Tripping off the train, I was met by a representative from the China International Travel Service (CITS).
I had just landed in Datong, 350 kilometres east of Beijing. The city, a coal-mining mega-city, was another diversion while I waited for my Tibetan visitors permit.
The guidebook described the city as thus -
‘Datong is the poster child for all that’s environmentally wrong with fossil-fuel addiction.’
The guidebook continued and expanded –
‘The uplifting remains of times past are balanced out by sulphurous air pollution, contaminated groundwater and suburban slag heaps that grow by 80 million tonnes annually.’
And they had sent me here, a day before my birthday.
To exacerbate matters I had allowed the communist-run China International Travel Service (CITS) organise my accommodation.
In a room on the 6th floor, across the road from the train station, with a toilet down the hallway, a shower on the 8th floor, a rug for a bed cover, a pillow case covered with stranger’s facial hairs and no room key.
Never learning from my multiple mistakes, next morning I let the China International Travel Service (CITS) organise my activities for the day ahead.
It was going to be tour group extravaganza, worthy of the pain.
Out of the city, passing communities living in mud-brick huts, heading towards the Hanging Monastery, temples built into the cliff to protect themselves from the floods rushing down the canyon. Then onto the Yungang Caves, a series of grottoes, apparently the earliest Buddhist carvings in China.
Then it was back into the inner-city of Datong, for my birthday dinner.
Dinner tonight and yesterday at ‘California Beef Noodle King USA.’ Looking like P.C. Lee is the Colonial Sanders (KFC) of Datong franchise fame.