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Shanxi Province, China: Pingyao

Pingyao Old Town

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Yamen Government Complex

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Pingyao City Wall

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Group of senior citizens relaxing outside the city wall

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Street seller on south street

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Main tower on Pingyao’s south tourist street

I blame a previous issue of Silverkris (Singapore Airlines' inflight magazine). I tend not to take any more airline magazines as they all turn out to be paper weight after it leaves the plane, but now with a camera phone with enough resolution, I can take a picture of the page and read it later. And so it was, one edition had an article on Pingyao. That’s in Shanxi, Shanxi with single “a” and not the one where the terracotta warriors are located. It was not a long article, just one page, and something about not being affected by the cultural revolution and the fact that this small town was the first financial hub in China about a hundred years before Shanghai. And so during the long weekend in May, when I was out of ideas of where to go, Pingyao came to mind. Wouldn’t be that bad to decamp over there for a few days just to chill out.

The only issue is getting there. One idea was to go to Beijing and then taking a train, but that seems to take a whole day. Another way is to go through the capital of Shanxi Province, Taiyuan, just about 2 hours by bus. I like the chinese bus. Dirt cheap (though train would be cheaper) and full of locals. So... mind made up, and ready to go.

5 May 2011:

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Taiyuan airport. Can’t get a better shot than this. Blurry picture a combination of bad chinese air and dirty aircraft windows.

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Maybe its a new airport, maybe it is just underused. TYN.

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Bus ticketing booth and a waiting airport bus to take passengers to the city.

The flight lands in a nice new airport that is being extended at least at this moment. Couldn’t see too well anyway, the usual chinese smog/fog or manchurian dust storm clouds it all. Whatever it is, I could see the airport terminal in Taiyuan, and it reminds me immediately of a flattened Sydney Opera House. It did look big, at least for a regional airport. Then again Taiyuan is not a small city, a few million people live here. They must fly a lot too. However the luggage reclaim area looks smaller (just a few conveyor belts) than I thought and when you get out of it, a bus ticketing booth sits in front of the exit. To make it quick, since I want to dedicate more of this page to Pingyao: board bus bound for the train station, pay 15 RMB, and 9km later I’m dropped off at a junction, about 500m walk away to Jiannan Bus Station. It was easy for me with a GPS, but ask the driver and he will tell you where to get off. Paid 26RMB for the bus and walked to the parking lot to look for the usual conveyor bus system that they have in the provinces. There’s a queue of buses sorted by destination. When a bus is full it leaves. Simple. Next one comes up and fills up again till the closing time, which I was told is about 6:30pm.

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Jiannan Bus Station in Taiyuan

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Bus ticket to Pingyao

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Just walk to the back of the terminal and all the buses are waiting there

Its late in the evening when I got on the bus, so there was not much of a scenery. You go through the large outskirts of Taiyuan city, then some smaller towns and before long the bus drops everyone off outside Pingyao city walls. I knew which direction it is, but it is a fair bit of walk away. Jump into one of those motorcycle taxies and 2RMB later you’re dropped off at the Northern Gate. I asked for the price to the hotel close to the Southern gate and they quoted 20RMB. Well, 2RMB to Northern Gate, and 2x the distance I have to pay 10x? I didn’t like the math. So told the guy to sod off, I’ll take a walk thank you.

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Dropped off outside the northern wall, trying not to be run over by cyclists

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My first glimpse of Pingyao’s city wall

Had a quick glace at the imposing city wall, about 4 storeys tall and punctuated with watch towers every 150m or so. After passing through the small Northern Gate, I’m greeted by a well preserved old town but all the shops at this entrance and all the way to the hotel is converted into the typical chinese souvenir store and restaurants. I took the North Street, then West Street and then South Street before hitting Yamen Jie towards Zhengjia Hostel.

Now there are two units next to each other. One is a Hostel and the other is a Hotel. I booked a small single room so I’m supposed to stay at the hotel wing a few shop entrances down the road. The hotel, like many buildings within the Pingyao city walls, is a refurbished former ancient residence complete with the old courtyard. Decorative lanterns hang on the roof to make it look nostalgic. Rooms all surround the courtyard. I’m glad I chose a place to stay that’s far away from the main North and South street where traffic would make things less than comfortable given the Chinese’ penchant for sounding the horn at every step, and not forgetting the 2 stroke vehicles that crowd rural cities like this one.

6 May 2011: I think the trip to Pingyao was proving a little more epic than I hoped for. For once I am really not trying to wake up early. After having chinese breakfast made up of 2 buns, and egg, some vegetables stirfried in chilli flakes and a bowl of corn soup, I’m staring at 11am start. I will have two full days in Pingyao and in that two days I plan to walk the whole town, even the small streets to see what life is like here. From Yamen Street, the most logical place to start is at the Yamen complex, an old government building built in the same architecture as usual chinese complexes, with all the courtyards, halls and to the side, rooms for more usual purpose like living quarters.

Yamen Government Complex: At the ticket booth, a 150RMB ticket gets me around for up to 3 days. This is sufficient for most of the sights, but not all. I take that to mean that I get to go into official sights and the other places that require additional payment should be private venture. 150RMB is not that expensive given most UNESCO sanctioned place in China start at least around 300RMB per entry. Who cares about the multi-day ticket, statistically I’m sure they know that most tourists are here for a day trip and do the usual express in and express out itinerary.

The Yamen is a bigger complex than I expected. I sometimes follow a tour group, and sometimes I just wander around the place in reverse order. Architecture is a little different from other places I’ve been to, some rooms have this arched ceilling, and I dont think I’ve seen it in this part of the world before. Part of the facade reminded me of Anhui province, then again it was some years ago so I might have mistaken it a little bit. I spent almost 2 hours at the Yamen complex. Going through all the rooms and gardens and courtyards. For details check other websites, at least I’ve seen many describing this place.

Upon exiting the place, a big wall with inscription awaits and it looks popular, so much that they named the road leading southwards something like the mural road. Its also a place where people wait for others, and the usual tourist photo enterprises congregate. You can take your photo dressed as a traditional Pingyao-ian, or sit on a decorated rickshaw pulled by an old man. Its not my cup of tea, and I’m wondering who in their right mind would want to use it. Then again, as I always said, if its there, it means someone is paying for it. Anyway on to the next destination...

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Small gate marking the entrance to Yamen Complex

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Main Entrance to Yamen Complex

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All entrances come with these turnstiles

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Yamen Complex: Main courtyard

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These half buckets are ingenious and are everwhere in Pingyao. I think they’re fllled with a bit of sand.

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And they make good photographic object!

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This old guy was going around inside the complex, I believe asking if tourists wants to take pictures of him. For a price I’m sure.

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Now this is an interesting architecture. Don’t think I’ve seen it like this with arched roofing in China.

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This is a big courtyard inside the complex, with the foundations of a previous building still visible.

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Guard’s Room close to the entrance to the complex.

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A small altar I’ve found inside the Yamen Complex. The head of the small statue has been lobed off.

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There are many gardens inside the complex. This is one of them, and is close to the exit.

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New tourists coming in, while I’m leaving.

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This is one of those signs in english that I just don’t understand fully.

Lei Yutai Residence: This house belongs to the guy that started Rishengchang financial house. Its located to the south of Yamen Governmental Complex, and pretty close to the southern wall. On the map, there are quite a number of notable residences close to the Southern Wall, which makes me derive that most of Pingyao’s rich prefer to live in that part of town. The residence is in a part of town that is a little quieter than the bustle of the main streets. Other than the presence of a large performance centre, Lei Yutai’s residence is unique in that it doesn’t come with its own souvenir stand outside of the entrance. In fact, the guy taking care of the place is quite laid back as well. When I got there he was in a small booth and just signalled me to just wave the ticket’s barcode where the reader is. All venues that are covered by the main ticket will have an electronic turnstile that works through scanning a barcode on the larger than necessary ticket.

So once I get in, most of the residence is on the left. Got greeted by a golden bust of the man himself. Otherwise the rest of the residence is just that. To me it all looks the same here in China. You’ve seen one? Then you’ve seen them all. Alleyways, chambers with chairs facing in the same direction for receiving guests, and symmetrical architecture. I have yet to spot an ancient toilet though. I dont think I’ve even seen one at the Forbidden City in Beijing, much less this one. There is a part of the house where one could get up to the second floor but there’s not much of a view here. The private chambers with the cave like arched ceilings are quite unique to this place too. I don’t think I have ever seen one of those in China. At the entrance of this place, I’m reminded that the owner of this place based it on Chinese architecture AND his own personal taste. So that explains why.

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These barriers are all over, forming a parameter around the core of Pingyao, preventing vehicles from going in, but with a cutout for cyclists to go through.

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There are all these signs for public toilet. Its basically someone’s home and it doesn’t look too clean.

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Lei Yutai’s residence and a bust of the man

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This is one of the meting rooms where guests could either sit on a chair or on a platform (left)

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Exit of the complex. No idea what the word in chinese meant.

Temple of Guanyu: This one is a little bit off the map. I was hoping to find it smack next to Lei Yutai’s Residence but looks like the place is closed off and the roofing looks in disrepair. Roof wise, it looks like the old way to construct a roof is to first have some wooden beams, then place thin mats or thin planks after which the workers would put a layer of mud combined with straw and use the same thing to stick the final tiles together. Some of the worn down roofs show all these contents. I have had the chance to see some workers build a new roof and workers were shoveling chunks of combined mud and straws from ground level up scaffolding to the top of the building to be used as roofing agent.

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Local Household

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Back streets Pingyao

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With the walls to the left of the car, some of the corridors are really narrow for cars.

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Roofing in Pingyao is sometimes still made the traditional with straw reinforced earth used to stick the tiles together on the roof.

Cheng Huang Temple: I don’t know why I bother having this one in this blog. I looked for it next to a fashionable hotel after the Confucian temple but this place eludes me. Perhaps it has some secret entrance which I didn’t manage to find. Needless to say I didn’t find it. Anyway, after a while, every temple looks the same and I can’t really recall what I saw in there other than the usual celestial inspired layout and a folklore and legend or two told by tour guides, sometimes very specific instructions and reward, as though its a veiled method to keep tourists occupied: if your coin lands there, then you will get good luck for 1 year, etc. I’ve heard so many of it I think they’re all made up. Come on! Ancient Chinese can’t be that petty and gullible!

Yingxun Gate: This is the south gate to the city. Its renovated, and the main valid ticket is require and after you do the obligatory swipe of the barcode on the turnstile, you get to walk up a ramp to the top of the wall. This gate also comes with a tower and a complex set of gates below it to let carts and vehicles to get outside the town. There is a temple somewhere here but again I never managed to find it. Then again I was not trying too hard to find it. There is a respectable view of the South Street from here, but unfortunately pretty obscured by some trees some inconsiderate soul planted. Definitely require a 100mm or longer lens to do it since there’s a clearing between the gate and the start of the South Street. From here it is possible to take a walk along the wall, but I’m not sure how far. Considering most of the people coming here are tourists, I don’t think it will be possible to wander off too far. By the way, I found out that the ticket is only valid for one watch tower even though there are a few of them in the town. Once you visit one, it will not work any more for the other towers.

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Entrance to gate

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Stairs going up to Yingxun Gate

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View of the main South Street in Pingyao, obscured by a strategically placed tree.

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But it is still possible to take some compressed shops of the old town.

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All these statues are on the gate’s platform.

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And this is the view looking outside the walled old city of Pingyao

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Yingxun Gate is supposed to have a temple. This has to be the entrance.

Confucian Temple: After a long bit of wandering around from Lei Yutai’s Residence, mostly around the southern city wall, I got to the Confucian Temple. This is one of the major attraction here, seemingly the place where imperial examinations too place or where they celebrated, I guess modern sense, that’s where graduation happened. The main entrance is the usual you’d start to expect here. Turnstiles, and scanning the ticket barcode gets you in. This temple also comes with a big stone facade facing the entrance, and you can tell you’re in the right place by the number of electric carts loitering outside fishing for tourists. I’d go in here and get out in the northern exit.

This is easily the most spacious temple in Pingyao, at least the one I’ve seen so far. Just about everywhere, there are little wooden red blocks that tourists and I guess devotees could buy, write something and hang it on every crook and cranny and railing one could find. Good I guess for that bokeh laden picture. There are places to pray, places to walk around and exhibition on imperial examinations. Right before the northern exit, there is a big rectangular metal cauldron that seems to serve a decorative purpose back in its days and now just a place for tourists to throw money into. Oh yeah, I was more attracted by the naked wooden spacers that is used crisscrossed to support the heavy roof. Those must be hundreds of years old.

In one of the inner square, local tourists would hop over a little arch with a raised platform, probably for good luck. They would do this, then circle back to the starting point and do it again a couple of times. I find it amusing, though I forgot to count the number of times they would do it. I would guess something like 7 or 8 times since that’s the usual good luck number.

Somewhere deep in the complex is a photographic exhibition including local and 2 halls displaying Ansel Adams and Robert Capa. Not sure the theme of the exhibition.

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Close to the Confucian temple at its Southern entrance

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Which looks like this...

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Right after the gate is this bridge, and when there’s a pool of water, tourists will throw coins at it, so the caretakers build these small platforms for them to miss, perhaps to throw more money at it!

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Just about everything here has these red amulet thingy stringed to it. Has to be for good luck.

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English signs are everywhere, although it doesn’t usually make sense.

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I’m still wondering what the small platform is. If I had to guess, I think its for little people to go over the steps.

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I like these old style roofs where they stack spacers to support a heavy roof

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This is obviously an important piece of writing. However the plaque it was reproduced by the student of the guy that originally made it, whatever.

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This is a temple. Not a temple without idols and a kneel pad.

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Take your photos, and they will print it out to you onsite on this magic concealed inkjet printer.

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Obviously they still know how to make the stuff the old way.

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Jumping through the gate

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Imperial examination mock up.

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Yet another altar and idol.

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Photographic exhibition area inside the temple

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I like this facade somewhere close to the north exit.

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Temple renovation in progress

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I did spend some time standing here looking at how they did the roofing. The guy on the ground mixes earth with straw, then haul it up to the mid platform, and the second guy scoops it up to the roof. Just put it in between the roofing tiles and the lower layer of the roof.

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North exit. That tour cart driver is having a siesta.

Qing Xu Guan Taoist Temple: I don’t know if its because it’s starting to be late, whether its Friday today, or whether this place is out of the way. But at least there are no Chinese tour group and their loudspeakers and strange antics to bother me here. That makes this place one of my favourite location today. I think you know the drill now, swipe entrance ticket, go through the turnstile, admire the poster of the ticketing agents at work today all decked out in formalwear, walk through a big entrance and remembering not to step on the platform built to keep low level bad spirits from getting into the building and then being greeted by a big courtyard with some insignificant buildings to the right and left and the main hall directly in front.

The condition of this temple is a little more raw. Not much renovation has happened and what you see looks like the temple in its natural state. Wooden beams are no longer straight (if they were straight when new) and doors are starting to crack and requiring repair very soon. I prefer it this way rather than a building that’s listed as a few hundred years old but looking like it was just constructed yesterday and just happen to share the same location as the original building.

Taoist temples happen to have a little less figures to pray to. Buddhist temples are tops for statues. Anyway this is a nice place to go to get out of the tour groups and just to relax. At least the entrance fee is already included in your 150RMB ticket.

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Main entrance to the Taoist Temple after passing through the turnstiles.

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Main courtyard

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When I was processing my photos, I noticed this guy is quite a number of photos, always in the same pose...

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And here he is again.

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There is this small area where old doors and statues are stored, perhaps due to renovation. Makes for good texture shots.

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Temple. Idols.

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Exit, not too flashy. In fact, this could be one of the least flashy exits in Pingyao.

Armed Escort Agency: This place on the main East Street is a museum located in the place where the first Armed Escort Agency is located. To be precise, my map said that its the first in North China. Its a little to precise to have any meaning anymore. But I think its the first time I’ve seen an ancient armed escort. Armed escort agency, not the ones with pretty women for rent for social events. The whole complex means business. You walk in, discuss deals and then wait for mercenaries to pick up their stuff from the armory and join the gang. The whole place is pretty compact, not too much room to move around, but at the back there is a space where I guess practicing would have taken place. At this modern era, the square has been turned into a archery range where for 10RMB one will get to shoot 5 arrows from a toy gun at some straw target.

Which brings me to my next rant. I think I might have mentioned this before. It looks as though in China, whenever you work in a tourist attraction, the central government tells you to collect this much money and you send that much over to the central coffers for maintenance but you get a free will at everything else revenue generating. Depending on how creative the owners are, sometimes you get the usual drinks stall, sometimes a little more specific souvenirs and disneylandesque shop exit. This place has an archery range! Oh, and just about every main attraction in Pingyao has a lacquer shop closeby, usually at the exit once you get out of the complex. I guess a Chinese home that has just visited Pingyao would have quite a number of these sitting on their shelves.

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I realised I don’t have that many pictures of the Armed Escort Agency. Perhaps I was getting tired at this point.

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Archery section of the museum.

West Street - South Street Intersection: By the time I finished with the agency, it is starting to get dark. Wandering back to the hotel, I passed by the poshest place I’ve seen in Pingyao so far, called Jing’s residence not too far away. The restaurants look posh to the max, with italian designed lamps and furnishing only a westerner would think is chinese-chic. A couple of locals outside complained that it was furnished to the taste of foreigners, which I cannot disagree, but I guess there would be quite a lot of rich local coal magnate that would love to flaunt their wealth just to shot it off a little bit.

This intersection, however is where everything touristic is located. Just about every shop sells some kind of souvenir. Don’ t ask me as I have no spent too much time in them, no space in my place for souvenirs except for photographs. There are street sellers here too to join in the capitalism. And bars with blaring western pop music and the ubiquitous rows of hard liquor and dark ambience. Looks out of place with farmers roaming outside in their two strokes.

Restaurants in this place also have the same menu outside, advertising local fare. It all has iPhone-style photos of dishes and some Chinglish explanation of what to expect in the dish. The buckwheat noodle dishes are quite good but the pictures make the honeycomb looking dish quite strange. Go local when you’re in Pingyao, when it comes to food. The beef here is quite nice, but they do make quite a lot of use of local vinegar in the local cooking. Most hostels and hotel has western breakfast in the morning, but why come all the way to Pingyao to have your butter and toast? You can have it when you get back home. Go chinese for breakfast.

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Buns with no fillings being made for sale.

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Jing’s Residence

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Night markets spring up on the main tourist streets at night.

7 May 2011: Rishengchang: I can’t believe I missed this place on the first day. On the map that was provided to me by the hotel, there was a list of 4 or 5 former financial house, but this one is probably the most popular. I made a mistake starting the day late. At 10am, it was a disneyland. Packed to the brim with middle aged and old local tourists and their tour guide with the wavy flags and belt pack loud speakers.

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Front trading hall. Plus plenty of tourists.

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Tourists are herded around to “attractions”, leaving some areas in the complex empty.

The Rishengchang starts off with two chambers just after the main entrance, that looks like a pawnshop complete with counters, grills but its the clerks that get the view of the outside while the clients get the inside looking out the window to the main street. There are one on each side. I had my 20mm lens with me and was hoping to capture a shot of the whole counter uncluttered but there are just too many tourist groups there at the same time and they’re all business, herding tourists from one attraction to another as fast as possible. And it’s a conveyor belt of tourists in most attractions, which is why some complain that the historical sights could withstand centuries of wear and tear but no way could it stand up to this tourism mass production line. After the pawnshops are the accountant’s offices and a bunch of rooms for negotiating. In fact, they look like meeting rooms. There are big and small ones, obviously depending on the importance of the clients. There are some rooms for the guests to stay overnight as well, nicely decorated. I saw the kitchen, but as usual, ancient people don’t have need for toilets.

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I didn’t stay long here. Couldn’t do so with all the people coming in all the time. I think I was already moving at half the speed of the production line, which is not a good thing with all the tight alleyways and people fighting for position. Just about every shot I make, there’s a tourist in the picture, except perhaps for shots of the ceilling.

Renting a bicycle: Now, every morning I do my gmail checking and catching up on chat on my iPhone outside my hotel and a shop owner would come out to chat to me about renting a bike. What I know is that it cost a dirt cheap 10RMB for the whole day, and the bike looks heavy enough no one in their right mind would want to cart it away once you lock the rear wheel. So right after Rishengchang, I took the back alley back to the shop to pick up a bicycle for the rest of the day, while dodging electric carts. They’re all over the place in the small back streets in Pingyao.

I’m theorizing without much knowledge that when the government officials came to Pingyao for the first time and floated the idea of turning the whole of the old town into a big monument and charge tourists money, they probably gave the idea that the locals would be rich either opening up hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops or driving one of these electric buggies ferrying tourists around. In fact, I think they have schools to teach them how to drive it. I’ve seen many of them driving the cart in reverse (which is a necessity due to the tight alleys where no three point turn is possible). And if you’ve tried to do a reverse drive, its not that easy.

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Getting around in a bicycle. Cheap and safe enough.

City Wall: Cycling is easy enough, but avoiding dumb tourists is not. They sometimes get jolted by my bell, sometimes no. I start off shooting towards the eastern wall, and cycled along the small alleys where there are less tourists and then along the northern wall all the way to the other corner, and then down on the western wall. In some sections of the north wall, the inside of the wall is made of compacted earth that starts to be eroded a little bit. However all the watch towers are still intact. In fact the best place to take pictures of the wall is along the north and west side and on the outside since there is a nice buffer space between the wall and the new city.

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Local at the less renovated part of the city wall.

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Construction site

I exit the Western Wall at the Fengyi gate and the whole world just changed, from the tradition of the ancient city to the modern neon and signboards of modern Pingyao.

Shuanglin Temple: What to do next? I have a bicycle, I don’t mind cycling a few kilometers, and thus, it would make some sense to go to Shuanglin Temple. According to my GPS its 5km or so on the main road and then turning left for another km. Was it a good idea? In a way yes, the way to the temple was downwind but I was fighting a strong headwind on the way back to Pingyao. The main road is travelled by a few tourist on tandem bicycles, electric bicycles, motorcycles, crazy Chinese car drivers that park in the middle of the road if they wish to make a stop, and big lorries carrying heavy load. On the right side of the road is a railway track. The way there is probably pretty dangerous, but my main concern was the heavy pollution on the road. Just about everything I had with me had a cake of dust by the time I got to Shuanglin Temple.

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On the highway, cycling towards Shuanglin Temple

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Shuanglin Temple main entrance.

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There are many halls with many statues in it. Some of them are so dark, it was not that easy to shoot in there, not to mention it is supposed to be prohibited.

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Main hall at Shuanglin, shot from the temple wall. This temple is fortified.

Entrance cost perhaps around 25RMB. I forgot the actual amount. There was not too many people there when I got to the temple so the ticket booth is also the security booth. Bicycle parking cost me 1RMB. This temple is surrounded by a fort-like wall. The buildings are not that new, which is a welcome sight. The first hall consists of 4 giant buddhist statues, more like demons. Inside the main hall is a big statue with elaborate ornaments that make the whole thing quite 3D-like, but fenced off by grills. The whole temple has a lot more of these smaller or similar sized halls, all of them with plenty of faded painted statues and carvings. All of them are quite elaborate and not every much restored. There are signs prohibiting photography and fire inside the building. Photography I guess flash photography, but the sign seems to prohibit every kind of picture taking, even with my D3s. Anyway, there are no one enforcing it when I was there. Fire???

As I mentioned earlier, the cycle back was a long hard work fighting the wind and wondering when I will get back to the town. Just for the fun of it, I went back through the new town and it was much more messy, busy, and noisy then the old town within the walls. Shops were all having some kind of promotion playing loud Chinese techno music, what I call the ass-shaker music, particularly useful for people on acid. There is a Dicos local fast food chain but I don’t recall seeing any western chain, hell, not even a KFC which is quite strange. Maybe I was on the wrong street. But in China you get KFCs on every corner!

I stopped for lunch once I got through the west gate, at one of the first restaurants. Ordered up some local stuff, and realised that the price of food outside of the tourist perimeter is almost half the price. Right after I also found the cheapest haircut I’ve seen so far in China, 5RMB, and I thought that the shop owner did a good job at it, pretty confident. I guess for 5RMB she should not be faulted for making any mistake. It was a hot day and I needed a trim and I got it for half the price of a bowl of noodle. A new benchmark has been set in the price of haircut.

Time now to return the bicycle and have a final walk around the small alleys before sunset for a final photoshoot at the City tower in the middle of the town.

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City wall exterior

City tower: I don’t know if there is another name for this thingy. Its in the middle of Nan Da Jie and is the local landmark, the tallest structure in the old town and where one could get the iconic picture of the old houses lining Nan Da Jie. Entrance is to one side of the street, where a lady is only glad to receive 5RMB from me to climb up two sets of narrow, steep and dark staircase to the second floor. There is no way for ordinary people to go up to the third floor. There are some stairs going to the third floor but the ceilling doesn’t look like it is strong enough. In the second floor are some buddhist statues but the reason to come up here is the view. All rooftops of the town is visible here, though only some of the entrance towers are visible, and I can’t recall seeing the city walls from here. I spent at least half an hour up there waiting for the sunset. There is a heavy cloud cover so sun disappears behind it 2-3 degrees before it dips below the horizon, which means that I will not get the amber sky that I wanted. The current light would be all I would get, cameras out, grab a few shots and time to go down before it gets dark.

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Sunset on my last day in Pingyao

8 May 2011: On my final day here, I’d wake up earlier than normal, before 7am and took a walk along the old streets, before the weekend tourists come in. Friday was much better than the weekends and it is possible to see the dramatic increase in number of tourists during weekends. What a shock it was, even at 7am, before the attractions are opened to public the tour groups starting shuttling into the centre of the town via electric carts packed with noisy local tourists. There are some pockets of calm, but it is not possible to take any pictures without tourists at this time. Maybe 5am would be a better time.

After a quick breakfast, and a free shuttle to the bus station provided by the hotel, I’m on the 26RMB bus to Taiyuan. It is packed by the time I got there, and there’s no space at the back of the bus to put my bag so I just dumped my backpack next to the driver and proceeded to squeeze into a window seat next to a guy too engrossed watching a local supertyphoon disaster movie.

Along the way there were periods where the road is just jammed, and no way for me to determine if it was accident or some official inspection, just that there were truck drivers chatting on the road side and some munching on melon seeds. Obviously I could see this only because my bus driver doesn’t queue up, and we took the oncoming lane to bypass the traffic. Before long the traffic was smooth again and I go back into my nap. The bus took a reverse route similar to the one that I took to Pingyao a few days back and stopped at Jiannan bus station. As usual in China, you could request for any stop along the way and it does drop off passengers that way.

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Zhengjia Hotel central courtyard

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