One of the things that Grace loves to do is stand on the marble sill of the floor to ceiling windows (have I mentioned that this is a REALLY fancy hotel) of our 17th floor room and look out at the city before her. She squeals (loudly -- don't let anyone tell you that Deaf children are quiet) and sometimes taps/bats at me to make sure I am looking, too. I try to guess what has caught her attention, so I can share it with her and give her the sign, but there is so much to see, it's hard to know what exactly she is looking at.
A lot of times I think it's the traffic (of which there is certainly plenty), because she does the same thing in the van as we ride to various appointments and destinations (sitting on my lap, facing me, slightly restrained by the baby carrier -- no car seats in China!). She gets especially excited about buses. I am not sure I ever posted about the traffic when we were in Beijing, but suffice to say that it almost defies description. There are lanes, like at home, but they are seen as mainly suggestions. Cars (and motorcycles and motorized pedicabs and bicycles) weave in and out, turn across four lanes of on-coming traffic, etc. Drivers squeeze their cars into the tightest spaces you can imagine -- it's a little like riding the Knight bus! Amazingly we haven't really seen any accidents, although our guide Aggie told us that she got into a fender-bender on her way to the hotel for our Gotcha day.
Aggie (who was born and raised here) described Hohhot as "so backwards," but I think it is more fair to say that it is a city of contrasts, and in transition. Although small by China's standards (about 2 million people), it seemed like a big city to me, and especially to Joy (who lives in a town of 700 people). Parts of it are extremely modern -- the Sheraton where we stayed was easily the fanciest hotel either of us has ever been in, and there are tons of sky scrapers, fancy stores, a Smothsonian-quality museum of the geography, history, and culture of the province with a high-tech Science Museum going up next door, and construction everywhere. But at the same time, signs of the "old China" are everywhere, too -- crowded allies of shops; street vendors selling everything from pineapples (which are definitely not indigenous to this cold, dry place) to almonds to soup and fried items of unknown character; a grocery store where Aggie took us to buy snacks (swet-bland rice cookie/crackers, weird puffed-wheat chocolate cookies, these odd discs with pictures of cherries on the front of the bag that we never did open, and shelf-stable milk in little pouches) that reminded Joy of markets she's been in central America, low-rise industrial-looking apartment buildings with tons of bicycles lined up out front; cars sharing the street with motorbikes, bikes pulling carts, people pulling loads of boxes, clothes, etc., and in one part of town, horse-drawn carts. Signs of affluence (imported cars, Cartier stores, etc)and signs of poverty (men repairing bicycles on the street corner, day laborers lined up hoping for work) exist side by side. Aggie shared that she bought a car partially to help out her mother, who otherwise would have to take several buses to visit Aggie's grandmother, who lives in the village. The people of Hohhot, according to Aggie, live between two worlds.
Now that we are in Guangzhou (more on that one of these days), I'm especially appreciative to have had a chance to spend time in Inner Mongolia (other than for the obvious reason that that's where I became a mother). I feel like we got to see a really different part of the "real China" than in the bigger, more itnernational cities. It wasn't always easy -- very few people we encountered out and about spoke English, sometimes it felt a little overwhelming to figure out even something simple, like how to get something for dinner that Grace would eat and we would recognize, there was the constant fear of having to use a squatty potty (or worse, help Gracie to use one!), We didn't see any other non-Asian people while we were there and we got stared at a lot (not in a hostile way at all, but adopting families are not a commonplace there like they are here in Guangzhou. This did lead to the funniest moment of the trup: as we were going into the Inner Mongolia Museum (which Gracie did not like at all, btw - she is very afraid to large taxidermed animals and dinosaur skeletons), we were walking beside a mom and a little girl of about 8. She was practicing her "hello" on Joy and waving at Gracie. The mom looked at Grace, looked at me, and said in somewhat halting English "The father is Chinese?" What was there to say except "Yep."?
As we rode to the airport for our flight to GZ and Gracie bounced on my lap and shrieked in delight at all the buses, I took a last look around and was so thankful for the many gifts we were given there, most especially(as her various reports said) a "playful, active, and obstinate" three-year-old who is a "beautiful and love girl."