Saturday, March 28, 2009
Soon after we came to China our friend Matt Chivian sent us pictures of a hanging monastery in northern China. A little research and a trip to Datong quickly went to the top of our list. The weekend of March 13-15, we joined the China Culture Center on a trip. A night train on a “hard sleeper” (6 bunks per cabin) brought us to Datong -- near Inner Mongolia -- at 6:20 am on Saturday morning. Breakfast and a chance to freshen up blew out the cobwebs and our group headed out to see the 1500 year old monastery perched on a cliff. En route we stopped to see a cave home of an elderly man. Apparently his home was wired for electricity, so along with the dirt floor and traditional bed, there was a satellite TV. A classic image of modern China.
The hanging monastery was impressive, particularly when you were not looking at the parking lot that adjoined the scene. It was quite amazing to walk in a spot that looked so delicate, but had withstood time, weather, politics, and all the other forces that wash away history. Buddhism, Daoism and Hinduism are all reflected in the imagery there. After lunch we saw the 9 dragon wall, and for dinner took a bus ride through a construction site to a good meal and chance to cut noodles.
After a good night’s sleep we went on Sunday to see the Yungang Grottoes – an amazing site of Buddahs carved several stories high into the side of a mountain. There were dozens and dozens of smaller caves with intricate carvings. There was also a section with 3 missing carvings taken by foreign “looters.” We were told they now sit in the Metropolitan Museum in NYC. We’ll definitely check out the Met when we return!
The train ride back was a 6 hour interesting ride through the arid countryside. This is coal country and the coal dust settled everywhere. The land had a barren field and you could see the small villages struggling to sustain a living for their residents. The train car was heated by a coal burning furnace at the end of the car, with a water spigot for hot water. The train personnel would occasionally walk by and shovel in some coal. The ride gave us more opportunity to talk with the wide range of expatriates who were on trip.