No reservations, part 4

Back to part 3.


The day started off with a real disappointment. While the old fashioned platform bed was surprisingly comfortable, and the two quilts kept me cozy even without heat, I discovered that I had no hot water at all in my bathroom. There was no toilet paper, which I know is common in much of the world, so I was prepared and had brought my own. They didn’t provide any towels either, which was a new one to me. Well, I wasn’t about to take a cold shower when I was already freezing and not feeling well, so there was no need for a towel anyway. I brushed my teeth and went to the lobby/restaurant to meet the others.

We had a quick breakfast of zhou (rice porridge) and hard boiled eggs at the Catholic, then hopped in a little van for the trip to Qiao Jia Dayuan, which translates as Qiao Family Mansion or Qiao Compound. It’s a pretty fair drive out of town, surrounded by modest homes and shops.
Qiao Jia Dayuan was made famous by the movie Raise the Red Lantern, which was filmed there. It’s been a long time since I saw the movie, but many parts of the mansion certainly looked familiar.
Entrance fee is ¥40.
Just inside is a long passageway with three doors on each side, each leading to a courtyard and a set of rooms with a different function. There was one area devoted to family residence, one for business, one for guests, one for religious purposes, one for special occasions like births, weddings and deaths, a garden and so on.
Unlike most of the elaborate buildings I’ve seen in China, this one was neither religious nor imperial, but the result of private wealth. The Eyewitness guidebook says the family made its fortune in tea and tofu, but one of my companions said that tofu had nothing to do with it. You can’t get rich selling tofu. Probably someone misunderstood a Chinese phrase that refers to an extremely honest enterprise as being like tofu – white and pure. Note: I've since learned that the family's business actually did start with tofu, then expand into other things like tea. Shanxi is known for a different style of tofu than found elsewhere, and the Qiaos started out selling it.
There were a number of guided tours working their way through the mansion, mostly Chinese groups along with one large French group, so we heard a lot of the details without having our own guide. I couldn’t understand much of the Chinese, but I got bits translated.
The rooms are filled with displays of varying quality, with beautiful antique furniture being used by goofy looking mannequins dressed in period costume.
One room had a long wraparound diorama showing a festival.
These figures were about six inches tall.
The garden in Courtyard 6 was very pretty.
If I understood correctly, the cost to build the place is the equivalent of one billion current yuan, or about $150 million US dollars. There are a total of 313 rooms, not all of which I saw.

That made for a pretty eventful morning. We met the driver and headed back into town. Once there, we had lunch at a guest house called Tianyuankui.
That’s some more fried poms on the left, a dish of eggplant dipped in batter and deep-fried next to it; in the back is mao’er you, or cat’s ear noodles, so named because of their shape; the big bowl is a local noodle dish with tomato and tiny bits of pork; and my soup bowl has a tofu and mushroom soup. It was all really delicious.
Another part of the attraction was this resident, along with two other cats. After I finished eating, I gave her a little scratch under the chin. She hopped into my lap and made herself comfortable. We got to talking with the place’s manager, who was very friendly and ended up giving us a discount price for lunch.

After that satisfying meal, we went back to the same bike shop, rented almost the same bikes, and bought the Pingyao General Ticket.
For ¥120 a person you get entrance to virtually every place of interest in the town. It’s good for two days. We started out with a visit to Xian Yamen, the compound that once housed the seat of the county government.
It’s a large group of buildings with many courtyards.
One of the most interesting things here is a performance that is done several times a day. It is based on historical cases from the city’s records of matters that came before the magistrate.
There was one that had something to do with a dog, I think. And one that involved some stolen silver.
It was all good fun, except possibly for the guy who was put in stocks and taken away by the guards.

After that we toured the other side of the complex.
There’s a little garden area and the place where some of the guards’ quarters used to be.

And what remains of the jail.
The cells in this relatively open area were for minimal offenders. Hard cases were someplace less pleasant.

The inside of a cell...
...is maybe not that much different from my room back at the Catholic.

After that you get to see more of the remains of the mechanics of justice in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Offenders were transported in something like this:
Or this:
Not fun at all. And I will resist any other comments that come to mind.

Next were a couple of rooms full of the implements used to question suspects. Things like iron shoes that would be heated in coals and then put on the suspect’s feet. I couldn’t get any good pictures in here, as it was kind of dark and they were behind glass.

We left the secular world of old China behind and visited a temple next.
This is Chenghuang Miao, or the City God’s Temple.
In one of the chambers were a whole bunch of carved, painted figures.
Across on the other side were a bunch of figures that looked a lot less happy about things.
I believe this depicts the torment that awaits sinners. A large variety of gruesome punishments were depicted.

Next up was another temple, Wen Miao, which is Confucian.
It’s maybe a little more austere than the Buddhist and Taoist temples.

Confucianism is greatly concerned with learning, and there were many exhibits explaining the Imperial Examinations, all in Chinese and not much to look at.
There was a modern sculpture in homage to learning as well.

From the upper level of the back temple, there is an interesting view over the rooftops.
You can see the cross on top of the Christian church, with the city wall behind.

That was about enough sightseeing for one day, so we made a quick trip to one of the town ticket offices to get our tickets validated for the next day, then returned the bikes and went back to Tianyuankui for dinner.
Closest to me is a basket of zao that we brought in ourselves and they washed up for us. Clockwise from there is a dish of shanyao, which is called “long yam” on the menus in Pingyao, and is in a sweet sauce. Next around is a spicy tofu dish – both the green peppers and the dry red ones are pretty potent. The next dish is a really interesting local specialty called chao mo niu, which is little bits of beef stir fried with chunks of local bread, onions and other vegetables. It has a really interesting combination of spices to season it that I can’t even describe. There’s also a simple preparation of bocai greens with garlic. And in the center is a dry wheat noodle dish with dry red peppers.

This time we had a different visitor......who was later joined by the other resident cat. We were told the black and white one is generally most popular among guests.
Back at the Catholic, we told them the hot water didn’t work, and they called the manager, who came and tinkered around with it for a long time, eventually producing a lukewarm flow that seemed tolerable.

Continue to part 5.

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