Pingyao Two Years Later

Before leaving for the train station, we had to stock up on dinner supplies. An introduction to the wide world of Chinese instant noodles. Most shops, even small ones, have at least one aisle dedicated to them. They come in a little tub in which you dumb the various scary flavour pouches, along with hot water, five minutes later, delicious meal in a portable disposable container. If you're lucky they'll have brands with some English on them, such as "Roasted Beef Noodle" (a perennial favourite), but most of the time you have to make due with the pictures (not an easy task). We didn't have to teach my dad about Chinese beer, he quickly discovered that it's cheap, widely available, you can drink it anywhere and it goes rather well with instant noodles.

Once on the train, my dad settled into his top sleeper bunk with relative ease (we all had top bunks because that's all we could get). We might have had a better sleep had I not told everyone that the train was scheduled to arrive at 5:30 a.m. when it was actually scheduled to arrive at 8 a.m. Yann and I chose to stop in the small walled city of Pingyao because we had enjoyed it so much the first time we visited (two years ago). According to our guidebook it is "possibly the best preserved ancient walled city in China. Pingyao has a movie set charm that makes the hearts of even the most hardened expats skip a beat." Hardened expats meet your match: my dad. When we arrived, it was cold and hazy and the fact that we were in coal country seemed difficult to ignore. Alot of the homes on the outskirts of town seemed to be run down, boarded up or abandoned. Closer to the centre of town we noted a new addition to the city's charm, giant LCD screens installed on the sides of buildings, showing videos of ... Pingyao, in cased you missed it? LCD screens aside, improvements to Pingyao might be in order, especially in the town's museums. Pingyao is famous for being the sight of China's first bank, which you can visit, if you like dark, disorganized displays with ridiculously bad English descriptions. Here we have mannequins dressed in period clothing, no wait, those are silk pyjamas and beanie hats with braids sewn into them, from the tourist shop next door. Actually, the English signs are pretty much the most interesting part of the museums, how is it possible to have such bad translations? The town's temples were more interesting than its former banks, especially the Huanglan Si, 7km outside of town which we got to on our matching one-speed rented bikes. Most of Pingyao's hotels (and there are lots of them) are well-preserved (or well reconstructed), all of them seem to be going for the 'traditional courtyard atmosphere' which pleases us tourists. Ours was set in such a courtyard, red lanterns hanging from the eaves along with unfortunate colourful cardboard goldfish. We got a good price on the room, there were only a few negative points that kept it from being a great price: 1) one bed for three people 2) toilet clogging after every use 3) staff getting huffy when being asked to unclog the toilet.

By the third day in Pingyao, the town had grown a little more on my dad and Yann and I were remembering why we had liked it so much, just in time to get ready to leave for Xi'an. We bought bus tickets from a small grocery store outside the city walls. As we waited in the shop for the bus to arrive, the owner struck up a conversation with my dad, asking him if he was sixty years old. I had to explain to my dad that in China it is courteous to estimate higher when guessing someone's age, in fact, calling someone your age 'grandchild' is an insult in China (two full ranks lower). I swear dad ... I read it somewhere.

1 comment:

mom said...

Dad is looking for instant noodles in Ottawa.