Ever since my sister travelled to Mongolia in 2014 as part of our school’s Challenge Week, which encourages students to “broaden their horizons”, I had wanted to visit the East Asian country myself.
I was drawn to the cold weather there because I’ve always been a winter person, but more than that, I really wanted to escape the bustling Hong Kong city life and experience a world of tranquillity, simplicity, and peace. So, when my turn came to choose how to spend Challenge Week, I jumped on the opportunity to follow in my sisters footsteps and go to Mongolia.
After spending a few days in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, we drove by bus to the outskirts of the city into Mongolia’s more rural areas. Through the window, I watched the scenery outside change drastically before my eyes. What were buildings and stores selling cashmere had melted into endless mountains and an infinite space that would’ve been completely empty if it weren’t for the specks of grazing horses and cows.
I could immediately sense the serenity, and almost stillness, that I had been craving. At the heart of this peaceful land were the Mongolian gers – traditional, round tents covered with skins or felt. They are used for shelter by the local nomads.
I went on this trip especially excited to experience living in a ger, although the one we lived in was built into the ground, unlike the portable ones nomads use. We were told beforehand that there would be no showers, and that we would need to bring our own sleeping bags to sleep in.
I didn’t think this would be much of a problem, and I did my best to keep clean and fresh with the wet wipes and dry shampoo that I brought along. But after continuous days of hiking, it became almost impossible to keep my hair from becoming greasy and smelling like soil.
Inside the tent there is a stove that would provide warmth. But this would only last a few hours and would sometimes suddenly turn off. At night, when the temperature would go down to -15 degrees Celsius, you would hear the campers pleading for the “fire lady” to come and reset their fire.
You might think that I couldn’t wait to return to my flat back in Hong Kong, but I loved living in a ger, despite all those difficulties. Although our camp was far away from the city centre, I never felt lonely or missed modern city life.
On our second day at the camp, we visited the home of a nomadic woman nicknamed Cheese Lady. As you could guess, she made cheese for a living. She offered us cheese that she had prepared earlier, and we asked her questions about her job and her life, which she answered as she prepared more cheese over the stove.
“I had always watched and helped my mother make her cheese ever since I was little. I began to be able to do it myself when I was around eight years old.”
When I asked her if she saw cheese-making only as a job, she said with a smile in her eyes, “No, I have always loved it. It’s a family tradition.”
She almost seemed surprised by the question. In the beginning I thought surely a girl would dream of doing more than just making cheese her whole life. But after hearing her answer and watching her happily prepare cheese for us, I understood why she did it.
This made me realise that in today’s world, people are constantly wanting more in life. It’s so easy to forget to be grateful for what we have, and appreciate the little things. We can get so consumed by non-stop deadlines and social activities we have planned that we find it difficult to make time to care for one another.
I was touched by Cheese Lady’s kindness and hospitality, and it reminded me to be considerate and respectful towards those around me because despite language barriers or cultural differences, we are all still people.