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The curious adventures of Cat and Joh: Destination - Datong
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By Catherine E. Wood


Sandstone layers are visible through the Buddhas. [China.org.cn] 

Although my seemingly short summer abroad is coming to an end, the last remaining interns (Johanna and I) decided to take one last road trip in China. Still feeling the call of adventure, I launched a massive online search for the last great destination of my exploration, and after many days of searching and weighing distance, price, and sights, we decided on Datong.

Datong seemed nice enough; it is only a short four and a half hour bus ride from Beijing and in Shanxi Province. We were excited about all the things Datong seemed to offer, there were plenty of things to do around town and just outside of Datong was the Yungang Grottoes and the famed Hanging Monastery. All of the descriptions we found seemed intriguing enough, and after a couple of calls to get a handle on the bus schedule we choose Thursday morning to embark on our adventure.

Thursday morning at 5:00 am my alarm went off. I woke without any effort, despite the early wakeup call I felt like a kid at Christmas. I was so excited to be traveling again, it had been awhile and by now, my secret passion for travel was a secret no longer. I quickly packed my bags, a peanut butter sandwich, and hit the road, only to come outside and find that the heavens had opened up and the animals were lining up two-by-two outside my Beijing apartment; I was glad I packed my rain coat.


Colorfully painted Buddhas greet visitors.[China.org.cn]

Johanna and I had decided to meet at 6:15 to catch the 7:00 bus; we wanted to get to Datong as soon as possible and to use our monotonous time on the bus for some extra sleep eye. (That was one of the beautiful things about traveling in China, transportation always doubled as a good place to sleep; at least that's what I figured.) Through the rain I waited for Johanna and through the rain I got more and more wet, I felt like a wet dog someone forgot to bring inside for the night, but I was still excited to be there. A very sleepy Johanna finally emerged on the sidewalk, we were running a little late, but spirits were high. Stopping a cab proved to be more of a challenge and in the rain none the less. Finally we found a cab, got to the train station just in time, secured two of the last available tickets, and made our way through the terminal onto the bus. I don't know that either of us saw the bus pull out of the parking lot before it was "lights out" for us both.

Ancient construction is visible in the Eastern Grottoes. 

I woke rested. Seeing the bus clock read "11:08" I couldn't believe I had been asleep the whole time. I awoke to the rising mountains along the roadside, I felt my heart skip a beat at first sight; I always loved the mountains and it had been far too long since we had spent time with one another, it felt like unexpectantly seeing an old lover again: warm and comforting. As I watched the mountains run beside the bus as it journeyed on, I saw a watchtower: The Great Wall. The Wall playfully began a game of hide and seek with the bus, she would dart behind rolling hills and then reappear where you least expected her; we were playing a game of sorts. Then it happened, I saw the sign: Badaling Expressway exit; we were much closer than I thought to Beijing and in fact I had not been asleep nearly at all, the bus clock was just wrong. I began a series of drifting in and out of consciousness that lasted through terrible traffic and all the way to Datong City, 6 hours later.

Datong City was much hotter than the cool Beijing we had left behind that morning. The sun was bright and the people were plentiful. The town seemed to be a place that time forgot; it was stuck in a decade I myself had never lived through but had witnessed only in pictures. The thing that was most obvious about Datong was not the coal industry as I had expected, but the sheer amount of dirt that seemed to be in heaping piles everywhere. Everywhere you look in Datong, construction exists, there is exposed earth, and plenty of dirt; it felt more like a dustbowl town from the Wild West, you know, with a Chinese twist though. Johanna and I picked our hotel from the guidebooks we brought with us; we were going to stay near the train station in what was supposedly a nice hotel. Thankfully we had gotten to Datong early enough to visit one of our listed sites and set off for the Yungang Grottoes.

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