datong - woah, this is gonna be adventurous, alright

Datong Travel Blog

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here i am, sitting in my dorm room in datong. good news first, it's only 35 yuan (bit less then 6 swiss francs a night), only 4 beds in the room (2 not taken) and the water is hot. but that's about it. datong is one hell of a sh.... dirthole - 2.x mio population but looks like it was just bombed.

and the train trip... uahhh that was fun: no chicken around but all the other pleasantries one can expect.

but let's start this morning. the far east hostel in beijing where i was staying the last few nights was just opening the courtyard bar/cafe after renovations and it got a whole lot better! at least i could enjoy one breakfast there this morning - 'swiss breakfast' - i was wondering what that could be and i got a bowl of fruit salad, yoghurt, some flakes resembling muesli and toasts, scrambled eggs & bacon - and coffee! 18 yuan - more expensive than the average dinner around here hehe

so i checked out into the unkown - my first chinese train trip, more exciting than getting the ticket for it! i made it to the train station and jumped into the masses. even the waiting room for my train was superfull, no seats available and sacks of rice and big bags (that are always(!) red with mickey mouse pattern)

it was kinda easy to find the right waiting hall, though - didn't even have to ask for it. so after a while i conquered a seat and there it was again: the starring! but not like on the streets, this time everyone was freaking out about that foreigner in the hard seat waiting hall: talking loudly about me, waving me to them only to find out that throwing 100 words / second in mandarin is not a good conversation starter.

i boarded the train, found my seat. well.... hard seat it says, hard it is! i didn't get one of the new trains it seems. it is not a wooden bench, but the comfort level is not much higher than that. even nicer is the 3-seat row that doesn't have any separation thingies - everyone can use as much space as he pleases and i got the middle seat - hurray: i knew those 6 hours will be fun

next to me was one rice sack carrier that had one pissed off look for the length of his 4 hour journey. vis-a-vis a young couple and a teenager and next to me one of the billion chinese soldier boys in green. the teenager and the soldier never had their eyes off me, especially when i took out the nintendo ds, half the compartment was looking at the screen... needless to say that even before ipod & nds all the attention was on me, crazy! china is nothing for shy people. and nobody speaks english as soon as you get of beijing - if you are lucky, they know the numbers.

smoking is another fun topic - one can hear nice stories about that. officially, smoking is not allowed in the compartment, only in the end sections of it. at the station and during the first few hours this was heavily enforced (screaming attendants forcing people to go to the smoking area) - after half of the trip nobody cared anymore and it got "a bit" smokey and hot in the train. at least people didn't spit, or if they did they spat into a tissue and threw that on the floor - that's classy

everyone running around with cup noodles in the train as there are hot water sinks free to use. in general food & drinks are not a problem, every hour someone comes along selling some stuff. if it wasn't for the millions of people standing in the walkway in the middle of the train - yes, you can buy tickets without an assigned seat. the train was uberfull

which leads to another nice story: after some stops the train got a bit emptier and people without seats sat down somewhere. but of course the next station new people with reservations came aboard and then the fun begins: loud arguments of two passengers, then 5 passengers, then 10 passengers & 5 attendants until the whole compartment is either close to a fist fight or laughing out loud. fun times! chinese being an obnoxious language as it is, screamed it's nerve-wrecking!

when i stood up at datong and got into my rucksack again everyone was smiling at me (or laughing hehe). 2 helped me getting my bag from the luggage area, 2 helped me into it and everyone had a fun time - and i felt again like a panda bear, without the cuteness maybe hehe

another thing about travelling in china. there is this company called cits (chinese international travellers service or something like that), which for some fee arrange trains, hostels and all that stuff for you. basically you pay them for speaking english (40 yuan). everyone is raving about cits in datong so i gave them a try, even though they approached me hawker style as soon as i stepped out of the gate - people i usually ignore. they were nice and efficient though, booked me into my hostel here, my tour to the famous caves near datong tomorrow and the overnight train the same day - hard sleeper, something not that easy to get usually (because black market and agencies like cits buy them up as soon as available that is... go figure) & hostel for pingyao my next destination.

so back to the beginning of this long entry, this is how i arrived in datong. and it's really that crazy - strange sounds, terrible pollution and no english speakers around. there are some inet cafes around but overcrowded (people playing world of warcraft, chinese farmers!!!!! hehe) and i could bring my point it book to good use once again at the hotel restaurant. as always in china there are tons of service people around (about 3 times as much as needed), everyone understands 3 different english words, but it is still impossible to communicate - not even my professional pantomime skills work here. when i use the phrases from lonely planet i only get laughs so my point it book really saves the day

so off to the caves and the hanging (oooohh) monastery tomorrow, i'm not convinced yet! might go to shanghai faster than expected.
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... is a problem hehe

i have tons of blog entries & pics on my laptop but i can't get them online :)

but i am alive and well, met some great other travellers... unfortunately locals are inaccessible because no one out of beijing can speak or understand english hehe

it's very rough, but challenging & a huge experience!

sightseeing day! got up early to get my first (free) chinese breakfast. i had no expectations and they were met on the dot - water soup with some stuff on it, 2 strange deep fried bread/donut bastards. tasted like nothing but filled my stomach a bit.

made my way to the cits office across the station square for the tour to the caves and the hanging monastery and thank god i could pick up my train ticket for the overnight train to taiyuan for my journey to pingyao tomorrow. hard sleeper test this time after my back & bum voted against hard seat - once in a while is enough hehe

at the office i met my tour partners, an english couple and a french guy - interesting nation combination, could only be fun! everyone got along brilliantly from the start! that's the benefit of mainland china - you get the interesting people travelling here! a bit of a bad mood came up when we were guided to our tour vehicle for the day, a taxi! those cits cheap-skirts left out the guide and the minivan because we were only 4 people... but we had a fun time in the cab to the caves anyway and damn they were impressive!

it's quite a nice site for china, english translation of the intro texts to each cave (of course with tons of typos) and everything looks nice & clean. and as usual, this site as well under heavy construction to polish it even more for the big showtime next year.

the caves are beautiful: big buddhas & huge carvings in the caves. really worthwhile to visit

next stop, after a long drive through snowy planes & mountains, was the hanging monastery. less impressive but still nice and gives a nice feeling walking over the wooden unstable construction high above the ground.

it was absolutely freezing and once again a frozen lake & waterfall added to the scenery... brrrr.... time to go south

back in town early and i tried my luck again in the internet cafe. the quoted price of 5 yuan / hour from yesterday was suddenly updated to 2 yuan without apparent reason but i didn't complain of course. got a seat next to chain smokers playing world of warcraft

i decided to finally to some picture processing and sat in the hostel restaurant. as always 2 or 3 waiters around me and watching all the time; until i took out my laptop that is which summoned the whole hotel staff into the room watching the man from the future playing with his hightech toy. lots of cheering when the pic of mao from beijing came up, brrr :-) after a while watching me playing with the pics got boring and they browsed my lonely planet until the found the phrasebook section and bombarded me with strange constructions. everyone had a great laugh, especially when i tried my chinese again in reply. nobody knew where switzerland was, even when i pointed to europe on a map it didn't help.

after that funny episode the whole crew from our daytrip plus the lovely german couple also in town (smart enough to do the caves on their own with public transport) met in the town's fancy restaurant for a big dinner. big plate sharing fiesta chinese style, gorgeous food and a bill of 136 yuan total for 6 persons - no reason to complain.

everyone waved their goodbyes, promised to catch up again in the south and got on with their adventures, for me that meant once again playing zoo animal in the train waiting hall and finding out how hard a hard sleeper actually is.


photo by: Deats