23 Aug - 28 Aug 2012 Pingyao

East Asia
People’s Republic of China aka Red China
Shanxi Province
Nan Dajie 165
Harmony Guesthouse +863545684952 harmonyguesthouse@asia.com
Adequate twin room with a/c, private bathroom and the dust of 5,000 plus years for CNY 100.- or US$ 15.70 per night. Professional, young staff. 
Beer: 600-ml bottles of cold, nicely balanced Tsingtao Beer aka or Qīngdǎo píjiǔ (4.0 % alc./vol.) for an overpriced CNY 10.- from the guest house.

Click below for an interactive satellite view of the Harmony Guesthouse in Pingyao, which we would recommend, and for directions:
Note the random 0 - 500 m misalignment between Google’s maps and the satellite views of the motherland, courtesy of the paranoid Chinese Communist Party.

Climbing Pingyao’s magnificent 10m-high city walls, which date from 1370 CE and are punctuated by 72 watchtowers, enjoying a bird’s-eye view down onto the town’s age-old charm with restored courtyard homes, atmospheric temples, interesting museums, inviting guesthouses and lekker restaurants galore (albeit, all covered in the ubiquitous grey communist dust) and watching how locals hang laundry in Qing-dynasty courtyards, career down cobbled alleyways on bicycles and chew the fat with their neighbours - it all looked like a fantastic film set (e.g. for Zhang Yimou’s wonderful Raise the Red Lantern, which we later watched in our ancient guesthouse).
"Good or bad, it's all playacting. If you act well, you can fool other people; if you do it badly, you can only fool yourself, and when you can't even fool yourself, you just can fool the ghosts."

Elbowing for space with noisy hordes of hawking, burping, spitting, shouting and farting domestic tourists from all over the motherland and ticking off the must-see sights of historic Pingyao (three-day ticket/pass, only one visit per site permitted, for a stiff CNY 150.- or US$ 23.60 per person), both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a perfect example of a traditional Han Chinese city, thus exploring (i) the Confucian Temple, a huge complex where bureaucrats-to-be came to take the imperial exams, (ii) the Reshengchang Bank Museum, China’s first draft bank of 1823 CE, and (iii) the well-preserved 1346 CE yamen, the historic county government office which ruled the yang of the human world (…whereas the temples ruled the yin of the spiritual world).

Feasting on (vegetarian) traditional Pingyao food at Yi Ming's small restaurant +8613934419508, literally a civilised hole in the wall with only five tables, where we enjoyed the most delicious fare and always got excellent value for our money: e.g. (i) mala tofu (soft bean curd stewed with spicy Sichuan peppercorns) for CNY 8.- per generous helping, (ii) wan thu zhi (Pingyao special local noodles: a kind of round flat noodle that is rolled and dipped in dark vinegar sauce, dating back to the Qing dynasty) for CNY 12.- per plate, (iii) xiaomian kaolao (a staple food made from buckwheat and steamed in a wicker basket or a round storage box) for CNY 12.- per container, (iv) pan-fried leek dumplings dipped in dark Shanxi vinegar for CNY 10.- per set and (v) liang ban huang gua (pickled cucumber salad with sesame) for CNY 8.- per plate, all this accompanied by steamed rice for CNY 2.- per bowl and ice-cold local Shanxi Xinghuacun beer for CNY 5.- per 600-ml bottle; don't pay more.

Watching a local martial-arts competition which happened right outside the city wall’s South Gate, meeting friendly older folks who practised taichi and explained to us many of their graceful movements which always follow the dynamic yin-yang duality (e.g. male/female, active/passive, forceful/yielding) and, looking beyond the shiny facade, still bothering about the hard fate of the Falun Gong in Red China.

Taking one of the town’s ecofriendly golf-cart taxis to Pingyao's railway station (CNY 5.- per person) and thereafter the crowded overnight train no. 1095 (570 km, 10 ½ hours, CNY 70.- or US$ 11.- per person for “hard seats”) from Pingyao/Shanxi to 3,000-year-old Xian/Shaanxi (known as Chang'an in ancient times), (i) home of the famous terracotta warriors, (ii) eastern terminal of the myth-enshrouded Silk Road and (iii) undisputed root of Chinese civilization having served as the capital city for the Zhou, Qin, Han, and Tang dynasties.

Click below for a summary of this year's travels
2012 Map Konni & Matt

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