The years go by, you are getting older and your parents have given up hope that you’ll ever find the appropriate life-partner on your own? In China, they will try to solve the problem for you. Held every Sunday afternoon at Beijing’s Zhongshan Park, the marriage market is a public gathering for desperate parents who somehow want to get rid of their educated, career-driven children, some of them still living at home.
Crowds gather in the park, standing up or leaning against trees, showing each other pictures of their children. Some of the senior citizens sit on low stools, worried frowns on their faces. They look at each other and read the information displayed on a piece of paper. The matchmaking cards consist of the most important facts: Body height and age, degree, current job position and annual income. It becomes more and more clear that this is a bazaar of some kind – with buyers and sellers and an advertised person to be traded.
Sunday afternoon marriage markets exist now in major Chinese cities. We were lucky enough to have found this one in Beijing and discretely tried to take some pictures. However, they came into existence only some years ago. Marriage in China was traditionally a private affair and publicly expressing interest in finding a spouse for their child would have caused the parents a loss of face.
Don’t get confused now, as there will be some more posts on China to show you how the journey from Beijing to Shanghai was like. My way south-east of Beijing had a good start staying at a friend’s place in Tianjin for a week, who had moved there only two weeks before. That’s what you call a nice break from travelling! We spent most of our time catching up, went with Chinese friends to karaoke, tried a Japanese restaurant where the cook prepared some flaming food called Teppanyaki exclusively for and in front of us – it was amazing! And the sushi was delicious, too.
As I continued my way to Jinan, I thought that only in China there seem to be cities, inhabited by millions of citizens, of which you have never heard before. Like Tianjin (13m) or Jinan (8m). In Jinan I was hosted by a Chinese family and ate potato-like vegetables I’ve never tried before. The impressive Thousand Buddha Cave with dozens of illuminated Buddha sculptures was worth a visit, but after two days in the city I became restless again and moved to Tai’an.
Together with Beth from Wales I climbed the 7,000 steps of the holy Tai Shan mountain. We decided against walking up there in the night and the cold to see the sunrise – which is what many Chinese do – as witnessing the spectacle among hundreds of tourist heads next to each other wasn’t really what we were looking for. So I admit that the two beautiful pics were taken by my roommate! But still, we enjoyed our climb; having arrived on the top our legs burned badly and we were happy to take a rest and enjoy the view!
The Gobi is known for its incredible temperature variations, spanning from -40 to +50 degrees in winter and summer respectively. Already the difference from daytime to nighttime is quite remarkable, and we had to bring good sleeping bags.
By far not all of the Gobi is sand desert, there are also huge areas with rocks or sparse grass. It took a lot of driving to get to the Gurvansaikhan National Park, we spent six hours in the car for seven days in a row, but it was worthwhile. We got to see a lot of animals and stunning landscape, from rock formations to sand dunes with great sunsets and even one sunrise.
The roads are rather bumpy and fortunately the Mongols are not only fantastic drivers but even better mechanics. Each evening we checked into a ‘ger’, a tent of a nomadic family, and enjoyed the excellent food of our Mongolian cook. The Gobi was a fantastic experience of a wide open country with stunning sunsets, and we would have loved to spend more time in the sand dunes.
Now this is one of those places … a place which is so nice you wonder if you should share it with other people as it might get spoiled by too much tourism. Anyway. It takes a 20 hour bus ride plus three hours in a minivan to get to Hatgal on the southern lakeshore, formerly a boom town when there was still the Soviet Union and a lot of cross-border travel and trade 25 years ago. Now it is a small village and hub for excursions around the lake. Lake Khuvsgul or ‘Khövsgöl Nuur’ is – due to its depth of 262m – the second-most voluminous freshwater lake in Asia.
We, a group of seven that met in Ulan Baatar and shared the interest of a horse-riding trip at the lake, were among the last tourists for this summer season, as it was getting colder every day and temperatures got well below zero at night. We arranged for two local guides and some friendly Mongolian horses, which are usually good-natured and smaller than European ones, at least to my knowledge. None of us had a lot of riding experience, but we got along quite well.
The six-day ride got us to hot springs near the lake, traversing a lot of grassland and some forests. The air was just crystal clear and fantastic, the views were scenic, the days sunny and the nights, which we spent in our tents or in local gers (fixed comfortable tents of Mongolians), were very cold with starry skies. Pack horses carried our own food, pasta and rice with canned meat or fish, cooked over a campfire. It was just a great experience and I really got to love this remote country with its weather-beaten, heartily and friendly people.