A Travellerspoint blog

May 2015

Really tiring day in Pingyao

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.

Sandals and socks

Sandals and socks


Me vs. dumpling

Me vs. dumpling


Me vs. dumpling

Me vs. dumpling


Me vs. soup

Me vs. soup


Pingyao is crumbling

Pingyao is crumbling


Pingyao rammed earth wall

Pingyao rammed earth wall


Pingyao pollution

Pingyao pollution


Pingyao city walls

Pingyao city walls


Pingyao city walls

Pingyao city walls


Pingyao city walls

Pingyao city walls


Pingyao city walls

Pingyao city walls


Pingyao city walls

Pingyao city walls


Pingyao city walls

Pingyao city walls


Pingyao city walls

Pingyao city walls


Pingyao city walls

Pingyao city walls


Pingyao city walls

Pingyao city walls


Pingyao city walls

Pingyao city walls


Pingyao city walls

Pingyao city walls


Da Cheng Hall

Da Cheng Hall


Confucius temple

Confucius temple


Me vs. noodles

Me vs. noodles


Catholic church

Catholic church


Catholic church

Catholic church


Taoist temple

Taoist temple


Taoist temple

Taoist temple


Rishicheng house

Rishicheng house


Pingyao streets

Pingyao streets


Pingyao streets

Pingyao streets


My princess bed

My princess bed


The hat I found

The hat I found


Pingyao streets

Pingyao streets


Pingyao streets

Pingyao streets


Pingyao streets

Pingyao streets


Pingyao streets

Pingyao streets


Pingyao streets

Pingyao streets


Pingyao streets

Pingyao streets


South gate

South gate


Old tire tracks

Old tire tracks


Me and my new hat

Me and my new hat


The hotel I found

The hotel I found


The alleyway

The alleyway

Posted by baixing 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

No more Howard, mmmkay?

In the morning, Howard thankfully had to go to work. He made us breakfast of tea and toast, and then Amy and I played with the dog until he got back.

I was completely exhausted by this man. At one point we were talking about my parents and he asked if I lived at home with them whenever I went back to Canada. I said yes and then he followed that up with "So you're not ready to cut the umbilical cord yet, eh???"

What the actual.... I was speechless and stared right into his cold dead eyes, uncomprehending his brain processes.

"No, actually I have two of my own houses in Ottawa, but there are always tenants living in them."

He immediately backpedalled and changed his mind about my obvious reliant tendencies. I told him my age, and he didn't believe it. Wow. After thoroughly insulting me, Howard went to work.

Amy and I spent a relaxing morning with the doggie and we talked about more interesting things without insulting each other or making some lame sexual innuendo comment at all! Imagine that. When Howard came back we went out for lunch at the university cafeteria and headed over to the musem. Howard had invited his friend who has a new baby to the museum. They picked us up, but the car was too full for everyone, so I walked with a couple of Chinese students to the museum. It was about a 10 minute walk, nobody needed to be picked up at all.

While we were waiting with them for the car, one of the students asked why I didn't have any babies. I said I have no interest in that and besides, I'm too old to have them now anyway.

Howard to the rescue! He just HAD to pipe in and say "NO! YOU ARE NOT! YOU COULD HAVE AS MANY BABIES AS YOU WANT!"

Well... that wasn't my point, and I'm not interested in that anyway, so... what the *#&(*$# are you talking about you blathering idiot?

Finally the car came and I was not about to get in with him, no matter how short the ride was. As I was walking away with the students (who both happened to be male) Howard implied that I wanted a "boy for each arm", and that that was the reason why I didn't want to ride in the car with them. Actually, I couldn't stand to be near him anymore.

In the museum Young, one of the students, and I went through the museum and avoided Howard the whole time. It was so uncomfortable, I just wanted to go home at this point.

Howard's friend Terry and his wife Annie suggested that they could drive me to the train station after we had dinner, so I agreed because I wanted to try the famous Taiyuan vinegar noodles. They ordered a feast and paid for everything.

On the way to the bus station, I was about to die from nausea. Howard had gotten hold of Annie's baby and was creepily saying things like "Oh you're a beautiful girl, you're the most beautiful girl in the world" and blahblahblah. I'm not gonna say he was fondling the poor thing, but it might has well have been. I wanted to barf all over the leather interior of the new BMW.

"Howard she's terrified," I said as the baby started crying, and then he gave the baby back. He thought it was due to his unshaved face and I rolled my eyes, got out of the car and ran onto the train. Glad it was all over.

There always must be a show

There always must be a show


Famous quail bronzeware

Famous quail bronzeware


The quail

The quail


Tray

Tray


Some amazing frescoes

Some amazing frescoes


Top of the museum

Top of the museum


Top of the museum

Top of the museum

Posted by baixing 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

Raise the Red Lantern movie location!

On Friday night I caught the overnight train to Taiyuan. The city bus stops running at 9 p.m., so I went downtown at 9:30 and bought a bean salad and some beer at the night market nearby. I tried to just enjoy the scene and immerse myself in the sights, sounds and smells, but it wasn't happening.

I got my audiobook out and spaced out until it was time to go. Birdsong was on there, depressing stuff.

The waiting room was oddly warm and I found myself nodding off while simultaneously keeping one eye open, in case the train arrived. When it finally did, the walk over to the track woke me right back up and I had a terrible time getting back to sleep. Eventually, I managed to drift off here and there throughout the night.

In the morning, I went straight to the Qiao Family Courtyard. I had a tough time finding bus 611 that went to the bus station I needed (Jiannan). Eventually, I got there, and I had a few minutes for noodles before the bus to the courtyard left. Cold noodles smothered in peanut sauce with cucumbers. Fantastic.

By the time I got to the bus, it was full. The bus driver kicked some people off who had knowingly boarded the bus earlier than they were entitled to. I hate how people always try to fudge the rules. Ugh. How is it so hard to just get on the right bus?

Anywho, an hour and a half later, I was transported into the pre-communist world, where a super rich merchant lived and conducted his business with his family and hundreds of servants.

The film Raise the Red Lantern was shot there, so the whole thing felt oddly familiar and depressing, like the movie. I hadn't seen the movie in a long time, so it was all a very vague sort of familiarity. Strange.

After wandering around in the 150 rooms open to the public, I headed back to town. I bought a creamy melon popsicle. By the time I was done, there was a bus waiting in front of me, ready to take me back. Nice timing, bus. I snoozed all the way back to Taiyuan.

My hosts told me to take bus 805 to get to their house, but none of the drivers would let me. One finally took me to another stop, where I had to take 831 all the way to the end.

Amy's husband, Howard met me at the stop.

I said hi, when I noticed him looking for me, and told him I was looking for a lady, not a man. He replied thusly: "You mean my wife? She's no lady!"

Ummm.... Ok then....

He was a friendly New Zealander who had quite a mean streak when talking to and about Amy's cute teddy bear dog. I was more than a little horrified at the language he would throw around, actually.

I was also taken aback by the way he was constantly referring to his wife in a sexual way, and telling me how her beautiful friends are "better than strippers". I was getting nauseated.

Amy had made chicken with mashed potatoes and salad. I was starving, and this was much appreciated. I had picked up half of a giant watermelon for dessert, so we also had that for dinner together.

She seemed like a really nice, reasonable person, so I was unsure how she ended up with a nasty old man like Howard. I made sure to tell her about my relationship with a much older man, (who was 5,000 times more polite and thoughtful) just in case she needed to know there could be a better life than this.

This guy was so arrogant and he also had a brain tumor, seriously, which may or may not have affected his judgment.

After some extremely awkward conversation, Amy suggested we go for a walk along the river to see the lights. There was a giant illuminated dragon floating on the water for no apparent reason, but it was cool anyway.

Waking up on the train

Waking up on the train


Peanut sauce noodles

Peanut sauce noodles


Map of the courtyard

Map of the courtyard


Opera singer

Opera singer


Raise the red lantern set

Raise the red lantern set


Some baskets

Some baskets


Baby hats

Baby hats


Qiao courtyard

Qiao courtyard


Qiao courtyard

Qiao courtyard


Qiao courtyard

Qiao courtyard


Qiao courtyard

Qiao courtyard


Rotating lamp

Rotating lamp


Qiao courtyard

Qiao courtyard


Qiao courtyard

Qiao courtyard


Qiao courtyard

Qiao courtyard


Qiao courtyard

Qiao courtyard


Qiao courtyard

Qiao courtyard


Qiao courtyard

Qiao courtyard

Posted by baixing 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

Misty mountain

I had a couchsurfer all lined up for this weekend, two of them actually. I realized the first person was nowhere near where I wanted to go, so I had to cancel on her, mid-trip. The second one, Yulia, was in Xinxiang. I thought this mid-sized city was only 50 minutes from the mountain, but it was actually two hours. Initially, I thought it wouldn't be a problem, but once the bus started going up the mountain, and up the mountain, and up the mountain, I knew it was gonna be an ordeal to get back down. The road twisted and turned as we stopped at what seemed like every corner to let someone on or off. When we got to the foot of the mountain, the bus driver recited a long speech in Chinese and half the people got off. Usually in this scenario, you should stay on the bus, and especially this time, two nice young men explained to me that we were buying our tickets to the park on the bus, which would include transportation to the top of the mountain also. Alright I guess. Their names were Gavin and Lee. Gavin had such an incredible command of English, that I asked to follow them for the day. They said of course, and we headed straight for lunch, where we munched on mountain vegetables and tofu. We had a little bit of a problem finding a restaurant that was still open, I guess we were a little late. From there, we headed to the "Sky Ladder", but everything had become hopelessly misty and rainy. There was no longer any magnificent scenery to speak of. Before this awful weather had set in, there were fantastic red peaks and canyons. So, we strolled around in the mist, couldn't see anything and made the best of it. Gavin kept saying it was great, because "the more you see nothing, the more you can see"... Ahhh Chinese wisdom. We looked at the top of the stairs, which used to be the only way to get to Guoliangcun, until they built the scray tunnel road on the side of the mountain. There was also a gun turret that they used in some anti-Japanese movie, as well as a cute village on the edge of the cliff. On the other side of the park, there was a fantastic mountain spring in front of a gigantic wall of rock. People would shout into it supposedly to bring the water level higher. At around this point, my fantastic raincoat started leaking. I guess it's the end of another era. I'm going to have to pick up a better one at a real hiking store, rather than on the street in Vietnam. After the spring, we climbed lots and lots of stairs until we got to a cave. It was full of stalactites and was irreparably damaged by years of tourists scrambling around the rocks. It was also completely unsafe, and I can't believe it operates without any injury or wrongful death lawsuits. There's a small temple inside, maybe that's why. We climbed all the way back down through the mist, almost completely blinded by the whiteness. lee got us an electric cart ride back to the village and we attempted to find a hotel. It wasn't easy and it also wasn't cheap. Gavin and Lee chose one a little more expensive than I liked, so I left to try and get back to the city to find Yulia. I got on what I thought was the bus, but now looking back on it, I think it was a tour group's bus. They all got off halfway down the mountain, so I did too. The empty bus kept going down. I should've went with it. We waited for a few minutes and some mini buses came. I piled in with everyone else and then we got off at a hotel in the middle of nowhere. I didn't know what to do, so I just showed everyone the symbol for Yulia's address. They said it would cost 400 yuan and take two hours to get there. WHAT. OK, can I stay here? No. OK, where is another place? Some random person brought me to another hotel, where I paid 200 yuan to stay the night at a place with no heat and a tiny trickle of hot water. Screw you jerks.

Crazy tunnel road

Crazy tunnel road


Crazy tunnel road

Crazy tunnel road


The mist is rolling in

The mist is rolling in


Crazy tunnel road

Crazy tunnel road


The mist is here

The mist is here


The gun turret

The gun turret


The Sky Ladder

The Sky Ladder


Small village

Small village


Small village

Small village


Shouting spring

Shouting spring


Shouting spring

Shouting spring


Old Pool

Old Pool


Old Pool

Old Pool


Old Pool

Old Pool


Red Dragon Cave

Red Dragon Cave


Some cliffs

Some cliffs


White Dragon Cave

White Dragon Cave


White Dragon Cave

White Dragon Cave


White Dragon Cave

White Dragon Cave


The walk home in the morning

The walk home in the morning

Posted by baixing 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

My second apartment in Jiaozuo

My boss decided to give me a break and let me move into the new apartment downstairs. I am excited. It's a lot better than the old one.

Bedroom

Bedroom


Kitchen

Kitchen


Front hallway with fridge?

Front hallway with fridge?


Bathroom

Bathroom


Office with patio

Office with patio

Posted by baixing 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

Trapped in a cafe

I couldn't sleep all morning, but I was locked in the cafe until 10. At about 10:20, I messaged my host and she said she was on her way. She didn't actually get there until 11... an hour later than she said last night. Oh well. She took me to get some donkey soup and even paid for it and the taxi ride there! Nice lady.

The soup tasted like beef soup, and they serve it with some fried dough cut into strips for noodles. I don't know if eating a donkey is right or wrong, but it was delicious anyway. I don't think I'd do it again though. The restaurant was way out of the way in a run down part of town. It seemed like it wasn't worth the effort. I can get regular beefsoup on any street corner. My host brought me to the bus after we ate the soup and we caught it just as it was leaving. Zhuxian is about 45 minutes away from Kaifeng and I guess it was the place to buy woodblock prints in the olden days. I bought my own for about a dollar.

I went to a temple where some people were whipping statues for fun. I'm not sure what those statues did, but it sure was fun to whip them. After I took a picture of kids whipping the statues, the mom gave me a dirty look and then took her children away. Hey lady, maybe if you don't want your kid in a foreigner's photo, don't encourage them while they're doing weird shit in public.

I went to go look for a mosque inside a temple with a rose garden, but I didn't see it. What I did see, was the bus back to Kaifeng about to leave so I ran after it and got on.

When I got back to Kaifeng, I bought my host some durian pastries and ate some of them myself. She was not at the cafe, unfortunately, so I just waited until she got back. When she got back, her friend was there and they tried to teach me mahjong. Just as I thought I was getting the hang of it, they gave up and put the game away. They brought out an easier matching game and we played that until someone wanted to take a nap. They put a disney movie on for my benefit??? I guess, and went to lay down and text their friends/play candy crush or something.

Donkey soup

Donkey soup


Donkey soup

Donkey soup


Woodcut prints

Woodcut prints


Street in Zhuxian

Street in Zhuxian


Canal in Zhuxian

Canal in Zhuxian


Zhuxian

Zhuxian


Zhuxian

Zhuxian


Zhuxian

Zhuxian


Kids whipping a statue

Kids whipping a statue


Zhuxian

Zhuxian

Posted by baixing 17:00 Archived in China Comments (0)