Yes, I’m now very late writing this but we’ve had so little time to spend on the internet that it gets hard to keep up. I’m now in Shanghai and need to write about Xi’an too. We leave Shanghai for Hangzhou tomorrow…
We arrived early in Pingyao after another very hot night’s sleep. The train was really interesting though. Chinese drinking from large flasks of tea or drinking and smoking in small crowds. The lights went off at 10pm, just as Martyn and I planned to play some Scrabble so that scuppered that. The Chinese seemed to take it as a challenge and continued partying through the night. There were various stops so there was a constant rumble of activity. For security’s sake I slept with my day bag by my head. Paranoia perhaps but It let me sleep soundly for most of the night.
We left the train excited to see Pingyao which is half way between Xi’an and Beijing. We’d read a little about its intact Ming wall and Han (I think) buildings inside but we were still extremely impressed with the city wall when we saw it. Passing into the ‘ancient’ city all our preconceptions were met by the dusty roads and extremely well preserved houses. It was about 500m in that the reality hit us. Even at 8 or 9am there were touristy shops selling everything from prints of the Mona Lisa (WTF?????) to miniature Chairman Mao figurines. We shrugged off an old man trying to be our guide and found our quaint hostel, the Yamen hostel pretty easily. We booked into a double room and settled down. Martyn went for a shower and I suddenly realised there was a strange noise in the room. Moving around I discovered it was coming from one of the tables. A strange almost ticking noise from within. When Martyn finished I got him to confirm that I wasn’t just hearing things and we agreed that some termite-type creature was gnawing away at the table from within. We named the ticking table Alf and settled down for a few hours just to relax a bit.
After getting the hostel to organise our onward train tickets we headed out and made a beeline away from the hustlers of our street to the south gate of the walls. After failing to get youth or student discounts on tickets for the city we were forced to pay 120Y for the ticket to get us access to everything Pingyao had to offer. We clambered up to the main wall and surveyed the scene. Walled Pingyao really is an interesting sight. It must be 2km east to west and 1km north to south, there are a couple of chimneys inside the walls but the majority of the buildings are single or double storey preserved Han homes. There are several obvious deviations from this such as the towers in the centre and a few temples dotted around but looking through the haze at the entire place it was very different to anything we’d seen so far. The walls were almost entirely deserted so we strolled around from the south to the north gate in perhaps an hour. En route we were photographed by young Huangqin and his two friends. Then we gave our email addresses to him to forward us the pics so I now have a pen-pal in Pingyao! The day was scorching and extremely humid, it must have done something to our brains because we started imagining we were in a pool and started walking along swimming breast-stroke to fool ourselves we weren’t actually melting. Oddly enough it worked and I’d recommend it to anyone in a hot place.
Apart from the walls there wasn’t a hell of a lot to see in Pingyao that wasn’t an endless series of bank or bank owner related museums which easily could have been exactly the same. One highlight was a Taoist temple which had incredibly graphic representations of what happens when you go to hell. A long diorama of torture and punishment that interrupted the generally serene feel of the place…
We ate at the hostel in the evening because we were exhausted and couldn’t be bothered to head beyond the touristy facade our our area. We regretted it the next morning. I’ll leave it at that.
We met some really nice Danes called Jenni and Louisa who re-taught us a card game called shithead and another one aptly named Jenni. Plus we met a Brit called Jo and her Aussie boyfriend Nick who we watched The Matador and The Constant Gardener with (The Constant Gardener is one of the most cringeworthy films I’ve ever seen, good premise but really badly done). I sat and drank lots of jasmine tea to soothe my belly and we headed down to the train station to go to Xi’an. The platform controller guy told us to stand in completely the wrong place and then we found our tickets didn’t match the carriage the staff wanted us to have so we sprinted back and forth until we finally got the correct door. We piled on, as sweaty as in Beijing, and after being given a lucky 2 Jiao coin by a strange Chinese radiology nurse man we chilled for the evening.