Written by Tomas J Haydon
If someone back home had ever suggested, “Let’s go to a 300 year old cave to see a movie!” the idea would have seemed ridiculous, but in Xi’an this is possible!
From Ban Po metro station on the East side of Xi’an, five of us headed to our final destination, Mrs. Wang’s Yaodong (farmers’ cave) in the town of Hanyu. It seemed that the further we got from the city, the bluer the sky got. Everywhere you looked you could see fields or mountains and crops of seasonal fruits, like peaches and cherries. Not for one moment did I look back at the city dressed in a toxic gray cloud as we left its urban tallness behind.
After around twenty-five minutes, we arrived at the small town of Hanyu. We took a right at a corner in a narrow street, drove up a hill and went alongside a yellow sea of wheat bobbing in the wind. Then a right turn led us to a line of houses where people where just sitting outside, happily watching cars pass by. Finally, we took one last left and arrived at our destination.
From the outside it’s just an ordinary country house with a little garden of flowers and a vegetable patch out front, accompanied by a ten-foot-high pile of bricks. The brick pile wasn’t unique to this house; the piles were seemingly everywhere, in shops, in cars, mills, trees, bikes, wherever you could fit one! This is definitely brick town and it makes sense because Shaanxi provides the right soil for it. For four thousand years this area has sustained the right mixture of clay and Loess for people to create the first Yaodong.
Mrs. Wang is an eighth generation farmer and the last one of her family to still live in a Yaodong. Wang’s children and grandchildren have moved out but always come to visit and keep her company. She has been living in this cave her entire life and her family has passed this land down through the generations. Before going into the estate, there was a long tunnel full of old logs, antique farming tools and an cool, earthy aroma that, as the sun was setting, carried us back to a simpler time, a quieter time.
We reached a wide open courtyard. The floor was paved in old bricks and if you didn’t look up to see the sky you wouldn’t notice that you were already 30 feet under the surface. To the right there was a tall dirt brown wall that had old wooden doors reminiscent of smaller, long forgotten storage caves. To the left there was a set of small stables built of stone and, of course, bricks for the chickens and other animals that Mrs. Wang family used to keep. At the end of the courtyard, in the right corner, was Mrs. Wang’s puppy, which had been lovingly christened “Fred.”
The place had two open courtyards, separated in the middle by the kitchen. Made of mud and hay, the kitchen is big enough to fit an electric scooter and equipped with a traditional oven to cook amazing meals. When we got to the farmstead, Mrs. Wang was happily cooking us traditional Shaanxi food for dinner. She is a kind woman, with a jubilant smile that gives you the feeling that you are some kind of honored guest in her home. She makes her own yeast and bread in her kitchen. Everything is but a foot away from the land where it grew.
The night had covered us and we were sitting in wooden chairs having dinner around an ancient stone table made from a century-old wheat grinder. Next, with our bellies full and our hearts content we set up the movie projector, converting our dwelling into our private DIY movie theater. We had an awesome variety of movies to choose from: classics, westerns and even a few Chinese films to enjoy if we wanted a more authentic experience. I had also brought along my hard drive which I was able to connect to the PC. When you looked up, you could see trees all around this 300 year old hole in the ground, where we were privileged to just chill and watch a movie, complete with a fridge packed full of beers just a few steps away. Good company and a great movie, what an incredible way to spend a Sunday night!
When it came time to hit the cave, we said our goodnights and each of us settled in our respective Yaodong for the night. The property has 3 Yaodongs. Each sleeps 2 people comfortably and it would be hard to find a more eco-friendly habitat than this one. These caves are cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The walls are 5 meters thick and it feels like someone just turned off the air conditioner leaving that cool but not cold perfect temperature for a good night’s rest. The bed is tall and the mattress soft and thick; it was like sleeping in a Marshmallow taco! I slept like a baby brick!
If you’re into this kind of “real” China stuff that most cityfolk never experience, I should mention that there is a company in town called Insiders, who use vehicles like an old-school Beijing Jeep to take the adventurous out of the city and into the vibrant countryside. I’ll be taking a trip to the mountains with them soon, and you should consider it as well! For more information, contact Julia at 18516130449, or send her an email at Julia@insidersexperience.com
Tomas Is a Terrestrial Astronaut living in Xi’an as an English teacher. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Charles is a student at Jiaotong University and a photo freak. You can contact him at email@example.com