I arrived back in China OK on the 28th of March it took 23 hours from door to door which even after all these times i find amazing, but I still cannot sleep on an aeroplane so had some catching up to do.
Jun hadn't been well before I arrived she had been down with a touch of food poisoning but is now fine and we spent the first weekend together cycling along the Grand canal on a beautiful sunny day. And the Monday she was also off work as it was Memory Day when the Chinese remember their ancestors and tend to the graves.
We had a bad thing happen to us at the end of the first week when our PC was invaded by a really nasty virus we have no idea how it got in, but once in it encrypts all your files etc and you cant see them,open them, delete them, nothing. You then receive a message telling you what they have done and how the only way to decrypt it and get all your files back is by paying them $500 within 24 hours which then goes up to $1,000 and this is done by buying bitcoin and if you don't pay within 96 hours that's the end of it . The virus is called Cryptowall and the FBI think it originated in Russia,they are offering a huge reward to track them down and estimate in the last 2 years they have made $325,000,000. To make matters worse both Jun and I had our portable hard drives connected and they too were wiped out I lost 90% of all my photographs, a very black day for us both. We took our PC to a local shop on Saturday ran by a really nice young couple and they removed all the programmes from it and then installed new programmes so we are literally starting from scratch again.
I did manage to re-download all my images back from my Zenfolio web site on to a new portable hard drive and i still have quite a few image files on my PC back in the UK, but have still lost quite a lot, never mind though it's not such a big thing. Spring is here and its lovely to see all the cherry blossom the gardeners in our complex are doing a wonderful job and they have refilled the water feature that runs all around the gardens. I have been going out most days on my bike when Jun is at work cycling along the moon river or grand canal as the weather has been quite nice, although some days are still a little is cold. I saw a couple sitting outside a shop the other recently and they had a pet monkey so i stopped to look and it jumped on to my bike and when she tried to get it off it jumped on me and clung to my chest like it didn't want to go, it was quite moving ha-ha.
The other Saturday Jun and I went in to the city to visit an art gallery it was all Chinese artists apart from one exhibition of the work of the American photographer Paul Caponigro.
We have also been busy sorting out the places to visit and stay at when we go to Spain as well as getting the visa for Jun. At the moment we are going to La Manga for the wedding then on to Granada,Cordoba,Seville,Ronda with a couple of days in a village in the Sierra Nevada so a lot of driving but really looking forward to it Jun took a day off work and we went to the Spanish Consul ( 1.45 hours to get there by metro and bus) to apply for her visa which all went ok and she got it back in just over a a week. After that we had lunch in a lovely little cafe that is famous for its dumplings and because we were so close to the 798 art area we got a taxi there. The taxi driver was a Buddhist and all of the inside of his cab had Buddhist scriptures and pictures as well as playing Buddhist chants so we had a good talk and he told us that as part of his practice he advertises that any person 70 years or over who is on their own can have a free ride from him in Beijing, isn't that lovely.
We went on a trip to Datong recently. We left home at 7:30 on Friday evening to go to Beijing Western railway station and after one bus ride plus two metro trains arrived there at 9:30 ready to catch our overnight sleeper train to Datong at 11:00, Datong is in the North West in Shanxi Province. We had booked beds in second class which consisted of carriages with bunks stacked three high with about 60 bunks to a carriage and a walkway down one side,we didn't sleep very well as the train was going through mountains and was always braking and swaying. We arrived at Datong at 5:20am and it was quite cold so we had to dig out our other clothes and put them on as well, we then found a noodle shop just opening so had breakfast there then went to the bus station for the first bus at 7:30 to the Yungang caves. We met a gentleman at the bus stop who was 70 and all he did was travel around China, and had also traveled abroad living in Australia for 6 months as well as Cuba and Italy. He was a mine of information and even other people were asking him how do you get here,how far to there,what time is the bus etc I told him him he missed his vocation as a travel guide.
We were the first to arrive at Yungang so were at the front of the queue which also meant we kept ahead of others so i managed to get quite a few photos of the carvings without other people being in them, and the entrance was free for me because of my age ( age can have its benefits). The caves and Buddhist carvings took your breath away they were amazing, they were better than i had even imagined they were, dating from the 5th-6th century and consisting of 252 grottoes and 51,000 carvings and became a UNESCO world heritage site in 2011. We left there on the afternoon to go back to Datong to check in to the lovely hotel Jun had booked,then after a rest we set off to explore the city and its temples both Buddhist,Taoist and a Mosque,I received lots of stares and the people were extremely friendly everywhere we went. We also wanted to see if we could share the cost of the trips the next day so were looking for other groups or people we thought might be going to the other famous sites in the area. We eventually spoke with this man who said he was taking another couple in his car and we could share the costs, so we arranged for them to meet us the next morning at 8am. So after an evening meal at an extremely popular restaurant ( when we got our ticket there was 23 tickets in front of us) we went back to the hotel.
We met the driver and the other two who were a retired Chinese couple from Shanghai who were great as was the driver and we had a fabulous day out. The couple retired in 2008 and since then have spent their time traveling all over China and the world they were really enthusiastic about travel and showed us photos of safaris in Kenya, mystical sunrises in Tibet etc and in June they are off to Iceland. We discussed with the driver where we wanted to go and arranged the price as originally we were just going to go to the Hanging Temple and The Sakyamuni Pagoda of Fogong Temple which were still a fair distance away but the couple wanted to visit the Buddhist Temples in the Wu Tai mountains so we said great we would love to go there as well. We told him our train was at 11pm that night and he said he could get us back by 9pm and all this was for one hundred pounds between the four of us, so off we went.
Our first visit after traveling up mountain roads (with unbelievable amounts of lorries going up and down making it a quite hairy ride at times) was to the Hanging Temple and that describes it very well as it seems to just hang from the cliff face 200 foot above the ground, again it was free entry for me and the Chinese couple but unfortunately we couldn't go up to it and go in as they were just taking the scaffold down after doing repairs, but it was still spectacular from the grounds below and the river and dam at one end.
We then set off for the Wu Tai mountains and i was asking the driver about the lorries as i had never seen so many in my life and its because Shanxi is the largest coal producing area in China, although production is slowing down with China's commitment to reduce its use of fossil fuels. I then saw the longest train i have ever seen an unbelievable amount of wagons and it was on a special track specifically laid to carry coal to the Eastern seaport.
We stopped off for lunch on the way as it was a long ride and gave the locals a chance to stare and smile at me before completing the ride in to Wu Tai through amazing mountain scenery and long drops. You have to pay to enter as its all a conservation area, but locals arrange to meet people on the road and for a fee take them through in their cars as they can come and go freely i even saw people get out of a car and walk down the hillside to rejoin their car after it had gone through the entrance gates, which i have to say made checkpoint charlie pale in to insignificance, but once again it was free for me and the Chinese couple.
I have never seen so many Buddhist Temples in one place they are everywhere on the mountain sides and in the valley in fact there is a town there which has grew up around it and probably does very well with all its shops and restaurants. There are Tibetan,Zen and Pure Land Temples and its lovely to see the different orders of Monks and Nuns everywhere although around the town area it did feel a bit touristy.
We left there and set off back to Datong with our last visit to The Sakyamuni Pagoda of Fogong Temple this complete wooden tower was built with no nails in 1056 and stands 221 feet high and is the oldest full wooden pagoda in China, and has survived numerous earthquakes, unfortunately we arrived to late to be able to go in but it was still marvelous to see it.
We then continued back to Datong arriving at 8:30 and saying goodbye to our driver and other couple we walked around looking for a foot massage place but couldn't find one open although one woman we asked after telling her we were getting the train in a hour or so said did we want a room for an hour so i don't know what she thought was going on but Jun was quick to tell her we were a married couple ha-ha.
We took the returning overnight sleeper back to Beijing at 11pm the train was the Inner Mongolia to Guangzhou ( not quite express) train which was traveling 3,112 km and would take 41 hours but for us it was again only 6 hours arriving back in Beijing at 5am and having to wait for the Metro line to open to get home after which Jun had to change and go to work, so that was the end of a fantastic long tiring weekend.