<A> Orange, yellow and red shoes...

Written by Jan 3, 2006 02:01
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In one hand, dozens of beds in the same train carriage, talkative Chinese people walking towards each other and trying to start a nice conversation, steaming lamb noodle soups all around…and in the other hand, just me forcing my senses to catch each image, each word, each smell. Like a new born baby, that has never seen the world before…that is exactly how I felt the first time I took a train by myself in China.
It didn’t matter if I had already been living in Beijing for two months and had already seen thousand of Chinese people in my way to the school, or if I had gone for lunch alone several times. Just the fact of knowing that you’re going to a place far away from all what you just began to get used with, far away from the people you met some months before, far away from the accent of the few Chinese words you can recognise, and when you know that you’re completely by your own, the world becomes more exciting, every face you see gives you the chance to open your mind to different cultural opinions, and everything you experience injects your heart twice emotion…

After having visited the Longmen Grottoes in Luoyan, Henan province, together with other 40 students of my school, I decided that it would be great to visit the ones in Datong to compare them, choose the best ones and visit them again in July with my family. So I checked out all nice places to visit in the north of Shanxi province, wrote down how to get in them, booked a nice hotel room and bought a stop wind jacket because of the cold wind… I had planned every detail in order not to have any problems alone in a city where I didn’t know anyone, couldn’t speak the language, and wasn’t able to read the signs. What I didn’t expect was that sometimes you cannot have such a fixed agenda, because travelling free without reservations, gives you the chance to experience unforgettable trips, as the one I had that weekend…

Having arrived to Datong early in the morning, a nice man took me to the bus station, rescuing me from the many private minibus drivers that were offering me absurd offers to go to the Hanging Monastery, my first stop.
He just let me to the tickets office and smiled…and then I just felt stupid… why do we always think that people don’t do anything for free, that they always search our money? Why just don’t think that they are trying to be nice and helpful, as I would do if I would see a lost foreigner in Spain?
I took the bus, and while my feet where literally freezing I saw another “guayguoren” coming in. He’s name was Will, from London, and after 5 minutes of talk, Anne from New York came in too and looked us with surprised and glad eyes…
Both were going to Wutaishan, a Buddhist mountain full with temples 5 hours far away from Datong. I told them my plans, and after telling me that I could see the grottoes and the Hanging monastery in just one day and that the city had nothing interesting to offer me…I just changed my plans! Why not continue to Wutaishan that morning, enjoy the place, the company and sleep there all together, and then come back to Datong the next morning, do the hanging monastery and then visiting the grottoes? I cancelled my hotel room in Datong, threw my plans into the paper bin and was ready for the adventure…what to see there, where to sleep, what to eat…all those worries were erased by the emotion.

Despite of the horrible cold inside the bus, I really enjoyed the ride. I couldn’t remove my eyes from the window…little farms with cows and pigs, roofs plenty with yellow dried corn cobs, a beautiful lake, the sight of the hanging monastery, and the sharp bend way to the top of the mountain, made the ride a wonder by itself.
After 5 hours, frozen feet, and an 80RMB entrance fee, the bus entered into the village and let us to one of the few hotels of the place that were opened by those dates. We paid 30 RMB each for a really crappy, cold and humid room…but I didn’t mind it because I was still thinking in the bright and yellow corn…

We walked from monastery to monastery until the sun hide completely behind of the biggest Buddhist Stupa in the town.
Maybe because of the fact that it was already November, we didn’t see any other tourists around the temples, and we were able to see all monks doing their daily activities without the pressure of being observed by dozens of tourists and feeling like monkeys acting in a circus.
I will never forget the image in the Yuanzhao temple of more than twenty pair of shoes waiting outside a room, while their owners where inside singing a Buddhist prayer that could be listened from the whole monastery, the smell of the burning incense bars, and some of the last sunshine rays warming my face while seating in a corner step…

The dinner in the vegetarian restaurant near the hotel was a ripped off, and the food wasn’t that good at all. They were trying to make us eat the most expensive dishes, and charged us 12RMB for a beer that should have cost no more than 6RMB. Actually restaurants were much more expensive than in any other places in China, maybe due to the high amount of tourists they receive during the warm months. And being used to get easy money from foreigners in summer, who wants to cut down prices in winter?

Next morning, when me and Will were still sleeping, Anne left the room at 6am to get her bus to Taiyuan…I listened the creaking of the door opening, and saw her curly hair leaving the room. “Wait” I told her, and when she turned to look me I just manage to say “Nice to meet you”, she smiled and left the place in a sleepy silence…Maybe because it was the first time I had joined unknown people during a trip, I felt really sorry when she left. I know we were together just for a day, but…it was a nice day.
At 8 o’clock my alarm rang, and I woke up Will, because in half an hour we needed to be ready to take our bus back to Datong.
The road in the top was frozen, it was so cold, that it began to snow and the little rivers where frozen. Despite of that, in the middle of nowhere, we picked lots of people coming from hidden farms between hills, whose faces where red and dry from the cutting wind.
We wanted to stop first in the Hanging Monastery, and then drive back to the city to take a 30 minutes ride to the grottoes. My train was leaving at 9pm, so we had enough time to see everything…
But what we were not expecting was to find a 3 hours traffic jam, summed up to the 5 hours of the regular way. The area is really famous for the extraction of coal, and huge trucks full with tonnes of this black material were cuing for kilometres…
And just in the middle of that caos were we both, inside our pink bus, just with an apple to eat.
Anyway the view from my seat was great, and the hours passed like minutes, while remembering the monk’s prayer.

We arrived into the Hanging Monastery, a monastery that would be like any others if it wouldn’t have been built where it was…in the middle of a cliff! Supported by a wooden structure, stuck fast in the hart surface of the cliff, it is just a pair of meters wide…I wonder what do they used to do when two monks going in different directions met in the middle of their ways…
Once we “climbed” the stairs of it narrow corridors, we realized that we wouldn’t have enough time to visit the Grottoes that day, and despite of my first interest of visiting them, I didn’t mind it…my journey had already been a success…

Will and I divided our ways in the train station…It’s so funny how easily people meet each other, and how much more easily then they go away.
The slow and continuous movement of the train going back to Beijing forced my eyes to close, but my heart was still dreaming with those shoes… Shoes that could explain so many different histories, so many different habits, so many different ways of thinking…orange, yellow and red shoes, completely opposite to the dark blue ones I always find in the big city of Beijing.

Patricia Cañellas Garcia

 More Datong Travel Reviews
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2. Stop by in Datong on the way from Beijing to Xian ELCABRON Feb 16, 2005 05:02
3. Travel to Datong CHEFINWUHAN from CN Feb 13, 2005 10:02
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