One of the oldest set of grottoes (sculptures carved into the rock related to Buddhism) on the Silk Road) is Maijishan. They are impressive since its half way up a sheer cliff. Having said that, the more recent efforts to put walkways outside are almost just as impressive (now i know where the steep entrance fee went). Unfortunately you have to pay extra to see some of the best caves.. and all the caves are 'protected' by some wire grills.. meaning you have to peer through the wire -ruins the effect. Must be another way to protect them!
Nearby is a cave. What makes it interesting is that its high up a mountain and is pitch-black (though i had a pocket torch) and full of bats. It is weird sitting in a cave, turning the torch off and just hearing bats flying nearby and hearing their 'voices' (or possible their sonar -if i remember my biology). I was very proud that i actually turned around after 50m, realising how foolish it would be continue with a useless torch and no idea where the cave was going, how bats would react to me getting even closer or what the path was like (was already scrambling lots!)
I then walked over the peak to the exit of the cave (presuming its the same one that goes all the way through the mountain) and worked out using fancy GPS device that the cave must be at least 200m in a straight line. that is a LONG way going 1 step at a time in the dark. Glad i didn't attempt it alone. After lunch I wemt on one of the best short hikes ever. It would have been perfect had i not been typically Adam and decided the path was too easy and to explore the cross-country route. Oops. Anyway, back on the path was a fantastic village with cows and chickens and signs from the government (advertising in China in the countryside involves painting massive signs on building's walls) about new initiatives about birth control, taxes or whatever (i think!); later on was some more (smaller) grottoes and a great path back down a ridge through overgrown paths to another village. Thankfully there was a stream to clean all the leaves, branches and blood of my legs!
Physically the trip was great. What made it fantastic was the people involved.
-ticket collector. Only spoke to her for a few minutes but found out she is paid way below minimum wage. 300 rmb (30 euros) for 1 month. working from 6am-8pm 7 days a week. Typical in China
-Hou Family. daughter and parents. Spoke to them, realised they lived in the town nearby (that i was not planning on seeing, apart from the train station). Didn't want to disappoint them so invited myself round for dinner the following night before my train. Awesome dinner, stuffed me silly, piled me up with more fruit for the journey. She's a police woman, he's a bit of a market trader in White goods. Didn't understand half of what we talked about for 3 hours, though understood the daughter more.. and she'll show me around Wuhan (where she studies) when i wander off there! Chinese apartments for a typical city family are all the same. 1 bedroom for parents, 1 for child, 1 small kitchen, 1 small bathroom, 1 balconny of sorts and a living room. 80-100 m squared. Bought cheaply off their 'danwei' (local residents association who gave out accommodation during socialist times) or by their state owned employer. Owns a motorbike. These families are the majority. They don't own cars, they don't even want to. They have dead-end jobs but its enough to eat out sometimes and support child in education, and have a computer etc. Just in case you thought everyone has a fancy air conditioned apartment, car and a child studying overseas -if all 400m urban residents were in that situation...
-14 year old kids who i was talking to at the first 'farmer's cottage' i went to stay in. nothing too exciting, but helped me find further accommodation once i was forced to move.
-50 year old drunk local man (Fred, asked me how i do 17 times, forced me to drink 22 times). Was on the verge of getting scary, dangerous, me drunk. Kids advised me to leave. So I did. Damn Baijiu (cheap vodka like, disgusting spirit). Typical country man.. spend their time drinking and talking lots. Take 'hospitatity' too far.
-66 year old man who was friends of the owner of the 2nd farmer's cottage i went to (after evacuating 1st one). rarely understood what he was on about (accent, slurred speach) but charming guy for 2 hrs. Something about weather, beijing, Da Shan (Canadian who speaks fluent Chinese and teaches foreigners chinese on China's TV stations), Thames River... must have been something more in 2 hours of a monologue....
The joys of talking to anyone and everyone, seeing out-the-way touristy places, and wondering without any worries. Another 6 months of more weekend (or longer, since i am only work part-time) trips. It might help me get fit. Chinese lessons should start next week. Apartment is sorted. Corporate Partnerships strategy almost finished.. delivering training soon and then checking out our programme areas in the poor parts of the country -then talking to companies about partnerships. AND.. the premiership is almost back!