Because Uncle Manny is in China right now (!) and we meet him in Beijing on Friday (!!) to go to Guilin together (!!!), I'm going to combine all last weekend into one monstrous post. Get your Adderal, folks ;)
Pingyao is where Chinese banking was founded and was an extremely rich town of merchants (Jeopardy clue: The first Chinese draft bank was started by a rich guy who needed an easier way to move funds from his stores in different cities than schlepping bags of silver). Because it was so small, it escaped the notice of the Chinese Modernization Committee and has been left untouched as originally built 200-800 years ago. That's what's awesome about Pingyao. What stinks (literally) is that it's in Shanxi Province, which is where all of China gets its coal, so the whole town was COVERED in thick smog and dust that smelled horrible. Anyways, we took a relatively standard overnight soft sleeper train to Pingyao and were met at the station by our free transportation to the hostel...electric tuktuk! After we got settled, we signed up for a day tour of the two nearby highlights, House of Wang and the Underground Castle (sounds xxx, right?). The Wang family made a fortune selling tofu (of all things) a long time ago and built this pimp complex of buildings. The size of the compound was as impressive (this pic is probably 1/3 of it!)
as the detail within each courtyard.
One of our own problems is that we, as Westerners, don't have any appreciation for historical Chinese art/artifacts. So, we saw this room full of calligraphy and pottery from 1300, and were like, ok cool,
whereas if you replace that with Renaissance-era statues and paintings, we'd be really impressed. To add some Western flair to the settings, Alison and I re-enacted a famous scene
by one of our most famous literary geniuses.
I was thinking more along the lines of Romeo and Juliet, but apparently this picture also looks like Rapunzel. Oh well. We also got a great glimpse of the famous cave dwellings of Shanxi province: these people live in caves which they expand and add (some) modern conveniences! You can see the chimneys peaking out from the ground! We then moved on to the Underground Castle, which was actually just a series of tunnels built in the 1400s as defense against the...enemy (term undefined by tour guide). At one point, the tunnel was so short even our favorite Mini-Me could barely stand up
at other points, it had stairs.
We eventually got down to 26 meters underground! This level had a trapdoor for the enemy to fall to his death...or something. We then got a tour of an old town of 1000 people and had a nice dinner. On the second day, we spent the morning walking along the ancient city wall, built in 1300. Here you see how the wall is like a fortress preventing new Pingyao from changing the old...and how polluted it was.
Alison blew her nose near here...and the snot had black flecks in it! She also took a really cool picture of this family drying gloves and toy bunnies (which are black from the soot) on the wall. After lunch (see menu below) we went on a self-guided tour of historic Pingyao. Our first stop was the prison.Luckily, Alison escaped and was able to join me and Sarah for the rest of the tour :) The problem with this picturesque town is that after a while, everything started looking the same. For example, courtesy of Alison (of course), here's a pic of small temple and another of a random bank
Beautiful but similar, right? After a while, what happened randomly wherever we were was more exciting than the actual buildings. Inside one temple, there was a reenactment of a judge decreeing the law to peasants
and in an old amphitheater there was a rehearsal for a dance performance. We also bought some hand-made embroidery things that look like paintings for less than a Starbucks coffee costs in NYC...
before returning to Beijing in the hard sleeper class, which has 6 people to a compartment, without a door. Main difference: you can't sit up on your bed.
To sum up Pingyao, we had a great time and are really happy to go, but would NOT recommend that anyone visits in winter...or if you like your lungs. I leave you guys with a preview of Halloween, 2011: