A Feast Of Red Lanterns

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May 28th 2008
Published: June 10th 2008
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Can't fit horses teeth inside mules mouth..Can't fit horses teeth inside mules mouth..Can't fit horses teeth inside mules mouth..

Can fit Mules teeth inside mans mouth!
We caught a train to Taiyuan which is an hour away from Pingyao at 23.00, ending up at 7 am the following morning having no sleep and frustrated as hell as the squat loo were locked because some bright spark had sprayed their evil bout of D&V all over the place and must have died in there soon after, there were no western loo's anywhere which left me feeling constipated in Taiyuan.

I had heard a whisper that Pingyao had no ATM and it is impossible to cash traveller’s cheques either. Ironically Pingyao was the first place in China to create banks, money and a cheque system to assist the huge amounts of silver being used by booming business back in the Ming dynasty. Around 1800 when the imperial imperials had already defaulted on loans then abdicated, no further banks were built there, even Bureau de change businesses were not up and running until after the end of the Qing dynasty of 1911 when the country of France was discovered by an early breed of travel persons bringing the modern world the Bureau de Change and the butter croissant. But soon after all this confusion a curious hole in the wall suddenly appeared in England in 1967. It spurted paper notes to people in the streets, but this still has not really appeared in Pingyao in 2008 and the ATM myth continues to baffle travellers. With this knowledge I withdrew cash from the ATM in Taiyuan. I was right to go with my hunches.

At the Taiyuan bus station we passed our bags through the bomb scanner machine and the security guard who was nearing retirement age greeted us with smiles. As we waited for the bus a terrible fight broke out in the terminal between an alpha male customer and a female ticket seller who clearly pulled a sickie on her conflict management training day, she lacked one vital Y chromosome, which in the long run gave her some fighting chance. It got violent as the alpha male was literally grabbing the female by the neck to ring out any breath left, while she kicked his crouch and punched his head hard with both fists. The aggression in both their voices went right through the station, the noise bounced right off the not so smiling security guard who hid himself the other side of the bomb scanner. It was only when the woman ticket seller was gagging and turning blue within the man's clutches that a few burly commuters intervened by pulling the man off her, she collapsed to the floor, the male's comrades put their supportive arms around his shoulders to help him up and to praise his efforts, which got me so narked.

The dinky bus left Taiyuan at 08.05 and I had the worst tummy gas ever, Chinese food is not agreeing with me at all, I have eaten rice and noodles laden with salty MSG poured over day glow vegetables, I have not seen a knife or fork for 12 days. As I sat crampt on this very basic bus which was full of locals half asleep going to work, I could feel a deathly stomach exploding methane emission brewing, shuffling from bum cheek to bum cheek which didn't work, what does a true lady do? I just thought to hell with English pride ill let this one out, it was elephantine, no less no more and it vibrated a rendition of 'Auld Lang Syne' right through the threadbare seat that I shared with a young woman holding her comatose baby. The baby opened one eye but apart from that no one reacted at all, not even when the retched stink wafted through Chinese nostrils, but really did I expect any reaction coming from a country that snort, hack, spit, belch, fart and pick their noses to eat in public so freely.

Pingyao is picture book old China with authentic red paper lanterns, old crumbling courtyard homes and cobbled streets lined with antiques stands but confirmed no sightings of an ATM, all enclosed inside a huge ancient 39ft protective outer wall. We did find a real old Chinese haven. An electric golf cart buggy thing and driver was waiting at the bus stop just outside the old wall of Pingyao, he touted us his flyer then took us to Harmony Guest House which is run by Jackie and Sarah Deng, not a Mr. Lui which Lonely Planet is said to advise, Jackie is mighty pissed off about this as he wrote and told them two reprints ago, they obviously ignore their post and had not even been there.

I spent many hours talking to Jackie, his guest house is so beautiful to lounge about in, and the atmosphere is very calm, apart from the unusual blend of traditional Chinese tinkle tinkle music with screeching ladies telling some tragic story and western rave music circa 1990. We drank endless cups of Jasmine tea which is a compulsory drinking past time, Jackie told me that the reason many Chinese walk around with plastic flasks full of herbs and hot water is that Northern China is very dry especially as they are so near to the Mongolian Gobi deserts, this is why you will see people constantly cleaning the windows here. Jasmine tea gives necessary fluids back to the body it dampens the lungs, stomach and skin, which is great as I have had a raging thirst for weeks now, in the south of China it is humid and hot so regular green tea is drank by the gallon as it helps absorb the heat and dampness.

Jackie suggested a traditional Confucius fortune teller. I said how I’d love to see a fortune teller but I also was in need of much rest as I was knackered. He told me about his acupuncture and Tui Na practitioner who works from your room. I told him of the brutal hands of Mr. Pins in Hanoi and how he near beat and punctured me within an inch of my life, Jackie flinched as I described my Hanoi sessions showing him the photos as proof, but the beatings gave good results as I have got up at 7 am every single day and not stopped all day long for a month now.

He ordered a Miss Gentler Pin lady to attend to my needs, she didn't speak any English as she gracefully put on her white medical coat in my bathroom, she got out her metal box of loose pins and an old bottle of iodine with an ear stick which I seriously questioned if I was about to contract some form of Hepatitis, she confirmed via Jackie that all was safe and she understood what was needed, she was gentle and she worked upon my front meridians, my right sided kidney line was SCREAMINGLY painful and in need of much Qi opening work, hence my ongoing thirst. After, she gently massaged my punctured wounds as I fell asleep, I do believe she gently Ying'd by previous brutal Yang treatment, it was all in the balance.

We visited the old WANG FAMILY COURTYARD, it was a calm enjoyable day out, no hoards of brain dead people being herded around by blasting megaphones, no hustling sales people, no waiting in long queues to get a photo of a wooden door. This family court yard is not the normal touristy one visited by the masses, because back in the early 1990's when a young director by the name of Zhang Yimou was in search of the perfect location for his new film 'Raise the Red Lantern' the greedy people looking after the Wang Family courtyards wanted too much money, so he found the Qiao Family courtyard instead and since then tourists galore have flocked to see his famous second option known here as 'Da hong deng long gao gao gua'

He visited a local fortune teller, who at the time were like our modern day General Practitioners, this fortune teller told him his animal horoscopes, face shape including his 'prosperity palace' nose of money (actually very similar to mine) along with his palms of hands (normally very auspicious features) and current feng shui vibrations were to stay in the negative if he stayed in Sheng Village in Lin Shi County, Tiayan. He must take his young family south to Pingyao where the mountain was in complete harmony with the smiling river beneath, this meant the river flowed in a semi circle around the mountain and didn't look worried and swerve off into diagonal inauspicious direction. He told him the spot where he must build a home and start a new trade. He told him that within five years he will be rich beyond his wildest dreams.

So, he listened and decided to make tofu with bean curd then sell it in the market. It sold very well and more people were buying from him, then he heard a Chinese whisper amongst the other traders, that the soya bean was expected to raise in price and a recession was on its way, with this tip off he asked all his relatives, friends and even his devoted customers if he could borrow money from them, they all gave to him as he was renown to be that kind of very nice man with a 'prosperity palace' nose for things. They gave him whatever they had and with that he bought up all the soya beans in the area and held on to them for months without breathing a word. The recession came, he had probably caused it, the soya bean as whispered went sky high in price, and he then sold his stock and made a mint. The fortune teller was right, within five years he started to build this vast Wang family courtyard, which housed over one hundred family members, along with his and all the males of the family’s concubines and their families but still with no ATM available on any rounded corner.


Jackie took me to the Confucius temple. But, the mean ticket collector refused our entry, even though Jackie spoke in hushed local tones telling him I was not there to see the temple but I was an English dignitary trying to get my fortune told. The mean old ticket man looked at the state of my filthy sandals then asked that a tidy sum of silver be placed upon his needy sweaty palms first. So Jackie went in to find the proper soothsayer. He came out with a man wearing casual slacks and a mobile phone glued to his palms. We sat in a golf cart holding out my left palm, but moments after the golf cart driver needed to go somewhere, so we all moved into another golf cart, but again the driver returned, so feeling like Goldilocks and the three golf carts we got into third golf cart which felt just right.

The fortune teller asked for name, date of birth, place of birth. Not once did the fortune teller let go of his phone. He looked at my face and told me I had a 'prosperity palace' shaped nose, for which I already have already been told. My face is nice and round and plump with hints of red which means wealth, my ears are also plump underneath meaning more good fortune, and this is obviously something still to come. My life line on my right palm was examined, left for men right for ladies. He told me my life line went right around to the back of my hand with no breaks, which meant I shall live until I am 207 years old. The fortune teller told me that I am a big hearted lady, I give more than I receive, my childhood was very sad, with no family. “Within every broken nest there is one whole egg” that I am not a bad person I am a fighter, between 1991-95 it was the happiest time, between 95-99 the strangest time and a separation followed by a completely new and bazaar life, 2004 my fortune grew, same year an accident, 2007 a loss and a move. 2008 no money coming in but lots of travel. 2010 I will never have to worry ever again about money, work and true heart full happiness, this was the same as yesterdays fortune teller, but and this was a serious BUT, “I must not look for diamonds inside a kittens mouth?” A kind man will look after me and love me so dearly one day in near future. Wow, this has been told to me many times now. Jackie felt the fortune teller did not really give us our money's worth ($3.20) and he felt slightly annoyed by this, but I was amazed by what he said, he was spot on, no question, I was happy with his past and present and future predictions.

We went for dinner that night and the menu consisted of the following:

Marital affair with fragrant bull penis. Whole cock & bird nest blue soup with fried egg 2 chilli. Testicle lambs nuts with garlic knotweed 1 chilli. Pig colon hotpot & dumplings with fried egg, no chilli. Intestinal pig noodles with pac choy rice 4 chilli NO CHICKEN. I settled with sour and bitter berry soup, something chicken tasting that was not chicken that could have been snake or human in a sweet and sour, pork dumplings and more rice, eaten with fine bamboo lacquered chopsticks.

I didn't want to leave at all; I had one last acupuncture session where Miss Gentle Pin’s lady went ballistic on me. She finally pummelled and twisted my back area, it felt sadistically very good. But after the session I was wobbly on my feet and slurring my words and it was hot outside. We stupidly decided to hire a bike to cycle around the pedestrian streets. I soon lost my balance and dropped my brand new camera! If I had not had all meridians and central nervous points tampered with I may not have stood up so quick then reacted so emotionally to this event. I needed to remember that “if you are patient in a moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow”. My camera was only under warranty in Vietnam and there was no way I could afford a new one this year, I’d have to go back to England as there is no point to travelblogging without taking photos, I rapidly became depressed. “A day of clumsy sorrow is longer than a month of meticulous joy”. I just hoped the next destination has an English speaking camera shop.

Additional photos below
Photos: 28, Displayed: 28


10th June 2008

Dear Claire. On seing that "Loyal and forgiving Hall" made me think could you not get a miniature of it for a keepsake or even get a pencil and a piece of paper and scribble all over it and get the imprint for prosperity!! How many times on your travels have you had your fortune told one way or another? Must be rather a lot now. Thinking of you Love Sheila xx
11th June 2008

Another hilarious entry, Claire...please, don't come back to England, we want some more blogs!!!!
11th June 2008

Great stories
wonderful going along on your adventures. Thank you so much. Sorry about your camera. Gunga
12th June 2008

Fame & Fortune
As usual darling Claire you made me laugh. Thanks so much for that. What an incredible place. I want to go there. I could feel the comfort you felt there. I cracked open a Chinese fortune cookie for you today. It read, "Fame and fortune await woman whose eyes disappear in joy." BIG HUG. BIG LOVE. MAC from California
17th June 2008

Go Girl
Great use of 'Goldilocks and golf carts'. Surely that menu is not for real? Bring on that wealth fortune tellers! I just returned from a week working in Phuket. Presently defying jet lag. Blogs are reading better, not so much solid text. You're doing a fab job out there. xxx .
17th June 2008

Oh No!
Can't believe you dropped your brand new heavy expensive (but still within current budget) camera!..............GUTTED FOR YOU. Hope you managed to get it fixed. You should get this stuff published.
13th August 2008

Love the photos and writing: funny!
I'm an American who bummed around China in 1990 with a friend, and so I always enjoy reading about another woman who's done the same or IS doing it. Just read WUHU DIARY: ON TAKING MY ADOPTED DAUGHTER BACK TO HER HOMETOWN IN CHINA by Emily Prager. You too will find all these books and blogs about China really funny (or too idealistic) when you get back. Are you going to adopt a daughter? Uh-oh!

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