A tuk tuk into the past.
06.10.2010 - 07.10.2010
Part 2 of my ‘golden week’ started with an overnight train from Xi’an to Pingyao, a picturesque ye-olde Chinese town preserved to such an extent that many Chinese productions still use its streets for dramas and films. This train journey meant that I went from Shaanxi province to Shanxi province (!) – they really should’ve thought of different names…
October the 6th
After experiencing what the Tianjin lot experienced (I can give no recommendation to hard-seater tickets despite the budget price), I arrived shattered having had no sleep and having to fight myself through the ‘standing ticket’ crowds to get off the train. From the train station, we entered the town of Pingyao via a tuk tuk organised by the ‘Harmony Guesthouse’ (a hostel only surpassed in character by its owners, the colourful Mr and Mrs Wang). It'd be an understatement to say it was a scary ride. The driver seemed to think he was driving a 4x4 rather than a small tin can pulled by a motorcycle on its last legs.
We were all fairly knackered from the train journey but we were determined to make the most of this one full day we had here. We hopped into a minivan with an assortment of other European travelers (including some mad Belgiums who were going to buy motorcycles and drive to Shanghai). Our first stop was the Qing Dynasty Wang Family Courtyard - Mr and Mrs Wang were clearly minted having downsized their residence from a palace to a hostel...
The courtyard is so famous that many celebrities come visit
It kind of reminded me of the Imperial Palace but not nearly as big or grand. HOWEVER, it did have interesting Chinglish signs which is always a brucie bonus.
If anyone can tell me what any of these signs mean, they can have a blue peter badge. Especially the sign in the second picture. Very worrying.
It also had an interesting arid landscape which was dotted with still-occupied cave dwellings. Reminded me of grainy pictures I've seen in history books of the CCP living in such dwellings during their civil war with the Kuomintang. Apparently they're quite the catch (the caves, not the KMT), warm in winter, cool in summer.
On a slightly different note, the Americans should come here to look for a certain wanted man.
We then went off to explore the excitingly named 'Zhangbi Underground Castle'. Unfortunately, it didn't quite live up to the name...it consisted of a lot of earth-dug tunnels with periodic offshoot rooms which were labeled 'stable', 'barracks', 'general's bedroom' but they all looked the same!! Maybe I don't have any eye for such things. Anyway, all this ambiguity didn't stop me from lying down on a certain Sui Dynasty general's bed.
And yes, it was as comfortable as it looks
After brushing off earth from our clothes, we retired back to our hostel for a well earned rest.
October the 7th
The next day was a kind of half-day for the 5 Tianjingers who had decided to come from Xi'an to Pingyao as they had an early-ish train back to Tianjin. However, since my train back to Qingdao wasn't until the evening, I hired a bike and had a really nice day just cycling here and there through the cobbled lanes of this old town. Sure bits of it are touristified now but it still looks old school Chinese (and it has some of the best food I've tasted in China...).
Just like in the movies/tv dramas set in ye olde times...well, except with westerners wandering around.
All in all, the October 'golden week' was a fantastic chance to see some things I've wanted to see for ages e.g. Xian and although the huge domestic tourist crowds were a big negative point, it was nonetheless great to meet up with friends and experience many different sides of China with a lot more, I'm sure, still to see.