20 Aug - 23 Aug 2012 Datong

East Asia
Shanxi Province
Qīngnián Lǚshè Youth Hostel +863522427766 1161189938@qq.com
Clean and stylish twin room with private bathroom (with all kinds of plumbing leaks), shaky wifi, for CNY 158.- or US$ 24.75 per night. Awesome staff.

Click below for an interactive satellite view of the Qīngnián Lǚshè Youth Hostel in Datong, which we would recommend, and for directions:
Note the random 0 - 500 m misalignment between Google’s maps and satellite views of the motherland, courtesy of the paranoid Chinese Communist Party.

Exploring Datong’s city core (where construction goes on non-stop), an odd mix of (a) dusty and crumbling hutong (narrow alleyways) and grey socialist-era blocks of flats for the red working class, (b) brand-new and chic high-rise buildings with apartments for the red political class and (c), as the result of an ongoing colossal “restore-our-greatness” renovation programme, a quaint ye olde quarter of disneyesque and Legoland-like replicas of temples, pagodas and city walls for the red tourist class, thus visiting (i) the newly built, state-funded Buddhist Fahua Monastery (admission: CNY 20.- or US$ 3.20 per person for senior citizens, +863527643524 dtfahuasi@163.com) where the paint was still wet, (ii) the 1392 CE Ming-dynasty Nine Dragon Screen (admission: CNY 5.- or US$ 1.50 per person for senior citizens), the largest glazed-tile spirit wall in China, and (iii) the massive eastern section of Datong’s fake “ancient” City Wall (admission: CNY 15.- or US$ 4.20 per person for senior citizens), rebuilt from the soles up, and feasting afterwards on Datong’s delicious fried Stinky Tofu at the lively daily night market on Huayan Jie right infront of the Qingnan Lushe Youth Hostel.

Strolling through the excellent Contemporary Sculpture Exhibition of China (admission: CNY 15.- or US$ 4.20 per person for senior citizens), housed inside the rebuilt East Gate aka Weng Cheng of Datong’s big City Walls, and wondering how all these independent and creative minds can cope with the situation to live and to make art under an oppressive fascist regime which imposes the death penalty on thousands of its people each year (the Red Chinazis execute more people each year than the rest of the world combined).

Going on a day trip to the wildly overrated Buddhist Hanging Monastery aka Xuan Kong Si (admission: CNY 65.- or US$ 10.20 per person for senior citizens) near Hunyuan (a short taxi ride for CNY 6.- from our hostel to the old main bus station +863522464464 in Datong, thereafter the public bus to the monastery: 65 km, 2 hours, CNY 30.- or US$ 4.70 per person, plus CNY 10.- per person for the final 5 km by taxi), which is built precariously into the side of a steep cliff and made all the more stunning by its long support stilts, witnessing nearby a cruel and blatant animal abuse when so-called wishing birds, already half-dead and unable to fly, were “released” by some ignorant Buddhist believers (and immediately afterwards re-collected by brutal and soulless bird vendors, and made up and readied for the next round of torture) and praying that none of these good Buddhists would ever been reborn as an unreligious but passible spotted dove (Spilopelia chinensis), Eurasian magpie (Pica pica) or stripe-throated bulbul (Pycnonotus finlaysoni).

"When a man has pity on all living creatures then only is he noble."

Counting the hundreds of decaying Buddha statues (they come always with elongated earlobes which indicate that the Buddha is all-hearing and as a reminder of the heavy earrings that weighed them down before Siddhartha renounced material things to seek enlightenment) in the 5th-century CE Yungang Grottoes +863523026230 (admission: CNY 75.- or US$ 11.80 per person for senior citizens, bus no. 4 for CNY 1.- to Xinkaili bus station and then bus no. 3 for CNY 1.- to the caves), a bombastic UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of China’s most superlative examples of Buddhist cave art, and learning that these caves draw their designs from Indian, Persian and Greek influences that swept along the Silk Road.

Taking fast train no. K7807 (465 km, 7 ½ hours, CNY 39.- or US$ 6.- per person for “hard seats”) from Datong’s railway station to Pingyao, China’s best-preserved ancient walled town; the China we all think of in flights of fancy: red-lantern-hung lanes set against night-time silhouttes of imposing town walls, elegant courtyard architecture, ancient towers poking into the north China sky and an entire brood of creaking temples and old buildings...

Click below for more blog posts about encounters with Buddhist monks
23 Jun - 26 Jun 2013 Nara (Japan)
13 Jun - 16 Jun 2013 Gyeongju (Korea)
18 Apr - 22 Apr 2013 Phetchaburi (Thailand)
08 Jun - 18 Jun 2011 Leh (India)
04 Oct - 14 Oct 2010 Negombo (Sri Lanka)

Click below for a summary of this year's travels
2012 Map Konni & Matt

Visit the Konni & Matt Online Albums and order high-res travel photos
Konni & Matt Travel Photos

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