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About 20 miles south of Datong, in Shanxi Province, our taxi broke down. Smoke poured out from the engine. ?We had a busted water pump. We'd arrived in Datong from Inner Mongolia by train earlier in the day, several hours before dawn. Excited to see the Hanging Monastery at the base of Mt. Hengshan (the northern Hengshan, not the southern one) we booked our taxi right away and left from the train station.
Our driver pulled off the main road when his engine began acting up, just as the sun was rising. ?He headed down a dirt road. ?His cousin lived in a small village at the end. He hoped his cousin might help fix the car. ?After seeing the extent of the problem, our driver said that he'd have to go back to Datong for parts. He couldn't take us to the monastery. We were on our own.
As soon as he left we pulled out our map, trying to figure out where we'd been abandoned. A crown began to gather around us, in the middle of the street. If you don't know much about villages in China, it's important to remember that people get up early. After a few minutes most of the village had come out to see these foreigners. When they realized we spoke some Chinese, even more gathered around. They thought that was amazing. One of the town elders, who spoke a bit of English and wanted to show off his skills, examined our map and told us their village wasn't on it. Truth be told, it was a cheap tourist map with not enough detail. After some discussion, we were invited to tea and breakfast at the village restaurant. As far as we could tell, there was only one shop in the village, and only one restaurant. The problem was the owner wasn't up yet. Someone went to wake her and within the hour we were being served.
The old man sat down with us and dined. He told us that some of the villagers had never seen Westerners before. While we ate, a group of young men had come in from the fields, pressing their face against the glass outside to get a better look at us, their noses leaving smudge marks on the window. The old man told us that his son had a truck, and he would be heading toward the monastery later in the day. We thanked him, drinking tea for several hours to pass the time, and then we were on our way. Most of the town came out to wave goodbye. I hope we made a good impression.
We arrived at the Hanging Monastery in the afternoon. After thanking our driver, we pushed through the vendors hawking their goods. They'd obviously been around non-Chinese before.
The monastery is a wonder, built right into the side of a cliff. It's not actually 'hanging' at all. Crossbeams were partially inserted into the rock to act as a foundation, giving the temple the appearance of being suspended in the air. The temple has been around, with regular maintenance and reconstruction during the Ming and Ching dynasties, for more than 1500 years. The mountainside protects it from the elements and the height makes it quiet (save for the tourists). It's a trip well worth taking, but it's safer to take the bus.