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avant-garde_chauvintist wandering through the garden of ideals

Beer and skittles

CHINA | Monday, 21 January 2008 | Views [601]

Six hours out of Beijing, more enveloped by pollution, varying abilities of English (the sign outside a local bar had a huge sign screaming "BEER AND SKITTLES"; we laughed uncontrollably), and a whole new cultural experience.

I've been talking to all of my friends about traveling to Da Tong since I first read about it in my Lonely Planet (which as become sort of the Bible of my East Asian life). Mostly, I wanted to see this sleepy little coal mining town because of the Yungang Caves.

Old. Beautiful. Spiritual.

These caves are, of course, indescribable. Beautiful ancient carving after beautiful ancient carving in each of the 39 caves. They are painted. They are 1,500 years old. They are HUGE. They kind of remind me of Notre Dame in Paris.

The entire time we (Kari and her friend Joe) were wandering around, I kept thinking about what the people who found this must have thought. How ridiculous they must have thought the situation in which multiple 15+ meter high statues of Buddha could be found completely surrounded by literally thousands of smaller Buddha carvings. There are something like 51,000 carvings of Buddha and his incarnations in the Yungang Caves. Absolutely unreal.

But it doesn't seem to have sparked many preservation synapses in the brains of my beloved Chinese. Sure, there is a lovely park where all this is located (oddly enough made even more wonderful by the snow that just WOULDN'T STOP all day long). But each statue was covered in a quite thick layer of...grime? Coal? Pollution sediment? I don't know. But they needed a good cleaning.

Afterward, we treated ourselves to a lovely walk through the actual coal mining village. Some of the residents were so SHOCKED to see foreigners in their town that they opened their doors laughing hysterically. Others squeezed out "Nice to meet you" as we tried to ask where the Changcheng (Great Wall) is. Others kindly invited us in to get warm for a minute (and, of course, to get a closer look).

We did find that Changcheng, but the wall has been...walled...? Yep, geniuses that they are, the Chinese master plan obviously involved building a wall around that holy of holies national relic. Weird. But we were cold anyway, so we went back to the hotel.

Overall, an excellent trip. Wearing five shirts, four pairs of pants, two scarves, two pairs of gloves and socks, and two hats, I managed to keep pretty warm. And add another "cultural heavyweight" (quoted directly from the Lonely Planet) to my list of "seen" in the PRC.

Oh, and I've made a rather late New Year's resolution. I'm going to start studying Chinese one hour a day. Whether by myself or with Fiona, I'm bound to learn a lot.

Plans for the rest of the holiday have been made. I'm going to Harbin (to see some ice), Chengdu (pandas and spicey food), and Kunming (ethnic minorities!). No Thailand. I waited too late to buy the tickets. Perhaps another time. Right now I'm concentrating on packing for extremely different climates around China!

Tags: On the Road


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