Sunday, June 28: Datong, China
8:30 We’re loading the truck and Bo Bai comes out to say goodbye. He wants a photo so several are taken. Some of his colleagues want to look inside the truck. I’m sure they’re wondering if westerners actually pay to ride in this thing.
9:00 On the way out of Datong we pass coal mines, coal-fired power and steel plants, and large tracts of unfinished apartment blocks. Jason explains that these units have been sold but not yet finished. It seems odd that so many are in the same stage of construction — concrete poured but lacking windows and interior finishing.
10:30 We arrive at the “hanging monastery” which is built into the side of a cliff in a wide, deep gorge. The truck is swarmed with onlookers as soon as we pull into the parking lot. Again, most of the men want to see inside the truck. Tours are provided and many, many photos are taken.
10:40 It takes about 90 minutes to do a complete circuit through the hanging monastery structure. I find it interesting but I’m not sure how authentic it is. The wear-and-tear on the structure suggests that it’s at least 100 years old, but I wonder why they’d build a monastery that’s only 2 or 3 meters wide and not very functional. It does make a fine tourist stop though.
13:10 We stop at what looks like a respectable tuck stop. The bathroom consists of a large room with three holes in the floor. The bathroom structure is cantilevered over a field. Farm workers can be seen working below. At least this one has 2’ high privacy walls between each of the holes. This is a rarity in rural China (and the Beijing hutongs) where people squat side-by-side and often carry on a conversation.
13:20 Lunch is great but the bathroom at the restaurant is only one step up from the truck stop. Revolting!
14:00 Jason attempts to teach some of us a Chinese card game. I’m incapable of learning this game and the others are only slightly more competent. It’s suggested that we play Blackjack for pennies but even this fails to gain traction. The passing scenery is simply more compelling.
15:00 We enter Wutai Mountain Park. Mount Wutai is one of the four sacred Buddhist Mountains of China and home to several monasteries. Everyone must get off the truck, pay a nominal admission fee, pass through a turnstile, then re-board the truck that has moved forward about 5 meters. A sign at the gate indicates “monks with specialized espionage certificates are free of charge.”
17:30 We arrive at Jiao Tong Hotel. Another group is staying at the hotel and will be leaving at 3:30 a.m. We’re warned that they may be noisy and we’re given the option of moving to a sister hotel that should be quieter. We’ve seen this place, it looks okay, so we decide to stay.
18:30 The other group turns out to be about 12 middle-aged to senior women. How loud can they possibly be? About as loud as 10,000 kindergarten children at recess, that’s how loud. Unbelievable.
19:30 The ladies go to bed early so we take over the dining room. Jason handles the ordering and within 20 minutes another phenomenal meal appears at the table. I’m in bed before midnight. The hotel is finally silent.