Shanxi Province

Nicholas Quirke was taking a train to Datong on in Shanxi province on 15 April 2021. This would be the 17th Chinese Province he had been to and the 25th city he had visited in the 16 months he had lived in China. He loved to discover new places and the trip had a couple of historic highlights he was really looking forward to. The train was not until the afternoon and his morning involved final preparations including ironing as he watched the extraordinary expose on the world of fishing ‘Seaspiracy which he hoped everyone who had access to Netflix would watch. The train to Datong was departing from a new northern Beijing Station, Qinghe. It was, like many of China’s train stations, impressive and monolithic. The journey was over 2 hours and they were delayed. There was no explanation for the hold up but as the journey progressed and the vista became more and more obscured by the sand storm that continued to blow in from Mongolia it was apparent that the train needed to run a little slower and that combined with the stops at every city en-route was sufficient reason. When they reached the Datong South station they had to rush to meet the car hire representative who had been waiting for them and he did not get to capture the film of sand that covered everything. The drive to the hotel was short but they drove past dozens of towering slender apartment blocks, many still under construction, the like of which he had seen from a distance on trains but never close up, and never is such a ghostly atmosphere. There were so many it was hard to conceive that they were all inhabited. Shanxi was a notable mining province and therefore there was an industrial feel to this strange looking almost futuristic city. It was not the capital of the province and just driving through it he could sense that it was in no way as affluent as the major cities he had been in but he felt it was almost a more honest image of China than the glamorous landscapes of Guangzhou and Shenzhen. The hotel though was surprisingly chic and elegant and the foyer was strewn with fascinating objet d’art. When the got to the room Peng’s sensitive nose could tell the previous occupant had been a smoker and requested another room. They were moved to the 17th floor where the view across the city was of 3 Chimneys spouting plumes of smoke. They settled in called a Didi and went in search of noodles suitable for a vegan diet. Datong was famed for the variety of its noodle dishes and for the astonishing price of 28 yuan they enjoyed two bowls, 3 tofu dishes and a plate of appetisers. The price in no way reflected the quality of the food which was delicious. The Didi driver had sung the praises of Datong ancient city which they could see lit up ahead of them and they decided to walk through the ancient area which had been renovated and built on the foundations of the ancient Wei Dynasty buildings. It was hard to know what to expect but the relics looked authentic and with the light show playing across the buildings spectacular came to mind. In a search for a toilet the found themselves a dark, slightly scary side street where the ancient Hutongs had clearly been condemned and the primitive lavatory with no lights was just holes in the ground. 100 yards further on they found the the smart clean conveniences that the sign was clearly directing them to. They agreed that would return in the daylight to see the temple and the streets it a less garish and amazing light. He had been used to the spring temperatures of Beijing and was surprised by how cold the north west was and feeling underdressed and chilly they went back to the hotel for a relatively early night before the busy day ahead. The reception had called them while they were out as they were confused by Nicholas’s paperwork and they asked him to stop by on his return. It was no problem, but to compensate them for inconvenience they were both given a box of Yanggao County dried apricots which the region was also famed for. At the hotel he was overwhelmed with fatigue and weariness from the dryness of the atmosphere, he felt incredibly uncomfortable and eventually went to sleep with a humidifier literally blowing in his face.

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