Saturday, June 27: Datong, China
9:00 We leave the hotel in Datong and set out for the Yungang Grottoes which are an easy 15 km drive outside the city.
9:53 After encountering closed roads and several detours, we decide to turn back and try again tomorrow.
9:57 Jason is on his phone and finds an alternate route that isn’t shown on the GPS
10:40 We arrive at the Yungang Grottoes, home to 51,000 carved Buddhas. Yes, fifty-one thousand. The 252 caves and grottoes were built into a sandstone cliff and date back to the 5th century. … The infrastructure at the grottoes is excellent but it’s not something that means much to me. The museum was very well done but the elaborate entrance gates, parking lots, bathrooms, a restaurant and retail complex, cafes, granite paved walkways, and manicured parks give the whole place a Disney-esque feel. The Chinese are very good at building infrastructure but in places like this it’s of dubious value. Personally, I’d be just as happy parking the truck on the side of a rural road and scrambling up a dirt path to view the caves.
14:30 We head back to the city and the sports bar where Duncan wants to watch Super Rugby Semi-Finals (Hurricanes vs Brumbies). It turns out that the sports bar is closed so we pile into two cabs and race across town to a second bar. It’s open but the wifi isn’t good enough to stream video. We get back in two more cabs and head to the closest business class hotel. Their wifi sucks as well. The beer was cheap at the first place do we return and settle for a choppy audio feed. Duncan is a (Wellington, New Zealand) Hurricanes fan and they win and are headedto the finals. The combination of a winning team, plenty of cold beer and McDonalds take-out leaves everyone in a very good mood.
19:00. Back at the hotel we chat with a group of men who perform traditional Chinese opera. We’re invited to their performance tomorrow night. I don’t think I can do ballet and opera in the same month. Watching their bus exit the parking lot is fun though.
23:00 I’m sitting in the lobby, downloading photos from my phone and uploading video to my site. A guy who’a in his early 20s comes in and sits down beside me. He sits about one foot to my right on a massive L-shaped sofa in a very big and very empty hotel lobby. I wonder why he’s sitting so close. He offers me a cigarette. I realize that he’s the guy who was outside smoking a few minutes earlier when I noticed him looking in the window at my laptop. I had just changed my Facebook profile photo to the rainbow flag in celebration of Pride Day and the SCOTUS decision permitting same sex marriage in the US. I realize that he saw this and was probably curious. He doesn’t speak much English but we establish that his name is Bo Bai (spelling?). He wants to see my Mongolia photos and he clearly likes the video shot from the roof seats. I stay up past 1:00 a.m. showing him photos of my trip. He finishes his pack of cigarettes and we say goodnight.