No reservations, part 5

Back to part 4.


However, when I got up the next morning, I couldn’t get the water temperature even up to lukewarm after letting it run for 20 minutes or so. Out of desperation I managed a quick shampoo, but left it at that before I froze to death.

We visited the breakfast buffet at Tianyuankui, which was a good mixture of Chinese and Western style morning foods, along with pretty good coffee, something I’d been doing without so far on the trip.

After eating, we hit a few of the smaller attractions along Nan Dajie that were covered by our tickets.
I believe these brick platforms were used for seating even in many offices. During the winter time they were heated with coals from beneath. I suppose the bed in my room at the Catholic was originally designed to work that way.
Most of the places we visited this morning were commercial enterprises, whether banks, merchants or whatever, and most of them featured living quarters for staff, including this fancy bed for a manager.
Close up of the woodwork.
This is the second courtyard back from the street. The first one had ordinary business and communication offices. If I remember right, the rooms to either side here were for accounting and sales managers, and in the back was where the boss lived and entertained important clients and government officials.
More rooms filled with antiques and historical descriptions in Chinese.
By this point we were going through things pretty quickly. There’s only so much of this you can take in at a time.

At the very back was an area where the company’s guards lived and trained with their weapons and martial arts skills.
Here’s a bank vault, Pingyao Gucheng style.
And here’s the staff kitchen of one of the compounds.
At one of the compounds, there was a suite upstairs where the boss’s wife and mistress lived a life of luxury, devoting themselves to music and womanly things while the men worked below.
And here’s something I liked that wasn’t antique at all.
Then we came to the largest of the commercial compounds, which once housed the Rishengchang Draft Bank, considered the first real bank in China. The buildings now house what is called the Chinese Draft Bank Museum.
This was the best of the business attractions in the town, but we’d seen so many smaller ones that we were kind of overloaded on them by this point.
Back out on the street on the way to the next exhibit, I spotted another member of the city’s feline population taking a nap.
Outside the city’s main gate is the UNESCO World Heritage notice sign.
After a quick look around outside...
... we went up to the upper level.
Of course they were ready to defend themselves.
I’ve read that a section of the south wall collapsed in 2004 and had to be rebuilt.
There was originally a moat around the city, but it’s all dry now.

From the top of the wall you can see the layouts of the houses inside the old city.
This one looks to be very well maintained and quite cozy with its courtyard.
This one is not in such good condition, but the residents seem quite comfortable.

After finishing with the main gate, we found a taxi to take us to the bus station to arrange for the next leg of our trip.
After arriving at the bus station, some locals advised us that we’d be better off checking on the train again, since there were no bus routes directly to Datong. So the driver took us to the train station. We managed to get some tickets as far as Taiyuan, which is the same place we’d have to change buses, but it takes less time and costs a quarter of the price. Go figure. The downside is they were wu zuo class tickets, which means without seat. Basically standing room. But it was the only option, so for ¥7 each we took it.

By then it was lunch time, so we asked the driver to take us back into the old town. It was a pretty wild ride, and I took a little video:

He really wanted us to eat at a particular restaurant (I suspect they give him a kickback for any customers he brings in) but we really wanted to go back to Tianyuankui one last time. The driver waited for us outside while we had our meal.

As we were passing under Shilou, we saw that we could actually go up into it with our General Tickets, so we did. This made a total of 13 attractions we saw for our ¥120.
The view from there was pretty nice, but there was not much to see inside.
Then it was back to the taxi and a winding trip through the back streets (since the main streets are restricted to traffic).

After that it got kind of unpleasant. When we got to the train station, my companions said they actually wanted to go back to the beef warehouse to buy some more. He argued a while, then turned around and took us back to the north gate, which was not where they asked to go. Not only that, but he drove at a crawl the entire way. When we got there, he stopped and said we could buy our beef at the store there. He got out his tools and started tinkering with his vehicle. We went into the store and they didn’t have the same selection, plus it was getting a little late to make our train, so we tried to find another taxi to the station. That took what seemed ten minutes of arguing about prices (there are no set rates for these things in Pingyao). We finally found a driver who agreed to our price, and off we went.

We rushed onto our train and managed to squeeze into a few seats in one of the cars for the trip to Taiyuan.
It’s only about a hundred kilometers, but the train stopped at a bunch of little towns, and the trip took about three hours. Once we got to Taiyuan, we rushed to the ticket counters to see what we could do to get to Datong. Taiyuan is a bustling, noisy, more-or-less-modern city full of traffic, and was quite a shock after quiet lazy little Pingyao. We managed to secure more wuzuo tickets for the overnight train leaving around 11pm. We crossed the street to KFC for dinner and discussed our strategy for trying to get beds for the trip. We ended up deciding we didn’t really want to invent some kind of untrue sob story, and would just find the conductor and ask nicely.

After eating, we went to the station’s waiting room, which was packed. We plopped ourselves down right in front of the gate where we would go out (there were no seats available). Every time I looked out at the room, I noticed a dozen or so people staring at me. I guess they don’t see a lot of foreigners here, especially not waiting for a train with them.

When the time came, it was a wild rush to the platform, then the search for the conductor. He said there were no bunks available, but eventually offered to let us sit at a table in the dining car as long as we would buy a ¥20 dinner. We agreed and off we went. I did not take a picture of this meal. It consisted of a scoop of shredded cabbage with a dash of soy sauce, a few pieces of tasteless sausage, and two slices of plain white bread. I ordered a beer to go with it. Luckily we had a fair supply of road food along with us. For this privilege we had paid ¥26 each, for a Pingyao-Datong trip total of under US$8, even adding in the cost of food.
As uncomfortable as the dining car was for eating, it was much worse for trying to sleep. And they left the lights on all night. it occurred to me that one of the easiest jobs in the world must be cook on an overnight train in China. You fix about 40 simple plates, all identical, and then sit around talking for seven hours, since no one ever orders anything.

Continue to part 6.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't mention one amusing thing that happened on the train ride from Pingyao to Taiyuan. There were men smoking all around us, but luckily it was a fairly warm day and there were some windows open, so it wasn't too stuffy. At one point, looking around in my boredom, I noticed a red banner hanging from the ceiling. Hey, I know most of those characters! So I got out my little notebook and wrote down what the sign said so I could work out the meaning. 请不要在车厢内吸烟. There were two characters I didn't know, but one of them was obvious from context. It translates as "Please do not smoke inside the train car." The funny part was that an older man sitting across from me saw me writing in my notebook and craned his neck to see what I was doing. I think he was fascinated by the fact that I could write Chinese characters, and looked up at the banner to compare. He smiled at me. Later he lit up a cigarette.