So if you decide to go to Inner Mongolia and run a marathon, my only piece of advice is to leave on Sunday morning with the rest of the crowd. I stayed a few extra days to explore the town, bond with noodle shop owners and take advantage of the hotel’s free Internet access.

The challenges arose when it was time to get back to the airport in Xilinhot. The day before I left I went to the non-English speaking front desk. They connected me to the Nordic way’s Chinese liaison (who was already back in Beijing). She assured me that a bus would pick me up the next at a five in the morning so I could catch my morning flight. Yeah right.

Bus-less at 5:30 the next morning I decided to take matters into my own hands. I knew there was a long-distance bus to the big city but odds were that it would not be leaving in the next twenty minutes. Not wanting to waste precious time on a bus that probably wasn’t going to work anyways; I threw some money at the problem and hailed a cab.

My conversation with the cabbie went like this:

Me: “Xilinhot”

Him: “Xilinhot?”

Me: “Xilinhot!”

Him: “Xilinhot?”  

After about five minutes of that we finally reached this:

Him: “Ahhh! Xilinhot!!! Okay.” He stretched his arms wide to indicate that it was far away. Yeah, thanks buddy. I know.

Then the negotiations started. We finally settled on 400 RMB ($60) for the three hour trip. It was a mild rip off as I’d been on a nine hour jaunt through the countryside the day before for the same price, but whatever. Desperation is a bad place to be bargaining from. And it was cheaper than missing both my flights. Luckily my cab driver was a good man and did not pull over in the middle of nowhere to demand more money.

Once in Xilinhot the cabbie had no idea where the airport was, a problem he solved by shouting direction requests at motorcycle riders while waiting at red lights. Good thing Mongolian men don’t have an aversion to asking for directions. We pulled up the airport thirty minutes before take-off, as the plane was boarding. Luckily this was more than enough time to navigate the airport which had all of three terminals.

My flights to Beijing and Hangzhou were blissfully uneventful. I was picked up by two Chinese student-teachers who would be working at the New Oriental School. They took me to the main offices where I was greeted by a frazzled man. I recognized the look in his eyes – it’s the same one my school office manager in Las Vegas got when six teachers called out sick and no subs were showing up. I brace myself.

“Hi. You are Jennifer? This will be your classroom. Just for tomorrow. You teach from 2:00 to 3:00, okay?” The guy says in lieu of an introduction.

“Okay,” I reply, trying not to roll my eyes as he explained that this was NOT summer camp I’d signed up to teach (“just a little extra”), he’d find a textbook for me, and I’d have to take a taxi from my residence. The next day I dutifully prepare my lesson (sans textbook), show up to my class, and teach for an hour. As I’m preparing to leave a Chinese teacher informs me that I actually have to teach these kids until 5:30. And I had to come back tomorrow at 1:30.  

Welcome to the New Oriental School.

Oh, and my residence? Here it is: