Best preserved ancient town in China, city wall, souvenirs, temples
11.10.2015 - 13.10.2015 18 °C
We take the train from Xi'an, passing terraced fields, to the town!, 50,000 people, of Pingyao.
It used to be the 'Wall Street of China' and is the birthplace of modern Chinese banking. Today it is the best preserved ancient town in China.
Pingyao's intact city wall was built in 1370. The Confucian Temple was constructed in 1153!
We are staying right in the old town, at a guesthouse, for two nights.
The train station is on the city outskirts and looks new. Ultra modern, sleek and clean. We have arranged transfer service from our landlady, 30 yuan or roughly six Canadian dollars and fifty cents.
She is standing on the stairs with a card with my name on it, a pretty woman who takes my suitcase after we hug hello and says in a rich, deep voice, almost Russian sounding, 'I am strong.'
We discover that although her English sounds clear and confident it is limited so casual conversation is out.
For two nights our room costs fifty dollars and includes breakfast. It had over a nine rating on booking.com and was very well located on a Main Street of the old town. We get two complimentary bottles of water per day and in the evening a pot of hot water. We did not use the hot water as we were always suspicious that it could be tapwater.
This is an ancient property decorated in the old style, wall to wall bed with a wood frame, likely hand painted and an old wood chair very heavy barely fits at the foot of the bed. The bathroom has a sink, western style toilet, toilet paper goes in the garbage can and two tiny streams of water come out of the shower head, if coaxed. The room is well off the street and faces a courtyard where we could sit at wood tables, some people took their meals there.
However for the first time we are chilly and I am bemoaning the loss of my down jacket. The bathroom gives the room a smell, maybe mildew with a little sewer, there isn't room to swing a cat, one suitcase goes on the chair and we are either laying on the bed or preparing to go out which we do in shifts.
We had barely checked in when Rhea announced no more guest houses or hostels, get a normal hotel room in Beijing. She would pay the extra she could not stand any more crappy bathrooms and God willing, the mattress might be softer as these mattresses have been pretty hard.
So I have a shower and wash my hair, I am freezing. Considering this room is costing us 25 dollars per night or 12.50 each with breakfast included, it isn't that bad. Now I dig out my long pants and the cashmere sweater I got at a thrift store in Victoria for ten dollars.
The guest house has its own restaurant but Rhea had spotted a hot plate for cooking so we decided to go out to eat. Lots of Chinese tourists, a few westerners, the streets are walking-only except for a few scooters and bikes, very narrow, and crammed with souvenir shops, many selling cashmere and silk scarves. Some of these scarves are the size of tablecloths and I am determined to get one to keep warm. This issue will be short lived as we are here for less than 48 hours.
We loop around two blocks, this is kind of like Banff, gives off that mountain vibe for some reason, maybe it is the nippy weather and all the souvenir shops and the streets full of Asian tourists ....
We settle on a restaurant which seems to be doing a lot of business, the menu has pictures but the names are not descriptive to our taste, bullfrog and cow intestines are not sounding appealing and the waiter does not speak English so we decide to go back to our guesthouse to eat. Quick as you please the affable owner says in her deep, clear voice, 'May I take your order.' Discussions on menu items are out so I have dry potato chips, these are home made, I enjoy the salt. Back in the room I supplement supper with soda crackers and digestive biscuits. This may be one reason I did not lose weight, my diet was so heavy in carbs!!
For breakfast I have coffee and try to eat some bread, I'm ok but feel a bit off.
We are given a map, the old city wall is a block away and we explore this quaint, ancient town, a big bazaar, and bargaining is in.
We stopped by a Catholic Church, it was not on the tourist circuit, so free, kind of cute, with the Asian influence:
Now we started our souvenir buying expedition. If things are not priced you say "How much"? They either hold up their fingers (learn that system, I did not), pull out cash or, most common, show the amount on a calculator, You now are expected to do something. If you say I have to think about it, or, maybe later, they indicate you are to enter an amount on the calculator or somehow make a counter offer. This is stressful. I do the math, divide by 4 and enter that amount. They are offended in a good-natured way. They show a new number, slightly less than the first offering. Eegads, now it is my turn, I am apologetic, try to move off, the calculator is shaken under my nose, put something, play the game. You win some, you lose some, never feel too cocky, only a few will chase after you and grudgingly give you the price you offered. Sometimes their final offer is final and you may not come across a similar deal all day, and then kick yourself later, because 'he who hesitates is lost,' here in the bargaining department as well as in the street crossing department.
We get creative and start bargaining on multiples but it does not always work, sometimes the price marked is the price and sometimes it is not.
Oh here we pass a restaurant with a lonely planet recommendation, and now there is a coffee shop, right across from the place with all the dream catchers in the window
I spent thirty yuan for a fancy coffee, I don't like to deprive myself of a good jolt.
I did buy a scarf, 'cashmere' for 65 yuan, I used it that night in our room.
I was busy looking at hotels online with my chilly fingers and super slow wifi and got us booked in to the Howard Johnson Paragon for our five nights in Beijing. Not a five star but kind of fancier and more upscale than the HoJos back home. For less than one hundred a night but double the price of the budget room I had arranged before.
There is a lot of street food but we do not have any:
We had lunch at the Lonely Planet restaurant and it was fun. We had noodles. A few of the customers spoke pretty good English and there were lots of laughs.
This girl was really friendly and is showing us her purchase of earrings:
Unique to Pingyao are red and black paper cutouts - souvenir gifts? Rhea bought a big one, mounted on silk for her souvenir. I bought a little one, kind of an afterthought as a bargaining chip, did not work by the way, these merchants are masters in reading body language and assessing how attached you are to the idea of owning a particular item. I am glad for all my Pingyao purchases, the prices were good compared to Beijing in general and the airport in particular!! Or the railway station!!
Right across from our guesthouse was a massage place, one hour foot massage for thirty yuan, less than seven dollars Canadian. I sauntered over our last morning and had the only massage of our trip. I was up-sold a pedicure for an additional thirty but it was not like what we expect for a pedicure like no clipping the nails and no polish but she did remove some callouses and what kind of pedicure could I expect for six dollars. But I maybe should have tried out the fish nibbling arrangement at a competitor for the experience.
Since the streets are so narrow, I am guessing fifteen feet, I could hook up to our guesthouse wifi to pass the time as there was nothing much to look at and nothing to read. Parts of the treatment were quite painful, points on your feet relate to body parts and organs but I do not know where my ailments are as the masseuse and I could not really communicate. Too complicated. At any rate my feet were very relaxed during our five hour high speed train trip to Beijing.
Tiny, 2 km across, originally called Ancient Tao, then Pingtao, renamed Pingyao, yes a relaxing sojourn, and in retrospect we maybe should have seen a few of the temples, but we learned how to bargain and picked up a number of souvenirs, recommended if you have the time. It is like a highly commercialized resort town, easy to walk around, laid back. You will see the same items over and over again, kind of crafty items in some places.
For some reason if it is something you really liked but neglected to purchase at the time, it will not show up again and you cannot remember which little shop on which little street, oh well, 'he who hesitates is lost.'
We are in travel albums all over China. We had our pictures taken several times in Pingyao, here is a fun time below, I was in a shop bargaining and Rhea was sitting on a wall waiting for me, when I came out she was surrounded by people having their picture taken with her so I took one too and then said, "Hey I want my picture taken with you,' to the man holding the baby, "But I want to hold the baby." Rhea took pictures it was quite funny as the baby cried so that didn't work but the whole thing seemed quite festive and fun.
I wish I would have purchased one of these purses - I said to Rhea that I could make one, and she remarked, "but you won't". How true. Imagine making all these little balls in a uniform manner and then putting it together so it doesn't fall apart and then the zipper, etc. But cute aren't they? I didn't see what price they were, I was so convinced I could just knock one off when I got home:
A very colourful, crafty, souvenir dense town: