Monday, May 09, 2005

Shanxi Province - Part II: Datong

We arrived in Datong around 5:00PM and followed the rest of the people out of the station. We had planned on stopping there for the night, checking out The Yungang Caves (host to many Buddhist statues and sculptures) and The Hanging Monastery the next day before moving on in the evening to Wutai Mountain. There weren't any distinctive features about the train station aside from the fact that it felt like we were being led into a gas chamber. At the exit, someone immediately corralled us into following him to get some information about lodgings and tours.

Lacking a better idea, we followed the man, hurrying on with another tourist, for a few meters until we heard quick footsteps approaching. Susan, one of the students I tutor, who also lives in our building back in Beijing, came running up to greet us with a big smile on her face. I said, "did you follow us?!" She told us that she was going with her parents to see The Yungang Caves, too. We talked briefly, gave Susan our cellphone number and then continued on to the tourist information center, although no one seemed to be there when we arrived. Our primary objective was to locate a cheap place to sleep for the night which, after asking a few of the local shopkeepers, we easily procured in a hotel across from the train station.

Datong, as someone told us later in our journey, is the most polluted city in China, rife with coal mines. Disordered and congested, it seemed like there was a grey film over everything. This picture doesn't really do the ugliness justice as many of the streets and walkways were even more covered with trash. Most of the traffic in the city was either bicycles, taxis, tuk-tuks or buses. We walked around in the center of town that evening, looking for a place to eat and just wandered around for a while. We settled down at a bar to enjoy a beer and eventually made our way to one of the finest hotels in town, where we enjoyed an excellent meal. We made our way back to our hotel happy and satisfied despite the depressing atmosphere of the city. We hadn't planned on staying there longer than one night, but I woke up sick.

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