I hurried out of my house at 7 p.m. after my 3-5 p.m. classes. My train was leaving at 8 p.m. and arriving in Yuci at 4 a.m. I had to catch an even slower train to Pingyao after that. The whole ordeal took 14 hours. I realized I wasn't going to make it to Taiyuan, where my host lives, it's another two hours away.
In Yuci I wandered around until it got light. It was absolutely freezing. I was happy I packed some socks. I immediately put them on and was almost warm enough to endure four hours of nothing. At around 5 a.m. I saw some street vendors making their first batch of dumplings and heating up soup. Yes please! The dumplings had extra yeast, or had risen longer than other dumplings. I loved them with all my heart. I will definitely try to find them again, if I have another connection in Yuci.
At 7 a.m., I fell asleep in the warm sun radiating through the wall of windows in the train station. I didn't notice the time going by. Suddenly, I was on the train again, sitting across from a whiny girl and her boyfriend with matching "RE2PECT" shirts. Ugh. Sleep came quickly, again.
In Pingyao, I waited in an astronomically long line to buy my ticket back home. I'd have to leave on Sunday at noon, so I'd have approximately 24 hours in Pingyao.
My first stop had to be the city walls. In Xi'an, I was tricked into leaving the walls early and didn't get to walk the perimeter. I had already been fed up with the street hustlers trying to get me in their cab or sell me some stupid map I didn't need. I had directed quite a few outbursts at them already. It was like being in Ha Long Bay again. Hate it.
I already needed to get away. I knew there'd be hot sun and no water up on the wall, so I made myself eat a Chinese style slush puppy, shaved ice with sweet red beans and colourful coconut and fruit sauce on top.
I was disappointed to learn that a big chunk of the wall was under construction and I wouldn't be walking the whole way around. As predicted though, it was hot, dry and also quite polluted. But I amused myself pretending to be a Qing dynasty sentry as I walked.
Part of the wall followed a small river. That part was really nice. I had most of the whole place to myself. Probably because of all the hardships I had to endure, like packing my own water and bringing along an apple. Most people just went up one set of stairs, found no cheap junk to buy, and went right back down another.
As I was walking, I had a little thought. For whatever reason, Europeans stopped using walls and moats as defensive city strategies after the Middle Ages right? But Chinese people used them right up to the 19th century. Could this be the reason or a factor in the Chinese propensity to just "wall stuff off" when there's a problem?
I've heard a story about a park at a university in Changsha that was blamed for the drug problem at the school. Many drug deals went on in this park. The security team, in their infinite wisdom, decided to put a fence around the park instead of apprehending the perpetrators of the crimes.
It's the same strategy employed at my school. People complained that too many students were hanging around in the staff residence area, where I live, so the security team put up a big gate that's only open at times when they believe the staff need it open. This doesn't always correspond to my schedule. So, I frequently have to walk home the long way. All because someone would rather put up a wall than actually deal with the situation by say, stopping people that are not staff, and asking them to leave.
I came to the end of the wall and followed a tour group to the Confucius temple, a really old place, that was used as a venue for the Imperial Examinations way back in the day. One of the buildings, Da Cheng Hall, is the oldest in the city.
By now, I was famished, so I ordered a giant bowl of fresh noodles, the small kind, made with a cheese grater. I love it. Some electric cart drivers wanted to eat lunch with me for some reason. We stared at each other in silence. After all the noodles, I was so full, I rolled over to the Catholic church, which is a jumble of Chinese and European architecture, hidden behind a heavy rusty door, so I almost didn't find it.
Qingxu Guan, a Taoist temple, was next. It was nice and cool inside, especially in the caves in the back. There was some bizarre story about some footprints of a lizard and a bird walking side by side, aka a phoenix and dragon. Renovators in the nineties found these footprints one morning, while they were working on the new temple. They saved some of the footprints there on one of the beams, but I couldn't really see what they were talking about. The last thing I planned to see was Richencheng Museum. One of the first banks in China began in Pingyao. The guide book said not to miss it, but I wasn't wildly impressed. On my way there, I mistakenly visited a bunch of other museums that were approximately the same. The Qiao family courtyard was much more interesting to me and presented in a more professional way, I thought.
The city tower was five yuan more and at this point, I was done anyway. I literally wanted to fall into bed and never wake up again. I didn't care to look at any more historical homes or gaze at any more ancient peaked roofs. I rambled around till I found a sign that beckoned me down a suspicious alley, because that's how I roll.
I walked inside and said BIN GUAN, paid whatever they wanted (it was $20) and slept on my Qing style rammed earth bed, like a princess. When I woke up I tried to ask for advice on how to get to some out of town places next weekend. After about a HALF HOUR of pointless questions, they told me to go to a travel agent.
The questioning went like this: "Why don't you go tomorrow?" and "Where do you live?" etc. I couldn't believe that was their only advice, even after asking how old I am and what my marital status is. The reason I asked him in the first place was to make sure no one overcharged me, or did anything weird. Now, I'd have to go home and do it from there, I guess. I didn't see any travel agents all day, and really didn't feel like going into hotels at random to ask.
By then, it was 8 p.m. and I figured I should go soak up the night scene. Bracing myself for strobe lights and karaoke, I was a little relieved. There were still annoying lights advertising everything from foot massages to jewelry boxes, but it wasn't as intense as in Fenghuang etc.
I had told a sweet potato fry vendor that I'd come back and buy his fries (seriously, they were the first ones I'd seen since leaving Canada) and I was ecstatic that he was still there. So I munched on those on my way back home.
The Lonely Planet describes this place as bewitching and beguiling, so I was expecting more peacefulness. Anyone would be better off anywhere else. Most of the city is crumbling and in the process of being rebuilt. I couldn't count the times I trekked through the loose gravel and mud of an ongoing construction project, that in all likelihood won't be finished for five years, judging by the industrious workers lounging around with cigarettes.
I think it was a really great opportunity to really experience an old city wall in peace and quiet. I was really happy about that part. But, the rest is all the same as every other Chinese tourist trap. The same stuff is for sale and the same music pumps from the stores selling overpriced purses, hats and other garish junk.
On my way back to the hotel, I wanted to avoid all this, so I promptly got lost in some dark alleyways. Someone had thrown away a bright pink hat with ugly black and white flowers on the brim. I picked it up and wore it home. Now I could look like every other idiot romping around with a cheap hat in some tour guide destination. ha!
In the morning, I stayed in bed as long as I could and when it was finally time to leave, I walked as slowly as possible back to the train station, picking up relatively healthy snacks along the way for my long train ride home. On the way, I lingered at the church to hear some hymns in Chinese and I picked up some unhealthy donut things for breakfast. Not sure what was inside them, maybe dates. Then I found some nectarines on the street and steam buns and yogurt at a big store. I have never been so ready for long train ride in my life! On top of that, I was 1.5 hours early at the train station! I really couldn't stand any more Pingyao, so I calmly relaxed with my Pingyao tea in the waiting room.
Soon, big problems began to reveal themselves. First, I got into one of those unfair bathroom "lines" where you choose one door and then wait by it for someone to get out. If you happen to choose someone with constipation, a heavy period or explosive diarrhea, tough shit for you! You must wait, and watch, while other people who waited less time than you relieved their bladders before you. Don't think about switching doors though, because as soon as you do that, immediately, that constipated person, will come out, and you will have missed your golden opportunity for a pee.
Secondly, there was no water in the taps and my gross hands stayed gross until I could wash on the train.
Thirdly, my train to Yuci was late. I was going to miss my connection home. Shit. For some reason, a China Rail worker knew I was going to Jiaozuo and she told me to get on another train. I thought for some reason that this train was going to Taiyuan. If that was the case, I'd need another ticket from Taiyuan to Jiaozuo. So I got angry and started demanding a new ticket. Once I got to Taiyuan, how would I get on the train to Jiaozuo? Right? No one could answer me.
What I found out though, two hours later, was that yes, this train in fact, was going to Yuci, the actual city that I needed to go to. I don't know why I thought it was going to Taiyuan and I also don't know why no one told me I was wrong. I just kept saying "NEW TICKET!" to anyone who would listen, and everyone just said "NO! NO NEW TICKET!" I don't think it would have been so hard to say "This train Yuci", but no one did. And I just sat in the dining car, with no seat, until we got there. And then I understood.
I had 15 minutes to catch my sleeper train home. And I did. And I slept. And I got home at 11 p.m. after the buses are done, and I walked home for and hour and a half again. Because that's how I do.