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Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Friday: Wicked Heat

The heat was so monstrous today, it felt as if my skin
would melt from the sweltering waves of hot air that
blew through the windows and encircled my body in a
halo of misery. Although my day was not awful, the
humidity hindered my ability to enjoy my journey and
travel in Beijing. Waking up early this morning, there
was a sense of excitement as my bags were packed and
my bed was made. Heading out the door, my first
destination was to the market to get some bread for
breakfast. Quite delicious. Taking the #7 to the train
station, the misery of my journey would begin as I
boarded the bus and waited for it to leave. Twenty
minutes later, we were on our way but then stopped and
waited for another hour at another destination. This
simply pissed me off as the driver is really only
supposed to stop of thirty minutes. Finally, heading
to Beijing, the bus ride was hot and crowded. There
seemed to be no escape from the heat of the sun. The
wind blew like heater on a cold winters day. Sweat
tricked down my back and the bend of my knees. In my
mind, the driver could not go fast enough. The journey
normally only takes four hours, but he turned it into
a painful six hour journey. Arriving in Beijing at the
main train station, food was my first thought.
Catching the subway, I headed to Donsito and ate some
bread for lunch. While drinking some cold peach juice
on the sidewalk a young African guy came up and talked
with me. He said that he was from Nigeria and thought
that he recognized me. Telling him of my frequent
trips to Beijing, he told me that he had lived in the
city for five months. We talked, and he kept insisting
that he had seen me in K.F.C. earlier in the day, but
I reassured him that he had not. He eventually had
some friends join us, but they did not stay to long.
They kept wanting me to go to a store with them, but
not knowing them, this was simply not going to happen.
Finally giving me his phone number, he said that the
next time that I am in Beijing to give him a call, and
he can hook me up with the Crack, Hash, Win or any
other designer drug. Not wanting to anger him, a smile
came across my face followed by a reassuring
handshake. Leaving the area, the rest of my afternoon
was spent shopping at markets and enjoying myself.
Beijing is a Chinese Tourist Mecca. One just simply
needs to be able to bargain. Although enjoying the
shopping, the weather was quite oppressive, so this
often led me to buy a coke at McDonalds in order to
cool off from the waves of wickedness. McDonalds
proved to be a haven from the misery on two occasion.
Once in the afternoon and another in the evening.
After wandering through many malls and outdoor
markets, my stomach growled in hunger, so heading to
the out door food stalls, some fried Dumplings filled
the need. Wandering around the rest of the evening, I
caught a Taxi to the train station at 10:00 then
waited to catch the train. While waiting, two Canadian
women named Lisa and Jenny became good friends, and
although I did not know it at the time, we would spend
the rest of the weekend together.

Saturday: Cliffs and Caves

Having a hard time waking up this morning, it was
quite frustrating trying to think about my travel
itinerary when I had only had six hours of sleep.
Wandering around the train station, it took forever to
find the ticket counter. Seeing Jenny and Lisa at the
front of the line and fearing that there would be no
sleepers left, my first reaction was to ask them to
order a ticket for me, and they did. Sadly, there were
no sleepers available for the train ride home. How do
you sell out of tickets two days in advance? Deciding
that we would hang out together, Jenny then bargained
with a Taxi driver in order to find us a nice place to
stay and take us around Datong for the afternoon.
Finally agreeing on 200 Yuan, he took us to a hotel
near the train station. We changed and freshened up
then headed out to the Cloud Ridge or Yungang Caves.
It took forever to get there, and we got to see what a
slum Datong truly is. The cities primary industry is
coal, and the air and streets were so polluted. The
coal dust covered the buildings, trees, and roads. It
was everywhere, and the city seemed to go on forever.
People seemed to be so poor in this area, and my first
thought was, guess poverty really does follow coal.
Arriving at the grottoes, we were quite excited to be
away from the commotion and headache of the city.
Buying our tickets, the caves were one of the most
amazing places that I have ever seen in my life. All
of the caverns were carved into the side of the cliff,
and in each of the caverns, huge statues of Budda that
tower over 50 to 100 feet tall stare down at you as if
they were getting ready to life up your body and place
it in Nirvana. Most of the statues had escaped damage
from the Cultural Revolution, but several had been
destroyed. The carvings in each of the grottoes were
exquisite. Each cave had several hundred statues cared
on the roofs, walls, and floor. It was simply
incredible. Many still had enough paint on them to
understand how they looked. These caves matched and
bettered any European treasure that I have seen.
Michelangelo could not have done a better job. At the
center of the caves was a beautiful old wooden temple
that must have been over eight hundred years. The
masks on the temple were incredible. The reminded me
on the Buddhist Monk masks that I had seen in Chengde
several weeks earlier. Although taking lots of
pictures and buying many postcards, nothing can
illustrate or capture the majesty of this place.
Leaving Yungang, the taxi driver drove us two hours to
the most amazing monastery that I have laid my eyes
upon. Feeling quite hungry was stopped and ate lunch.
This was difficult as Lisa is allergic to peanuts and
Jenny is vegetarian. Although difficult, they said
that one of the teachers at their school is allergic
to M.S.G. I could not help but wonder what in the hell
does she eat. M.S.G. is the wonder spice of Chinese
dishes. It is in almost everything. Eating a healthy
meal, we then wondered through the temple complex.
Having free reign on picture taking, it was not hard
to go through two rolls as the frescos and statues
were beautiful. The monastery was amazing although
quite a bit scary. The paths were very narrow, and the
buildings were being held up by wooden stilts shoved
into the cliff. Despite this, the scene was
incredible. The frescos were so delicate as they were
cracking off of the wooden panels. The wooden statues
of gods had faded and were also very delicate as many
had lost fingers and toes. The wooden stares were very
tiny and led up through little holes that one had to
squeeze through. It was really just a magical place.
After wandering though the maze of buildings, we
headed up to the dam and found some newer statues in
little grottoes carved into the cliff. Wanting to take
a picture with one of them, Lisa climbed up next to
the God and gave him a big hug. He returned the favor
by leaving her covered in blue paint. Talk about bad
Karma. There is one thing that must be said about
Jenny and Lisa. They love taking photos more than I
which is incredible. Jenny actually videotaped a sky
burial in Tibet. What was she thinking. The Tibetans
do not bury their dead, they leave them in the desert
for the vultures and animals to eat. Since they
believe in reincarnation, it is a circle of life sort
of idea. She has pictures of vultures eating the
corpse. I think that she got a little excited.
Finally, going back to our hotel, we rested then went
to the market later in the evening. The city was quite
lively, and we did lots of shopping. I bought lots of
traditional goods from the area that we very
beautiful. Feeling tired, we finally went to the hotel
and collapsed.

The rest will come tomorrow,
Christopher

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