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The Secret Life of Inner Mongolian Beekeepers 内蒙古的养蜂人

The first thing we did after setting off from Aershan was to get hopelessly lost. We hadn’t counted on having no mobile phone reception or 3G signal this far north, depriving us of our Googlemaps lifeline and leaving us to find our way on our own, just us and our massively inadequate maps. I also asked a lot of local goat herders and shepherds for directions. 
I have exactly five maps for this area, three of them issued in China and very detailed, yet we’ve still failed to find many roads that exist in black and white on the map but not in reality, and failed to drive on roads that do exist but are now being diverted and upgraded. We’ve also driven right across pristine areas of blank map where no roads exist at all, except that we’re actually speeding down a new four lane highway built since our hopelessly primitive Chinese GPS was last programmed and our maps were last printed a year ago. We once drove on water for twenty kilometres, all four tonnes of us a pulsing blue dot hovering elegantly above the waves, but our wheels firmly hugging a thirty kilometre long bridge. Things move fast in China, and maps just can’t keep up.

So of course we did get utterly and completely lost, and had some minor domestic map-reading issues, and spent twenty fruitless minutes near the crest of a hill in the rain trying vainly to pick up a phone signal….but it did mean we met the Inner Mongolian beekeepers, which was very, very cool.

Lin Ming De and his wife Wang Gui Qin keep bees in a field of brilliant yellow rapeseed right where Inner Mongolia and Mongolia proper meet.  We’ve seen many itinerant beekeepers camped near flowering fields since arriving in Inner Mongolia, but something else set these beekeepers apart and made us stop immediately. They were living in a homemade RV.
Lin met us still in his beekeepers straw hat, the net rolled up over the brim. His large spectacles reflected the sunlight and he wore a cream shirt tucked into tightly belted cream trousers that were way too big.
Bees were everywhere, from the forty beehive boxes standing just south of the field and right next to his truck. He waved us in to sit on tiny stools under the outside awning, took off his hat and set to rolling a cigarette from a little pink and white cardboard box full of flaky fragrant tobacco.

Wang Gui Qin, seemingly glad of company other than bees and her husband, fussed over the children and made us a glass of honey water to drink from their freshly harvested flower honey, and brought us small sweet melons to eat.
She told us this was their first summer in the fields – Lin Ming De’s family had been looking after bees since 1959 in Ulanhot, but when the farmer nearby invited them to camp for the summer next to the rapeseed in order to help fertilize the flowers with their bees, they jumped at the chance.
So far, they were enjoying this more relaxing life. The move meant they were closer to their two daughters and their grandchildren, and their days were easy and slow. Wang Gui Qin felt so good she had given up taking her blood pressure tablets, although she did ask me to check her blood pressure with an old sphygmomanometer she kept inside the truck. 140/90. Not bad.

Let me explain a little about their home-made campervan. It was a regular old two tonne truck, painted light blue, and converted for living and travelling. Lin Ming De had replaced all the wall panels with wooden ones and installed heavy plastic ‘windows’ that could be propped open to catch the breeze. The back tray of the truck was permanently unfolded as an entry to the living area, with a long plank leading up to the back door. 
Inside was a comfortable double bed, and a small kitchen with a gas cooker. What didn’t fit inside, including two birds in their birdcage, was stored outside underneath the truck and guarded by the dog.
Lin Ming De told me it had taken him one month to convert the truck into a fangche. He was very proud of it.
It was extraordinary to think they had travelled two hundred kilometres with forty full beehive boxes stacked in the back to get to their current location.

Wang Gui Qin, hospitable and kind, made delicious egg noodles for us for lunch, and we drank more glasses of sweet honey water. The price of such honey? Wang Gui Qin had a nasty bee sting on her face, but she said she was used to it after so many years. She pressed two bottles of their wonderful honey into my hands as we left.
The people of the countryside here in Inner Mongolia have been so kind, welcoming and generous to us, and these bee keepers were no exception. We parted friends, nomads of different kinds, travelling in different directions. I hope one day we might meet again.
内蒙古的养蜂人

我们从阿尔山出发,首当其冲遇到的情况就是,我们迷路了。我们没料到在偏远的北方既没有3G网络,也没有手机信号。如此一来我们就要自己找路了,或是利用我们手中各式各样繁杂的地图,或是询问当地的牧羊人。

我们理所当然地迷路了,不得不原路返回,然后碰上了一场暴雨……但我们遇见了内蒙古的养蜂人,酷极了!

林明德和他的太太王桂琴在五岔沟附近的田野上养蜂。自从我们抵达内蒙古后,一路上看到许多养蜂人宿营在处于花期的田地上。但是他们彼此互相独立,而我们一见到他们也会立即止步,因为他们住在自制的房车上!

林看见我们时仍带着他的养蜂人的帽子,帽沿卷着网格纱。他带着反射日光的大眼镜,穿着淡黄色的衬衫,衬衫的下摆紧紧地束在同样淡黄色的裤子里,看上去身形真魁梧。
一片油菜花地的南边架着四十个蜂房,蜜蜂漫天飞舞。林像我们挥手示意让我们去房车外的帐篷里坐。

让我先解释一下他的房车。这是一辆普通的载重两吨的卡车,刷成了淡蓝色,变成了居住、旅行两用车。卡车尾部一直开着作为入口通往里面的生活区,生活区里有张很舒服的床,窗户由厚厚的塑料制成,还有一个配有煤气炉的小厨房。生活区了装不下的东西包括装在笼子里的鸟等等,都储藏在外面,位于车体的下方,由狗看守着。

林明德告诉我他花了一个月的时间将卡车改装成房车,他特别以此为豪。

他的妻子告诉我们这是他们第一次在田野里过夏天。林明德的家族从1959年起就在乌兰浩特照看蜜蜂,但当附近的农民邀请他们夏天到油菜地附近宿营,以让蜜蜂为其授粉时,他们欣然答应了。
到目前为止,他们很享受这种轻松的生活。他们搬家意味着他们离两个女儿和外甥们更近,他们的日子惬意而悠闲。

王桂琴热情好客,午饭为我们做了可口的鸡蛋面,我们喝了好几杯新鲜蜂蜜调制的甜蜂蜜水。这样的蜂蜜价值几许呢?有一只调皮的蜜蜂蜇了王桂琴的脸一下,但是她却说这么多年来她已经习惯了。我们临走时,她硬塞了两瓶他们超赞的蜂蜜给我。

此处内蒙古乡间的人们对我们是如此的亲切、热情和慷慨,这些养蜂人当然也不例外。我们挥别了朋友,不同的游牧部落的朋友,向着不同的方向旅行。我希望有一天我们能再次见面。