Nate in China Summer Tour 2005
Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
351Trip End Ongoing
This seemed to be the general theme we heard as Nate became famous throughout the semi-arid hill country of Shanxi Province: the land of Buddhist caves, coal mining cities, and holy mountains. After the first dozen photoshoots with Nate and groups of Chinese tourists, Nate accepted his fame and the incessant paparazzi. Kevin and I, his entourage, were just along for the ride.
Our first stop of the Nate in China Summer Tour 2005 was Datong, aptly translated as "The Big Same." "Why aptly?" you might ask. We might answer: "because Datong looks like all the other million-plus-sized Chinese concrete cities." The city appeared to stretch forever as each turn in the street revealed another long thoroughfare lined with concrete buildings
As we entered this scene, we did so without a guidebook, and with only an outline of ideas--a very good way to travel if you like the unexpected, the unknown, and can accept the challenges that are bound to happen along the way.
The language barrier was our first challenge as we ordered breakfast. Kevin and I ordered noodle soup, a traditional Chinese breakfast. Instead we were served a bowl of cloudy hot water--the water left over after cooking the noodles.
After bargaining for a dingy room in a hotel appropriate for filming the Chinese version of "The Shining," we headed west for 30 minutes along a new road through sparsely-vegetated brown hills to the Yungang Caves. The new road replaced the old road, as the old road was destroying the contents of the Yungang Caves. The old road was too close to the Yungang Caves, sending coal dust from the thousands of coal trucks onto the decaying 1,500 year-old statues--them's coal in thar hills.
The 50,000 statues are a glimpse into the past of The Big Same area. Once the Big Same was named Pingcheng, a garrison town between the inner and outer great walls, an area the nomadic Tobas ruled as they conquered northern China in 439 A.D, beginning the Northern Wei Dynasty.
During this dynasty, Buddhism spread to northern China and the emperor was proclaimed as the "living Buddha." Statues of their likeness were carved from the sandstone cliffs of Mt. Wuzhou. The variety of statues paints a picture of Asian artistic influences and life in China 1,500 years ago: small statues of Buddha, only inches tall; musicians playing ancient instruments; acrobats; flying celestials; animals; bodhissatvas; large Buddhas in "No Fear" and meditational positions; Vishnu and Siva; and pilgrims. Each statue, many repainted during the Qing Dynasty tells a story about the way people dressed, hunted, and related to Buddhism. After 64 years of carving and 50,000 statues later, the Yungang Caves were completed.
From The Big Same, we passed coal-burning factories and rivers of black sludge; left the brown, dusty, and smoggy lowlands; and headed to green Wutaishan, a holy Buddhist mountain. "In China, Wutai Mountain takes first place among the four mountains well known for the Buddhism," a guide map states
Up at 5,000 feet, the monastery-filled valley was bustling with restaurants, hotels, monks, nuns, and tourists. The same music--monks chanting simply--echoed from many of the stores and permeated our minds: I think many of the stores had put their music in sync so as you walked, you could hear the song without missing a beat.
Five thousand feet higher, the five peaks of Wutaishan encircled the valley like a green terraced wall. Each of these five peaks represents another incarnation of Manjushri, the bodhissatva of wisdom. Pilgrims make the multi-day journey to each of the five peaks. Or you can go to the temple up on the modest, forested Dailuo Peak and do the "small pilgrimage." If you only do the "small pilgrimage," maybe you're less of a Buddhist than the "BIG PILGRIMAGE" pilgrims?
As part of the Nate in China Summer Tour 2005, we rode horses up Dailuo Peak. Unfortunately, Nate was allergic to horses so broke out in hives. Despite his puffy face, the paparazzi still followed. We were satisfied with just being small pilgrims and headed back to the valley.
After a night of hauling water upstairs in order to flush the broken toilet, we headed onwards to the Disco-Temple Phase of the Nate in China Summer Tour 2005. All in one day, we visited four temples and saw the profile of Buddha in the central mountain of Wutaishan. We hired a driver, Technotaxi Driver, who rubbed his prayer beads as he waited for our return from each temple. Driving between temples, we listened to loud Chinese techno music. Somehow the paradox made sense, Chinese style.
Blowing remnants of black snot out of my nose as Nate played Game Boy, we sat in the back of the packed bus to Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi and another "Big Same." This was the last stop of the Nate in China Summer Tour 2005, as Kevin and Nate had to return to Hong Kong before their next tour in the US.