The 7th graders of the Canadian International School of Hong Kong arrived in Chifeng on a rare rainy evening, an unexpected if not fortuitous omen for the week to come on the arid grasslands of Inner Mongolia – click here for more information on the We Khan Do It Inner Mongolia Program. For many of the students, this was their first experience coming up to the mainland. So after a restful first night’s sleep, we hit the ground running. To get a better sense of what local student life is like up north, we visited a local vocational high school for a morning filled with activities designed to bring the students out of their comfort zones and learn a little bit about local culinary tradition, artistic tradition, and dance performance. After a hearty lunch with the local students in the school cafeteria, we said our goodbyes and hit the road.

Next stop was Nanshan Park for the first-ever Hutong Hunt Through History where we were greeted by three major characters from Mongolian history: Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan, and Xiao Zhuang. Played by our very own Hutong hooligans, students had to interact with these famous Mongolians and answer questions about each character’s life story. students then climbed up to the top of the park before taking their turn at performing each character’s epic tale for their peers in our natural amphitheater with the Chifeng valley skyline adorning the backdrop. Meeting the legendary characters from Mongolian history gave our intrepid explorers an introduction into the culture of the lands we would be exploring for the rest of the week.

The next morning, after a hearty Mongolian breakfast, we hit the road heading north towards the town of Wudan, anticipating our Mapquest Challenge that would test our orienteering skills. Our students roamed the streets of this small town, meeting a veritable cast of characters including a local tea expert and a traditional Mongolian clothing designer, all the while paying attention not to lose their sense of direction in the bright midday sun. After a hearty lunch, we set off for the Yulong Desert, home of the mysterious Jade Dragon, the most prominent symbol of the ancient Hongshan culture, unearthed nearby. Visiting the park and climbing high up into the dunes, our students were able to see the challenges posed by drought and desertification that are only one small part of the broader negative environmental trends plaguing the region.

After leaving the Yulong Desert Park, we headed for the nearby village of Aershan where the students split off into groups to meet their homestay families for the evening. These ethnic Mongolians, originally nomadic herders, opened up their homes with warm hospitality and gave our students insight into a whole different world beyond what they were familiar with coming from Hong Kong. Sleeping on traditional kang beds, sipping the local salty tea and being awakened by the call of the rooster at the crack of dawn were experiences we hope they will remember for a long time to come.

We said our goodbyes and hit the road for the main attraction of our visit to the region: the rolling grasslands and never-ending horizon of the Mongolian Steppe. We walked along the banks of the picturesque Dalinor Lake and up a nearby hill to the foot of one of Mongolia’s omnipresent wind turbines where we met a local scientist who answered students’ questions about their history and maintenance. Afterwards, we headed for our yurt camp where we were greeted by the traditional Hada ceremony upon arrival. We checked into our traditional Mongolian yurts where we’d be staying the night. The temperatures began to drop after sunset. The perfect moment for a Mongolian bonfire and dance party to remember on our last night under the stars.