Tall Tales: Travels in Inner Mongolia

Xi Shun sang us a traditional Mongolian song, then we got to the drinking. In China, when you are dining with new people, there are a thousand toasts: long, flowery speeches after which one must chug whatever is in the glass. This night it was the local beer, which is better for avoiding a hangover, but not so good for bloating. By the time our food came, we were so full from the beer that we didn't eat much. But by the end, we were all good friends, not to mention pretty drunk.

The next day, our group left for Ordos for the couple's traditional Mongolian wedding, which is extremely different from a Western wedding. The couple decided to get married in Ordos because the town paid for it — the government officials wanted the PR and Xi Shun wanted a free Mongolian wedding.

The city of Ordos, like many places in China, is developing rapidly with construction as far as the eye can see. Ordos' moneymaker is coal but luckily they don't burn so much of it in this part of China, so you can see bright, blue skies during the day and a trillion stars at night.

Xi Shun and his bride were married in the countryside, near a tourist area. The main attraction is the Mausoleum of Genghis Khan, the Mongolian warrior who conquered half of Asia. He is not actually buried here as his tomb has never been found, but it serves as his memorial.

We spent the first day interviewing the couple and shooting video around the countryside. We had a traditional Mongolian lunch with them, complete with an entire roasted lamb, milk tea and a lot more weird yogurt and cheese. We stayed at the same hotel as the betrothed couple, because they asked us to and it was also the wedding site — very convenient.

But then the city's communist party officials asked us to leave the hotel and drive an hour to Ordos city to stay with the horde of reporters who were in town to cover the wedding.

They did this both because they like to have foreign journalists where they can keep an eye on them, but also because they wanted us to see how developed the town was by staying at a fancy Holiday Inn, rather than at our previous hotel in the countryside, with all the yurts and water that runs brown for 60 seconds after you turn on the faucet.

After a short protest, we did as they asked — you have to pick your battles in China. It was the best Holiday Inn I've ever seen. The water pressure was excellent and they had New Zealand sauvignon blanc at the bar.

Finally, the wedding day arrived. We got up at 5 a.m. and drove to the hotel with the yurts and brown water and staked out our space before the massive onslaught of reporters took over the place.

A traditional Mongolian wedding goes something like this: Xi Shun, dressed in a colorful costume, comes out and enters a yurt where his relatives are waiting for him. They say a prayer to their ancestors. Then, Xi Shun gets in a large yurt on wheels, which is pulled by two ornery camels. He rides half a mile to the other yurts.

He meets with the bride's family and they have a mock debate about whether or not he's the man for her. Xi Shun wins the debate and goes next door to his wife's yurt to pick her up. The two of them travel back to the first yurt in the camel carriage for the reception. Picture it: hundreds of reporters with cameras chasing a camel-drawn yurt down the street. It was both brilliant and ridiculous.

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