Archive for April 28th, 2008

Desperately trying to get out of town but to no avail. My flight here was cancelled which delayed my arrival: my flight out was cancelled which delayed my departure. I guess if the planes aren’t full, they just don’t fly. So an extra hotel night, cancellation and re booking fees from the online booking service for the hotel in my next stop, Xian. So take a deep breath, regroup and find something interesting to do.

I already did the major reason for my visit here -the Caves of Buddhist art. They were magnificent. I have never seen a 2 storey Buddha before, or a reclining one about the size of a basketball court. The painting was exquisite, the colours of lapis blue, Chinese red and jade green still visible though faded in places. They are beautiful now; they must have been a thing of wonder when newly carved and painted, before the Muslims defaced them and the English/Germans/ French/ Americans(in about that order) made off with manuscripts, tapestries and other souvenirs.

In 1900, a hidden cache of over 10,000 manuscripts were found – most of which were sold off to explorers from the West and are now in fine museums around the world. The story is that the caretaker who discovered the sealed up library was cleaning away dust from a wall painting when he noticed that the smoke from his cigarette was wafting up, and apparently disappearing into the wall. Our guide says he walks around smoking all the time now, looking for the next big find (not entirely joking I surmised)

I also discovered the joy of foot massage last evening. They are advertised all over Beijing, but I had not indulged. Well, I am resolved to test the relative merits of foot massage in every city I visit on this trip! After a brief but vigorous neck massage, a small women with hard strong hands plays a sort of drums for an hour on your feet and calves. Remember those Japanese drummers – like that. It’s surprisingly loud, and it feels amazing, especially after a long day of treking on the city streets or desert dunes. Warning: if you have had any knee surgery, she did a couple of pressure moves that would likely send you into the stratosphere in pain, so keep one eye open. She did some very interesting pressure point work around trouble spots like shin splits and ankles which would likely be beneficial for runners.

I also climbed the largest sand dune in the world, and then tobogganed down. I kid you not. If I was not at an internet bar, I would post pics of the climb up and the slide down. Well, it is not a bar; more of a warehouse with dozens of computers, and Chinese men smoking, playing computer games, and watching movies while their cell phones go off and Britney Spears asks to be hit one more time in the background. Needless to say, this will not be a long post!

I have also discovered what it is like to be Queen. Of a kind. I am staying in off season in the best hotel in this part of China. It is very large for the area, over 200 rooms. I am about one of 5 people staying here; I am the only person here for more than 1 night. So with an average staff of oh, 30 that I can see and likely another 20 that are behind the scenes, it is pretty generous staff to guest ratio!. It is also a very lovely property, decorated with light wood Ming style furniture, Persian carpets, slate floors and generous bathrooms. And the towels are plush and new – a treat in China I have learned. A uniformed driver took me out today to 2 additional sites, and walked unobstrusively behind me, opening doors and staying just within call range. When I walk around the property, folks stand when I enter or walk by, and say a polite neehow and bow slightly. The cleaning staff put a gift on my pillow and a note with good wishes for my life. And all of this for 50% off the rack rate! And the hotel food was quite good-I had 2 horrid lunches in town that made me ill even without trying the famous local dish of donkey and noodles. There is a really diverse, exhuberant outdoor market here – I will post pics later. If you are interested in coming here, I highly recommend the hotel: The Silk Road Dun Huang Hotel. There is one English speaking manager level person: her name is Wendy and she made my extended stay a treat rather than a trial.

Aside from the Caves and a few other sites, the town does not have much to commend itself to tourists. It is still a place that travellers stop into on the way to somewhere else. The surrounding red desert, apart from the golden dunes which are spectactular, resembles most closely a large flat gravel pit. No redeeming features. No features at all actually. I saw alot of military trucks on the way out of town; I suspect manouevres up here might include some shelling. Tons of pulverized material out there. So I will hopefully fly out tomorrow-Queen for 5 days might go to my head!

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