Next, we went to Mingsha Mountain, a desert that is famous for its sand dunes, camels, and a lake shaped like a crescent moon in the middle. As soon as we entered the park, we saw packs of camels traveling through the desert, carrying giddy tourists in groups of 5 or 10. Janna and I completely freaked out and ran to purchase tickets to ride camels ourselves. Once we mounted the camels, they were told to rise by our pack leader. The first few minutes on a camel were absolutely terrifying for me. It truly reminded me of all those times during my childhood when I allowed myself to be convinced by my mischevious cousins to get on a roller coaster, knowing that I had motion sickness. That feeling of regret, self-blame, and imminent doom ran deep in my stomach. Despite my outburst of anxiety, Janna seemed to be having a great time. She was full of giggles and posited a number of fantastical conspiracy theories about how camels are made by aliens while I screamed my head off on the camel behind her. However, once I got used to the pace and the rocking motion, my belief that I was going to be thrown off the camel back and mauled to death by this alien creature slowly subsided. The camels dropped us off at Cresent Lake, closer to the larger sand dunes, or, as Janna likes to call it, Windows XP Land. Though we were exhausted at this point, we wanted to climb the sand dunes to see the view from up top. The climb up was incredibly challenging as we slid a great deal downward with every step we took. As the incline grew steeper, we were getting discouraged. We stopped often to gaze up and down, trying to decide if it's time to quit. But we soon learned that everytime we stop, it takes more strength to start back up, as the sand flooded over our feet and buried us deeper and deeper. When we finally got to the top, we were completely taken by the view. We could see Crescent Lake, croached near another sand dune, calm and elegant. Behind us were more sand dunes, endless, one after another, as if to remind us that there will always be higher mountains and perhaps better things ahead.
After watching the sunset, we visited the Shazhou Night Market downtown Dunhuang and headed back to the hotel. We rose early on Sunday to catch a tour bus to go to Yardang National Geopark. The ride there was long and sopofiric. Once at the park, we needed to get on another tour bus to go inside. For hundreds of miles in every direction, the park was simply covered in Yardangs, a kind of rock formation created over time by wind and sand erosion. The view was simultaneously desolate and majestic, as the rocks aged ten thousand years old take their shape and form with incredible grace and immense creativity. The tour guide warned us repeatedly to not wonder off on our own, because very few people and animals can survive in this kind of environment. In addition to the intolerable heat, the desert landscape makes it impossible to mark directions and one's paths. Furthermore, the magnetic fields under the desert make it prevemts the use a compass. When one gets lost in Yardang Ghost Town, the hope of survival is slim. Despite the haunting atmosphere, Janna and I enjoyed ourselves a great deal by re-interpreting the shapes of the yardangs and telling stories around them. We were held in awe of the nature for its creation and our own sense of humility in the face of such power.
Our two-day trip to Dunhuang was busy but wonderfully ful-filling. It was a rare opportunity for two Chinese-Americans to truly immerse themselves in Chinese culture and its amazing diversity. I would definitely recommend future interns who come to Gansu to visit Dunhuang. I was surprised by how much I took away from our trip :)
Article by Sarah Chang