What type of sign is it when a black cat crosses your path twice in a span of 24 hours–once at the Great Mosque in Xi’an and today on the sidewalks of Pingyao? I’ll tell you what it means. It means start saying your prayers – quickly. I’ve relocated from civilization to another ancient walled city but this one remains as if I stumbled back into time to 1370 AD. By train, I traveled three hours from Xi’an through air polluted clad towns and villages. This is an agricultural area but what concerns me is that the air quality is so horrible I must now be inhaling radioactive waste ad nauseum and now I am also digesting it. Bring on the health scare in about twenty years. Did I mention I wish I paid attention closer attention in that environmental biology class by sophomore year at MSU?
Since it’s Friday at 5:00 PM and it’s happy hour somewhere in the world just not here, I am giving you the abridged version of the great ancient city of Pingyao that time has forgotten and yet again tourists have found. My time in this place warrants alcohol. According to Wikipedia, the encyclopedia of the Internet, Pingyao is about 445 miles from Beijing (there is hope I will return to this century soon). It’s an ancient city that dates back some 2,700 years. During the Qing dynasty, the last imperial dynasty in China from 1644 -1912, it served as the economic center. Believe it or not some 50,000 people currently live in this Clint Eastwood Western. In 1997, it was named a World Heritage Site because of the amazing scarves, lacquer and beef. Just seeing if you are paying attention but that is a strong possibility based on the potential shopping.
The city walls were constructed in 1370 (same as Xi’an’s ancient city wall). There are six fortified gates defending the city and trapping me into my adventure of torment. I’ve been captured by stray cats and dogs which are likely the centerpiece of most menus and it’s so cold that I really wish I bought my new GAP jeans a size bigger to fit some hello kitty long underwear underneath.
What type of fundraiser comes off 10 months of grueling work to relax in dusty (but yes still clean), ancient Pingyao? I’m evidently someone suffering from delusional episodes of grandeur. I’m looking for some empathy. Please! What was I saying about not needing a face mask?
The city walls are the reason for the heritage site but the city contains a great number of Confucian and Taoist Temples as well. If I can recover from my demise by 8:30 AM, I will learn much more about my surroundings but since this is in the middle of nowhere it didn’t even make my fancy Fodor’s guidebook.
At some point in time, there were 20 financial institutions within the city and one such place is reputed to be the first bank in China. It’s most evident that the banks and the money have abandoned the town without a trace — Go on take your money and run comes to mind. What this town needs is a remodel and some modernization. I’m beginning to come around to the rest of the Chinese people- maybe modern is better?
Before I leave you and take part in the time honored Irish tradition of a Bailey’s and Coffee (oh this is so happening), my lovely day started talking to my parents for Thanksgiving (my mother is probably convulsing about now) and a visit to the luxurious Sofitel gym followed by a delightful breakfast, a mix of Chinese and Western specialties. Where it all went wrong —three minutes before the train left the station in Xi’an a grandmother and 1 1/2 year old baby piled in the seat next to me. Life is about signs. Next time, I’ll get off the train.
It’s taken me 10 days to learn how to say Thank You and now I am trying to forget it (kidding). It’s xie xie, pronounced see-eh, see -eh. I knew being friends with Canadians would eventually come in handy. Until today, I basically sounded like a jackass. “She She” one day, “She eh She” the next day and on and on….Oh and Hello….is Knee How. That I got. I just remembered all the pain I have in my knee and how my Chinese medicine man could fix me right up.
Tomorrow, it’s Pingyao and me against the world and an afternoon of massage therapy, cupping and acupuncture. I informed the woman at my guesthouse to prepare the works for me. I’ve earned the works. The countdown to Beijing begins…5 more glorious days and the Peninsula Hotel is mine.
Until then…think of me in your beautifully heated homes on your wonderfully cushioned beds eating your lovely turkey leftovers maybe talking in English with your friends and family. I’ll be struggling to keep my wallet out of the stores and my mouth away from cat ears. My handy dandy flashlight will be next to my bed so I am better able to crawl to the bathroom when the blackout comes…and it’s coming and I am ready.