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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  
Pinyao China
CLASSIC CHINA Beijing April 23 April 24 April 25 April 26 April 27 April 28 April 29-30 May 1-2 May 3-4 May 5 Pinyao, Shanxi May 6 May 7 Xian, Shaanxi May 8 May 9-10

TIBETAN PLATEAU Xining, Qinghai May 11 May 12 Tongren, Qinghai May 13 May 14 Xiahe, Gansu May 15 May 16-17

THE SILK ROAD Lanzhou, Gansu May 18 Dunhuang, Gansu May 19-20 May 21-22 May 23 May 24-25 Turpan, Xinjiang May 26 May 27 Kashgar, Xinjiang May 28-29 May 30 May 31 June 1-2 June 3-6 Hotan, Xinjiang June 7 June 8-9 June 10-11 June 12-13 June 14-16 June 17-19

A LAST LOOK Shanghai June 20-29 Beijing June 30
Main Street, Old Pinyao, Shanxi Province, May 6, 2003


May 6. PINYAO (Shanxi) "A Ming/Qing Dynasty Village-I"  Pinyao is about half way between Xian in Shaanxi Province and Beijing.  We arrived at around 7:30am and were some of only a few people to disembark.  The touts were immediately on us for taxi rides, hotel rooms, etc.  We did our best to discourage them and made an effort to buy our onward to ticket to Xian but were unsuccessful.  I had the characters written out for soft sleeper to Xian but the woman at the ticket window just waived me away.  Feeling frustrated we let our guard down and gave in to a tout that told was going to take us to Tian Yuan Kai Hotel, the hotel where we hoped to stay, and could get us our soft sleeper tickets to Xian.  The guidebook said they the hotel was good at getting tickets leaving Pinyao so we got in a cab and took our chances.

The hotel was a charming little courtyard home on the main street of little Pinyao.  The first room they showed us had a traditional Dragon bed and adjacent room with chairs for tea.  It was nice but more than we wanted to pay.  We settled on a room on the second floor that had a big bed that used to be a traditional heated bed.  The hole where wood would have once been stoked to keep the bed warm was now closed off and we thankfully had a heater in our room.  It was a peaceful room and had its own bathroom for just Y100 (just over US$12).  It wasn't until we checked in that we realized that it wasn't the hotel we thought we were being taken to but another hotel listed in the guidebook.  That didn't bother us much since the hotel was also recommended as a good place to stay. 

Mr. Zhang, the older man that had taken us to the hotel, then went to work on us to take his tour of Pinyao.  The guidebook said walking the streets was the best part of the city and didn't say much else so we said "yes" to his tour.  We met at 10:00am in front of our hotel.  He promptly sat us down for some breakfast which was fine since we hadn't eaten much since we left Beijing.  The restaurant was just across from our hotel and there was no one else there.  The husband and wife team that ran the restaurant were really nice and they fixed a nice lunch.  Business was really slow and they didn't have the tofu I ordered in stock so we saw Mr. Zhang pop out to get some.  

The tour started with the town tower which was only 50 feet up the road from our hotel.  The whole little city was mostly one story buildings with small second stories that held rooms for the families daughters.  Had to keep them away from those boys I guess.  The tower provided a great view of central Pinyao.  Looking from either side we could see all of the little courtyard homes lined up in their preserved Ming/Qing Dynasty architecture.  Very few, if any other, towns in China could claim to have survived history and the cultural revolution so well.  It was drizzling a bit so the streets were wet and shiny but it was the lack of tourists, not the weather that kept most of the shops closed in Pinyao.

From the tower Mr. Zhang took us to a couple of older homes away from the center of town that has historical significance.  Both were lived in by families and we wouldn't have dared to try to see them on our own for fear of intruding.  But, the woman who showed us around her home was delighted (after we paid our Y5 each, of course) and almost made me take pictures of the rooms she had fixed up in her home.  It was over 300 years old and much of it showed its age but it still had etched windows intact that went back about 80 years and had done a really nice job sprucing up the interior of her home with newly painted walls and antique furniture.  

The second home was not quite as interesting but it was unique in Pinyao in that it was the only home to have three walls protruding from its roof top.  The bricks in the three walls were laid in different configurations on each wall, leaving openings in geometric shapes.  They had Taoist significance and all three pointed North.  From there we could see that the only other walls like these in the city stood in an individual configuration, not in threes.  This seemed to suggest that this was once the home of an influential person.  It still remained with the same family line but  they were no longer so well off.

Mr. Zhang was a devout member of the small Catholic Church that stood inside the city walls. His home was directly behind the church and he took us there for a "break" and introduced us to his sister and mother.  It was a Simple home by comparison to the courtyard homes we had seen but his sister and mother were very hospitable.  His mother had her white hair cut into a short bob, typical of the communist generation women, and she still wore her blue Mao suit. 

From the east side of town we crossed back to the main MingQing Street and headed towards the South Gate, currently under reconstruction.  As we walked through the town we gathered a fair amount of attention.  We only passed one other western guy the whole day and it appeared that we were the whole of the tourist business in Pinyao.  People weren't very aggressive though.  The most common comment was directed to Mr. Zhang, "Where are they from?".

Just West of the MingQing Street we passed a very communist looking theater that was one of the few buildings inside the city walls that was not from the Ming or Qing Dynasties.  The Pinyao's International Youth Hostel was the next stop on our tour.  Business was so slow that it had been closed for the past 10 days but we were let inside to see the beautifully refurbished courtyard area.  It would be a very nice place to stay if it were open.  Not far from the hostel Mr. Zhang tried to take us into another old area housing area but was told they weren't accepting any tourists because of SARS.  

The tour began to loose its momentum at this point.  We were promised a five hour tour but we had only been going for about three hours and an hour of that had been our lunch and visiting with his family.  It didn't look like he had much more on his agenda either.  He took us to see a Chinese-style hotel in town that was mildly interesting but it seemed more like he was just trying to kill time.  I asked him if he could show us to a tea shop where we could buy some tea and I think he was happy to have something else to do.  

We walked north and passed the police station, another modern building that snuck into the old town. UNESCO wouldn't be letting any more of that happen.  A billboard in front of the station had pictures of the local convicts, some with pictures showing their crime.  One picture of an old man was posted next to a photo of the body of a topless young woman who was lying on the ground with her legs crossed.  Her throat was cut and the bloody knife rested on a stone next to her head.  Such a gruesome sight would make anyone root for the death penatly.

Mr. Zhang misunderstood my request for a tea shop and tried to take to a tea house where we could eat lunch.  As he rousted the owners to come open the front door I kept trying to explain that I just wanted to buy some tea leaves, not drink tea or have lunch.  His English was either too limited or he was hoping to encourage us to eat again but he persisted in getting the restaurant opened just to be told again that we didn't want to eat anything.  It was starting to become apparent that he had an interest in our eating and was probably getting a kickback from the restaurant.

We finally did get to a shop where I could buy some tea. It wasn't the tea specialty shop I had hoped for but a supermarket outside the middle of town.  They had a small selection of tea so we bought some and some snacks.  We were beginning to get tired of our "tour" and finally told Mr. Zhang that we were ready to go back to our hotel and rest.  Sleeping on a train doesn't provide the most restful night's sleep.  He again asked about lunch.  He wanted to meet us later and take us to a restaurant.  This was starting to become annoying.  We told him we were fine and paid him for the tour.

We were both quite tired and our toasty little room on the second floor was a peaceful place for a nap, even if the bed was hard as a rock.  Rob had asked the hotel to get us our train tickets to Xian so I went to retrieve them from the hotel lady.  She said her fee was Y20/ticket and that we owed her another Y12 over the deposit we had paid. This irritated Rob because he had understood Y20 for both tickets.  But, the real frustration was when we realized that the tickets she had bought us were not leaving from Pinyao station.  When we called her on it she said that they were tickets from the next station but that we could still use them to get on in Pinyao.  We were puzzled and concerned that we would not be able to get on the train with these tickets.  Rob talked to the daughter of the household that spoke good English and got her assurance that someone from the hotel would accompany us to the train station in case there were any problem with the tickets.  She agreed.

After resting for a couple of hours we went out to look at some of the specialty tea shops in town and search out a spot for dinner.  As we walked past a restaurant Mr. Zhang popped out of the door and asked if we were looking for a place to eat.  This was across town from his home and seem a bit suspicious.  We declined and kept walking.  We tried to eat at the Tian Yuan Kui hotel but they told us they only had pancakes and most of the other restaurants were closed so we ended up back at the same place we had eaten breakfast. 

When we tried to open the restaurant door we found it locked but the two owners quickly bounced up from the back of the room and came to open the door.  They were sleeping on bedding that was laid across tables at the back of the restaurant and it looked almost like they had just been waiting for us to come back!

Dinner was good but not great.  Still we were just glad to eat and go back to bed.