written language of Inner Mongolia is not the same as the written language of Mongolia, the country, for some reason.

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I attended a banquet the students held to celebrate the close of their program and to cement their deep friendships that had formed in this semester they have been together. They ranged in age from mid-20s to early 30s, I would gather, and come from towns and villages out of Baotou.

Pictured below are photos from the Wudang Temple, about two hours out of Baotou. See the longer story below. Pictured are shots of some of the nine major buildings, a photo of some of the prayer wheels that are common to Tibetan Buddhism, and two cute little girls who followed us everywhere and giggled whenever we looked at them. The plaque, or sign, in the bottom center row attracted me a lot. It is the name of that particular temple, written in four languages, from left: Mongolian (the country), Chinese, the Inner Mongolian written language, and Tibetan.

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(written report)

On Friday of my visit with John, while he was busy with school closing activities, his brother Matt and I arranged for a taxi to take us to a large Tibetan Buddhist temple complex about an hour or two out of Baotou . John had been there and suggested it was worthwhile. Again, we drove out into the low mountain range north of Baotou where we enjoyed the same kind of beauty that I had experienced going to the grasslands. Jining, Hohhot , and Baotou are sort of in a line running east and west, and there is this range of low mountains north of that line. In fact, the highway from Hohhot to Baotou follows the mountain range exactly. North of the highway is the mountain range, south is flat plains.

Apparently the road that would normally take us to the temple is under reconstruction, so we had to detour through several villages and for at least a mile, drove in a dry river bed, two or three times crossing the shallow stream that was running through it.

The Buddhism practiced in Inner Mongolia is apparently essentially Tibetan. I am not an expert on Buddhism, but I do know there are many branches. I think the Tibetan branch is called lamaism, hence the name Dalai Lama. This place goes back about 250 years to the late 1700s and is quite extensive. We enjoyed going from building to building looking at the walls covered with paintings, the low cushions which are still used by the monks for chanting and other forms of worship. The buildings were more interesting because of their age. The place did look old. It is still used as a temple, but as I don't know much about Tibetan Buddhism, I'm not sure who comes there. It is largely a tourist area now, though I think that many years ago, it was a thriving community, probably housing several thousand of the faithful and the monks and the living Buddha, or that seemed to be what they called the lama. I saw no one worshipping, as I would see in the southern temples, which are not Tibetan, but of course, the population in the south and the urban location of the temples makes the difference there.

Because of Matt's experience this summer, he was interested in the Mongolian aspect of the culture and we enjoyed talking about his experiences and my observations of China . He had worked on a dig in Mongolia , the country, out in the middle of nowhere that was excavating part of a burial ground dating back about 2000 years. He learned a lot about Mongolian culture and current customs. While I had not found many Mongolian people in my short time in Inner Mongolia , John said there were more Mongolians in Inner Mongolia than in the country of Mongolia . He said there was a large number in the Hohhot area; also, they are more likely to be in the rural areas rather than in the city, where the people are mostly Han Chinese.

We finally finished the tour of the nine major buildings, looked in the standard row of tourist shops, fended off the vendors of various services and merchandise, ate lunch at one of the restaurants, and returned to Baotou by the same rugged route.