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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  



May 7. PINYAO (Shanxi) "A Ming/Qing Dynasty Village-II"  We took our time getting up since we had another train ride coming up that night and our quaint little bed hadn't been the most comfortable night's sleep.  When we came out of the hotel in late morning we found a more lively street.  A few more souvenir shops were open and the local market was bustling with people buying their daily goods.  Mr. Zhang coincidentally appeared on his bike, asking if we were looking for a place to eat breakfast.  We were headed back to Tuan Yuan Kui for some of those pancakes and declined any more of Mr. Zhang's help.  When we knocked on the restaurant door the told us it was "closed".  Disappointed, we settled on some bread from a street stall for breakfast and walked around town enjoying the drier, if not sunny, weather.  

There were a few sights we wanted to see that our book had highlighted.  When we reached the first one we came to a rude awakening.  The first place wanted to charge us Y85/person for a ticket.  That was more than the Forbidden City!  This apparently got us in to a bunch of other sites as well.  At just that moment, coincidentally, Mr. Zhang appeared and said we really didn't have time to use that ticket so why don't we take another tour with him.  The day before we declined his offer to take us to some castle for the day when there were sites to see within Pinyao.  At that point we both told him we had had enough and did not want any more of his help.  We didn't want to be confrontational but we felt that he had deliberately kept us away from the major sites in order to extract more money from us. He kept following us trying to tell us that he would arrange for a rickshaw to take us to the train station.  We both waived him away and we no longer wanted any help from him. 

Worried that we didn't have enough time to use the expensive ticket we passed and walked down to the Taoist Temple we wanted to visit  but they also wanted to sell us an Y85 ticket.  Frustrated we were walking back towards our hotel when we bumped into the only other tourist in Pinyao, Kelly from Canada.  He had purchased his Y85 ticket when he arrived and he confirmed that this was the only option. We had to buy one Y85 ticket to see every sight in Pinyao or there was no way to see any of them.

We wavered but ultimately bought the ticket and hoped to get as much out of it as we could in the afternoon that we had left.  The first stop was the city wall.  We climbed up at the north gate and hoped to get a bicycle rickshaw to take us around the wall but the lack of tourists there were none around.  Instead we just walked from the north gate to the west gate.  The gates and small turrets around the wall were all well maintained and provided good views of the little city.  Outside the wall was a typical Chinese commercial district that probably would have made its way inside the walls if Pinyao had not become a UNESCO site.  Just inside the walls the homes were more dilapidated than the central tourist area but still maintained the old Ming and Qing style architecture.  We bumped into Kelly again at the west gate.  He went on to walk the whole wall but we figured that one quarter was about the same as the other three quarters and went to see other sites with our Y85 ticket.  

We hit the Rishengcheng Financial House Museum first, a 20-some room courtyard complex with nice exhibits about Pinyao banking history, including descriptions in English.  It was an important city in its day but times turned for the worse.  Ironically one generations misfortune has turned into this generations fortune. If Pinyao had not gone broke the homes in the city would probably have been modernized over time.  As it was they went from fortune to famine and couldn't afford it. Now, the residents of Pinyao are benefiting from the city's ever increasing popularity as a tourist destination.  

We actually ended up cruising through about eight of the sights in Pinyao.  Most of the courtyard complexes were less elaborate than the first one but all had their own unique beauty.  One of the better sites was probably the old magistrate's off with a prison and various buildings once used to try local criminals.

We met up with Kelly for dinner.  While we kept getting the cold shoulder from Tuan Yuan Kui he had eaten their every day since he arrived and used their Internet access.  This puzzled all of us so we had him arrive at the restaurant first and order his dumplings.  When we arrived they glanced at him and then told us they had dumplings or noodles.  It was clear that if he had not been there we would have been denied again.  We weren't sure if they were afraid because they knew we had come from Beijing or if it was something else.  Anyway, we got our dumplings and noodles.

Kelly had spent that last month in China after a month in India so we talked about traveling and compared SARS stories.  He'd heard that the TranSib was being closed from Beijing.  He'd also heard that Yunnan province was "closed".  But there had been rumors that Beijing was being quarantined which wasn't true so who knew what to believe!

We headed back to our hotel at 6:45 to collect our bags.  As we passed under the central tower Mr. Zhang lurched out at us and wished a good trip.  In front of our hotel we saw a rickshaw waiting.   We had to remind the hotel that they promised to send someone with us to the station.  The daughter promised to meet us there at 7:20, 10 minutes before our train's departure.  Annoyed that Mr. Zhang had ignored our request earlier in the day and was hoping to get yet another kickback from our ride to the train station we walked past the rickshaw to find a cab or just walk the 15 minutes to the station.  The rickshaw followed us waiving four fingers in the air.  It was on the verge of rain and with our two packs we would have been lucky to even fit in his rickshaw.  Besides, we had paid Y5 for a taxi to our hotel when we arrived an a rickshaw driver had offered to take us for Y2.  That was Mr. Zhang's Y2 commission.  We walked a few meters further and got a motorized cart to give us a lift for Y5.

The daughter of the hotel owners did show up at the train station.  We had been skeptical that anyone would come.  With her help we boarded our train without problems.  We had hard sleeper tickets but our six sleeper area was empty.  At the next stop, where our tickets technically started from, we were joined by four other people.  A couple of young college kids were above us and two old smokers had the top bunks.  The college students grabbed the seats on the aisle, sending the smokers down the train car.  Not many people boarded after that and we felt unlucky that our section was just about the one full one.  But, in the end, everyone pretty much kept themselves and it was a fairly easy ride to Xian. 

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