Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dunhuang and Datong

Warning, warning: when this kind of clothing is for sale in the hotel gift shop, there may be problems with sand ahead.
My friend JE is visiting from Washington, giving me an excuse to be a tourist in different spots around China. First up was Dunhuang, in Gansu province, a stop (after Xian) on the Silk Road, and a place where cultures blend and you can sense the past. It's hard to imagine just how entrepreneurial one would have to be to cross these sand dunes on a camel, but it wasn't hard to sit on the rooftop of our hotel, the Dunhuang Silk Road Hotel, and enjoy a couple of gin and tonics and watch the sun set over those sand dunes.

One quick public service announcement: rolling down the sand dunes is not a great idea. As Bob said, I ended up not being able to develop any momentum, but I did end up with enough sand in my ears, hair, eyes, and pants pockets to start a brand new Silk Road of my own. Interestingly, we don't seem to have photo documentation of this lame-brained move, which is probably a good thing.
Dunhuang is very much a Muslim town, with dozens of halal restaurants lining the streets around the mosque.
Dunes from the rooftop bar of our hotel. Georgia O'Keefe would have liked it.
See those sand dunes behind Bob? Yep, we climbed them.
Lunch at a local farmhouse. Chinese dates on the menu, plus a chicken dish complete with head and feet. Yum.
Sand sculpture at the dunes. Ghengis, is that you?
A watchtower on the far western Great Wall. Not for climbing, though. Sigh.
After a fun weekend in Dunhuang, JE and I went to Datong, which is a bit of a Pingyao wannabe. But we did enjoy exploring the place, and seeing even more Buddhist caves, hanging monasteries, and a vista that was more green mountains and coal mines than sweeping sand dunes. Plus, vinegar.
The view from our hotel in Datong, which gives a sense of the new fake-old construction on the right, and the old-old in rubble and patched up hutong homes in front of us.
One of the hutong homes probably slated for demolition. 
The new-but-fake-old stuff is pretty, I'll grant that.
A peak into the Buddhist caves. Unlike those at Dunhuang, these caves are open to the elements and have been beaten up by coal-laden air, Japanese occupiers and Cultural Revolution thugs.
The caves at Datong.
So so many Buddhas.
Hanging out at the hanging monastery. 
Old folks take the sun in front of a temple in a Shanxi village.
My arty shot of the sun over the packed-dirt wall.
Rooftops at the hanging monastery.
And then finally, the piece de resistance: a vinegar fountain. Brilliant, pungent, foamy, and only-in-China.
After I finally got back to Beijing, I got a very cheerful cab driver, who chatted with me about the weather and apologized for having to turn off his air conditioning, since something was wrong with his car. This turned out to be quite true, since the cab died in the traffic circle just outside our apartment. I paid up and left the poor fellow peeking under his hood. By the time I ventured out again for lunch with Nora -- two beers and a Caesar salad in the 90-plus heat -- he was gone. I have to admit that while I do like looking at different places in China, I'm happy that I'll be in one spot for a while. I rewarded myself with the perfect antidote to the mafan of travel: beer, blogging, and a bath. Good times.