Edit Blog Post
Published: March 9th 2011
To get to Pingyao from Beijing we took the train firstly to Taiyuan, which took around three hours; we were able to book these tickets through our hotel in Beijing. Taiyuan, being the provincial capital with Shanxi, was as hectic as you could possibly imagine, and we fast became quite the spectacle in this place, especially with what they would have probably considered excessive baggage.
Before too long we were off again for the second, hour long train ride. Somehow we had acquired top level sleeper tickets for the short ride, so I craned my neck and nestled between our backpacks on the top bunk (which was quite a struggle reaching as the bunks are three tiered), so that I could be out of the way and out of view from the curious local people, who thought it just as hilarious as I (if not more) when Chris missed his seat and fell flat on his arse in the middle of the train carriage!
Looking out of the window, there wasn’t much to see. Perhaps it is the time of year that does an injustice to the now barren landscape, but I failed to uncover the usual pleasure in
looking out of the window, watching the world pass by. All to be seen was barren land; grey factories, neglected and broken but somehow still in use, akin to the homes you pass and expect to have been abandoned until you notice the telltale signs of life- clothes on the washing line and smoke coming from the chimney. Although we have enjoyed bright days and good weather since being in China, as you go by you can see that the lakes and rivers are still frozen solid, and men had broken through the ice to fish.
Upon arrival at Pingyao we were greeted by the usual horde of touts competing for business. We chose our driver quickly and he led us to our chariot. Not the dirty white typical taxi car I had assumed it to be, nor the dirtier-still, once-white “Barbie-doll jeep” just past it. We had obtained the service of a rickshaw driver, and for the ride we paid £2; much cheaper than a day out at Alton Towers but with all the thrills. I especially enjoyed the part when we went the wrong way around the roundabout, head on into the traffic and all. I wasn’t
They comprise the makeup of most of this small town
nervous at all.
And now for the educational component: Pingyao is an ancient city in the Shanxi province of China, and often considered to be the best preserved, ancient walled city in the country. Thousands of Ming and Qing dynasty homes exist within Pingyao, surrounded by the wall with gates at the main compass points and a few more thrown in for good measure, and more than 70 watch towers. All but the southern section of the wall is original, which collapsed in 2004.
Driving into the city walls, initially you might experience that “other worldly” sentiment; that feeling you get from time to time whilst travelling which excites you in a way so that you imagine you now know the same unique feeling of being the first man on the moon. Ruddy faced women, pink cheeked children, decrepit stone dwellings, pot holed roads, packs of stray dogs enjoying the run of the town. But of course, that isn’t quite an accurate description of Pingyao in its fullest sense. .. There are in fact many tourists that visit Pingyao, although mostly Chinese, especially in the late summer and autumn months.
Outside the city walls the place is
bustling with the typical everyday activity you find in any community. Inside the city walls, around the outskirts the buildings are in fact run down, the roads are pot holed, the kids are a bit mucky from playing in the dusty alleys day long... but by the time you reach the two main streets, running in a T shape through the centre of the small city, all notions of being the Neil Armstrong of Pingyao are out the window. There is an abundance of souvenir shops, hawkers selling interesting yet dubious antiques, restaurants with accompanying “Chinglish” menus and plenty of hotels to rest your weary bones after all the excitement of the train ride getting into town.
That is not to say however that Pingyao loses any of its charm in this way. We spent hours walking up and down the streets, sitting in tea shops, eating “wejetabian” (vegetarian) fried rice and taking photographs. We wish we’d had more time in Pingyao to do the same thing over again for a few more days and we even opted to stay inside the city walls, riding bicycles of shabby condition, rather than venturing outside to see the cave dwellings and
We soon became willing victims to the tourist trap that was 15 quid each for the ticket to go to the top of the wall (not realising that it was a onetime thing!) and entrance to a few of the temples around, one of which was particularly lovely, even to a pair suffering from a case of “temple fatigue” after just more than one year in Asia at this point. But we weren’t too bothered about the fact as we had paid little (compared to British and Korean standards, as we are used to), for any of our delicious meals.
Before coming to China I had been more than a little concerned about how easy it would be for me to find anything to eat (let alone actually enjoy the meal) as I eat very little meat. However, I am delighted to tell the whole world (particularly the scare mongers at Lonely Planet) that I have loved the food here in China. I could, and there is still time yet so that I might, spend the whole day eating the gorgeous vegetable dishes that have been put before me, then wash it down with a nice
pot of tea (a simple pleasure, and China is simply tea Nirvana). One of my favourite dishes yet has been the local Pingyao fare of “long potatoes in honey”.
Now, from food to drink: We have enjoyed a few (giant) bottles of Tsingtao whilst in China, but only yesterday we were wondering what was China’s equivalent to Soju or Sake? Well, Chris and I found out the hard way! At dinner last night we were happily enjoying our meal together when we heard “Hello”. We looked over to the only other occupied table and were blinded by the flash of a camera. After the mandatory “westerner photo shoot” we were kindly invited over to the table and encouraged to try their meals (“woah chil soo”; I am vegetarian, I said. But that was irrelevant.) Then out came what looked like a bottle of industrial strength bleach. Not a half bad description of the taste either. And there it was, Maotai.
And although we did not quite enjoy the booze, the hospitality was greatly appreciated, however awkward the situation was made with absolutely no common language. We have experienced frequent kindness during our short stay in Pingyao; from our
fellow dinners, the wonderful owner of the local tea shop, to the great staff at Harmony Guesthouse and always from the neighbourhood people we encountered in the streets. That said, we’re especially sad to be leaving Pingyao so soon...
Tot: 1.704s; Tpl: 0.162s; cc: 13; qc: 35; dbt: 0.0234s; 1; m:saturn w:www (220.127.116.11); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.4mb