The Oasis!

Trip Start Jun 08, 2005
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Thursday, July 14, 2005

I had planned on simply making a quick note about Pingyao in my Beijing update, my expectations of the place certainly hadn't been excessive. In the guide books that I had referred to Pingyao had really only been given a 1-2 page mention and nothing overly spectacular at that. I was pleasantly surprised though, Pingyao really deserves an entry of it's own, it deserves to be 'put on the map' so to say!

Pingyao can be characterised as a small town, the architecture of the entire town has been preserved since the Ming Dynasty (somewhere between 1300 - 1600); the streets are narrow and cobbled, the buildings all brick with little 'pixy' type roofs of bamboo. There are no street lights, just Chinese lanterns and shop/house lights to light the streets. No cars are allowed within the city walls, so it's peaceful, quiet and has the most amazing atmosphere which is somewhat different from the remainder of the places I have been to in China. It feels like you're in an ancient movie set. There weren't really things to do as such in Pingyao so I largely wandered the streets, hung out and read books and took random photo's of people! I've taken to really enjoying places where you can just soak up the culture and doing the tourist thing isn't such the focus.

I had the chance to start reading a new book, one that my friend Stuart lent to me when I went to Cuba and didn't get to read it then, so I finally dredged it out in Pingyao of all places! This book isn't your average normal kind of read though, infact it's just plain weird, it puts controversial slant on religion and there's a pretty gruesome murder to contend with, but it's one of those books where you just have to know what's happening next so it's addictive. Generally I find books are a good conversation starter when you're reading in public places... but not this one! Trying to explain the content of this one whilst professing that it's a great book makes for very short conversation! I think I will stick with 'Tuesday's With Morrie' type publications for those public display's of reading... Thanks Stu...!

I'm not usually a big fan of supporting the beggars, but during my time of 'hanging out'in Pingyao I took note of one little man sitting quietly on the curb side, busily making something with cotton and material. Nothing really made him stand out from the other beggars except for the fact that he wasn't really bothering people for money, it wasn't until I looked closer that I noticed his legs - to put it plainly they looked to be basically rotting off. I can't even imagine how painful that would have been and I really don't think I've seen anything quiet like it. He struck a weakness in me and each day I purchased him a 1.5L of cold water (it was sweltering hot). His delighted smile was well worth the 3rmb (maybe 70 cents NZ.. have lost track abit).

The point of money though - Pingyao was the first place in the world to ever use cheques, but will probably be the last to ever get an ATM! Quiet ironic really, but I ran out of money and there was absolutely nowhere to get anymore. I ended up selling afew US$ at a pathetic rate from where I was staying so that I could actually afford to leave! Imagine that... stuck in the Ming Dynasty of Pingyao forever! A wealthy little center it must of been given it was the first in the world to use cheques, but from chatting to the locals it sounds as though the town was hit extremely hard under communism.. as one might have expected given that it was a prosperous town.

If anything Pingyao will really be one of the most memorable highlights of visiting China. A little gem that I would recommend that anyone stops to visit. Apparently much of the town is listed as a world heritage site, so I guess I'm not the only one that totally rates it.

I recall mentioning in my previous update that I was preparing to travel 'hard seat' through to Pingyao from Xi'An. Hard Seat travel is pretty much as I had originally described really, the carriage is jam packed with about 130 passengers (seated and standing)along with all of their luggage. The seats are basically hard bench seats, there's no air con only little fans on the roof and large 'push up' type windows. The atmosphere is quiet different from other classes of travel, people generally don't converse too much - they just slip into some kind of 'zone' and during the course of the journey you can expect to find a number of people asleep on you (no personal space at all). There was a little girl, perhaps 2.5-3 years old who was travelling with her dad, and they only had standing space. This little girl, for a good part of the 12 hour journey knelt at the end of the hard seat, arms folded onto the corner of the seat with her head rested upon them, fast asleep. In the morning when she awoke and the train had emptied out alittle she crawled up onto the seat, corrected her shoes and hair (all very dirty, but so was the rest of the carrage) and sat patiently like the perfect little lady waiting for arrival - no toy's, no noise! Spot the overindulged white 27 year old, I'm a tad embarrassed to have made such a big deal over hard seat travel! It's actually no big deal at all.

I actually arrived in Beijing thismorning, tomorrow I will be walking the Great Wall between Jinshanling and Simatai, a 10Km walk... but more on that and Beijing for the next update... I wouldn't want to take the glory away from the lovely Pingyao!
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