Hanging Monasteries of Datong

Our harrowing train experience brought us to Datong, a city known for two magnificent tourist attractions, the Yungang Caves and the Hanging Monasteries.


Short on time, we arranged a tour with CITS. They met us at the station, helped us find a sketchy hotel, booked the tour for us, and told us that Bin Laden had been killed. Surreal.


The day trip to both sites cost 100Yuan (about $15) without admission fees, which were about $15 each.

The monastery was originally built in 419, and rebuilt during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Support beams were inserted into the rock, and the poles you can see are only a backup. On busy days they absorb some of the weight, but when we went you could move the beams with a light push.

I couldn’t believe how big the monastery was. There were over 40 rooms, some filled with Buddhist statues, some with intricate carvings. My favourite details were these tile figures on the roof. These number of these decorations represented how important a particular building was, with some buildings at the forbidden city having 12 statues.

This site alone was worth the trip to Datong, although I would not recommend pushing on the poles if, like me, you have a slight fear of heights.

 

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Hilarious English Menu Translations

It’s incredibly easy to travel in China when you speak English. In most restaurants we went to, even outside of Beijing, the menu had been thoughtfully translated into English. However, some of the translations had quite obviously never been checked by a native speaker.

A few of my favourites.

Whets the appetite fish head emperor indeed!

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Train Madness in China

 

Here’s a tip. Don’t ride the train in China on a national holiday.

We decided to take the train to Datong on May 2nd, the day after the national holiday. However, since May 1st fell on a Sunday, everyone had May 2nd off. Used to the efficiency and general awesomeness of Japanese trains, we arrived at the station twenty minutes early, full of confidence. From there, chaos ensued.

Chinese train stations have security check points, a factor we did not count on. No matter, still plenty of time. We entered the station and split up looking for food for the 6 hour journey, with vague plans to meet on the platform. This is where things really got crazy. Three of us grabbed McDonald’s and headed to the platform, which we had guessed was 7, since that was the only number on the board listing our train. Turns out our train left from platform 9. Figuring our travel companions would work it out, we headed to 9.

Upon our arrival with 5 minutes before departure, a hassled looking attendant looked at us in shock and gestured ‘run! run!’ We ran the length of the train until arriving at our car where we were shocked to see there was no room for us to get on. The attendant kept gesturing for us to board, but there were people standing in the entrance way and more people beyond them. We squished our way on, gigantic backpacks and all, as the attendant pushed on more people behind us.

This picture was taken after about a third of the people left the train.

We were on, but had no hope of reaching our seats. As I resigned myself to standing for 6 hours, several people tried to push past me. Inspired by their bravery I followed, stepping on peoples toes, hitting people with my backpack, and literally being lifted off my feet by the sea of people. At one point I was standing on someones seat to get around a man with a gigantic feed bag. Just as I was starting to have hope that I would one day reach my seat at the end of the compartment I noticed a ruckus ahead of me. Someone was actually trying to get the food cart through this mess. At this point I couldn’t do anything but laugh.

Crazy Food Cart Lady

About 40 minutes after boarding the train we reached our seats, where we kicked some unhappy Chinese people out and settled in. In my attempt to free some space I put my smaller backpack on the shelf above us, at which time my water bottle fell out, which hit the coke I had so recently secured a small space for on the shared table, which spilled all over a child’s homework. Luckily, he forgave me, and spent the rest of the train trip trying out his English and showing me magic tricks.

Scott and Alicia, sweaty, tired and relieved to have found our seats

So, if you take the train on a national holiday, learn from our mistakes and show up early. Our friends missed the train all together and had to catch the next one in. Luckily we had a happy reunion with them at the Yungang Caves!

 

 

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Sad Mascots

We felt bad for these mascots, faded and fenced away after their brief moment of glory.

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Olympic Dreams in Beijing

Our first day Beijing we did not go to Tiananmen square, or to the Forbidden City, or even to the Summer Palace. No, we went to the Olympic Park. Ok, so maybe our sightseeing priorites were out of wack, but we had so much fun!

The instant we stepped off the subway we were hit by strong winds blowing the infamous Chinese ‘yellow dust’. Although we were 500m away from the Bird’s Nest stadium, we could barely see it! We whipped our our Umbrellas to shield ourselves, and noticed that a sweet photo opportunity awaited us.

Shortly after this photo was taken, one umbrella lost its head to the wind, and it went flying directly into a small child. Luckily no one was injured, and the umbrella lived on for more pictures.

We walked to the Bird’s Nest, but due to concert preparation we could not get in. We did not figure this out very soon though, and had to walk around the entire stadium before we noticed no doors were open. No matter, more photo oppurtunities!

 

After this grueling morning of subway riding and walking, we stopped by the food tent in the Olympic park, which was amazing. You could put money on a card and use it all this different booths along a long tent. I spent all my money on dumplings (and some raspberry gelato).

We headed to the Water Cube after lunch.

For about 10 dollars you can get into the watercube and for 10 dollars more you could go to the sweet waterpark they’ve built inside it.

We just checked out the Olympic and warm up pools – where there was an episode of the Amazing Race – and headed out again.

I’m glad I got the chance to see these iconic buildings, but mostly glad I got to eat dumplings… Dumplings!

 

 

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I’m Back! China Overview

We got back from China yesterday. It was lovely to come back to Japan. I’m starting to think of it as my home, and will miss it when I leave! Also, the toilets here have toilet paper in them!

Here’s a brief overview of what we did in China.

 

Toured Beijing: Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Olympic Stadium, Tianemen Square and many others

 

The gate to the Forbidden City

This is as close as we could get to the bird's nest.

Visited Datong to see the Hanging Monasteries and the Yungang Caves

The Hanging Monasteries in Datong. Those pillars don't actually support any weight.

Yungang Caves in Datong

Yungang Caves in Datong

Slept on the Great Wall of China!

GREAT WALL!!!

and of course, ate a lot of delicious food.

Mmm.... Food.

 

I’ll write about it more soon, but in general it was a really good time and I can’t wait to go back someday.

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