Day 24 through 3o
Day 24 through 26 "Old town of Pingyao, Yungang Grottoes and the Hanging Monastery near
The next morning we
arrive in Pingyao very early.
Pingyao was the financial center of China in the late Qing Dynasty
(1644-1911). Among the more than 20 financial institutions within the city
at that time was the Rishengchang Exchange considered to be the first bank
in China. It is now a museum among many within the old city walls.
The inner city within the walls has been preserved as it looked hundreds of
years ago, no modern buildings, no modern streets. Motorized vehicles
larger than golf carts are supposedly forbidden inside the walls, though we did
see a car once.
The wall around the city is the earliest and largest intact city wall in
China, at 40 feet high it is made of rammed earth covered with bricks with a
moat around the outside. It is said to be in the shape of a turtle.
The gates on the south and north representing the head and tail and the four
gates on the east and west sides as the four legs. There are many museums
and old style buildings and once you get away from the "main drag" the
city takes on a dry, dusty, barren look where the alleys
and homes are packed earth without much ornamentation.
We arrive to the old city by golf cart just as the city is waking up. We
are staying in a hotel/guesthouse that was once a residence and is of the style
of residence that the wealthy lived in at that time. It is a lovely
guesthouse and the rooms are complete with Kangs, large brick platform beds that
could be heated from below in winter. Though these are no longer connected
to a stove or heating unit, they do take up most of the room. There are
courtyards throughout and furniture representative of the Ming and Qing
We spent a full
day wandering the streets of the old town, trying to see as many of the museums
and temples as we could. We started with Puma taking us on a tour of the bank,
an escort service (security guards for the money) and the government buildings,
housing the courts and prison. The prison had on display many torture
devices and photos of acts of torture from the past. We also were able to
watch a skit re-enacting a court
case. Its is done rather tongue in cheek and the Chinese tourists in
the audience were laughing quite often. Bill and I took off on our own
visiting the City God Temple, the Confucius Temple, a few additional financial
houses, another security service, a couple of residences turned into museums,
the Grand Theater, the Qingxu Temple, the Tianjixiang Museum and the Southern
Gate of the wall, in addition to the Ming and Qing streets where shops and
restaurants line both sides.
While touring a Financial Museum we learned that in order to work for this
house, one had to meet certain physical requirements. They wanted
employees with attributes considered attractive in that time. To make sure
an applicant met these requirements he had to try on a steel hat and
shoes. If your head was too big or your feet too long you would not be
hired. It appears Bill passed the test.
There was a lot to see and we enjoyed the town. The temples alone could take a full day.
There are a lot of photos
of the many temples and museums that we visited that day on the photo pages from
the tab at the top of the page.
This town seemed to represent what I
thought I would see more of while in China. China is full of very
large cities, factories, towering apartment buildings, coal processing plants
and not many smaller nods to the past like the old town center of Pingyao.
Not many people live inside the walls, most live in towering apartments and
work in the surrounding city. At least the area is being preserved even if
only for tourists like us. There are other temples outside of the walls of the old town that are
significant but we didn't have time to visit them as we were off the next day on
our way to Datong.
We traveled to
Datong via chartered bus with a couple of stops along the way. The terrain
was dryer and rolling hillside villages and farmland were mixed in with the many
larger towns and cities. We stopped along side one village full of earth
packed homes, some freestanding and some built into the hillsides with doorways
and windows decorated with colorful papers. As soon as we stopped
villagers began running toward us. Women and children selling small souvenirs.
We had a few moments to take some pictures and most of us bought a few
things. Then it was back on the bus to the Hanging Monastery.
About 40 miles outside
of Datong is Xuankong Si the Hanging Monastery near Hunyuan. The Temple
hangs more than 150 feet above the ground on the west cliff of Jinxia
Gorge. It was built in 491 using a series of crossbeams inserted into the
rock face of the cliff and has survived more than 1400 years. This is one of
the few Temples in China to include sculptures encompassing Buddhism,
Confucianism, and Taoism all together. There are 40 halls and cabinets,
which contain about 80 sculptures made of copper, iron, terracotta, and
stone. The Monastery is an impressive sight and even more impressive when
you are walking through it and standing on the balconies overlooking the Gorge.
Next to the entrance to the Monastery is a cliff side stairway leading up to a
reservoir. The stairs curve around the cliff and at one point you walk
through a dragons
mouth. I had had enough climbing and hanging off cliffs
and chose to stay down and wait while Bill made the climb for the view and well,
because it was there. While waiting for Bill I was approached by a couple
of young Chinese men tourists wanting pictures with me (blonde hair attraction),
they spent a few moments moving me around for the proper lighting and clicking
away with their cell phones. It was very weird and I was ready for Bill to
come rescue me.
Click on the photo tab at the top of the page for some pictures of his climb as
well as many more from inside the Hanging Monastery.
Arriving in Datong we settled into the hotel and most of the group got together
for dinner with Puma across the street. The restaurant was called "Good
Day Son Rice Store" and they made noodle dishes rather than rice.
After dinner we walked down the street where a market was set up. There
was what remained of earlier produce and many stalls cooking food. Some
were actual stores and others were just vendors with carts or set up on the
ground. After wandering around awhile, we bought some beer and went back
to the hotel.
Before moving on to Beijing the next afternoon, we spent the morning visiting
the nearby Yungang Grottoes. This almost mile long series of caves was
started in 453 and took fifty years to complete.
The 53 grottoes in the Yungang Grottos complex include 1,000
niches with about 51,000 statues ranging in size from less than an inch to the
tallest Buddha at 56 feet. Many of the caves are very intricate and
click on these pictures to see a larger version.
An impressive four-story wooden facade with
glazed tile top is the entrance to caves 5 and 6. The wooden structure
itself was re-built in 1651AD. Also of note is the carvings of flying
celestials resembling angels throughout some of the caves. We had a local
guide for the tour and though the area was a bit crowded with Chinese tourists
it was well worth the trip.
Back in Datong,
Bill and I grabbed a snack along the market street and everyone got ready for
the afternoon train to Beijing. We were booked in a Soft Sleeper Class
once again for the six hour train ride through the countryside. There were
a lot of tunnels and some beautiful
scenery along the way.
Day 27 through 30
"Beijing, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, the Great Wall and Home"
We paired up in taxi's from the train station to the hotel, got
checked in and met Puma back in the lobby for dinner at a nearby
restaurant. After dinner we did a bit of exploring in the neighborhood and
headed back to the hotel, a busy day was ahead of us.
We were off early to the bus stop for a day packed with sight seeing around
Beijing. Puma led us to Tiananmen Square
after getting off the bus. Before
entering the square he stopped on a corner in sight of Mao's mausoleum (which
was closed that day) to allow
any questions about the 1989 events that made Tiananmen Square known by
everyone. He asked that we speak openly but only here on the corner and
once we entered the Square not to speak of it again. He gave a rather
simplistic explanation for the governments behavior, neither condemning nor
making excuses simply asking that we not pass judgment upon an entire
people. Then we were across the street exploring the statues and
monuments. Tiananmen Square is just that, a large open square-the largest
in the world, flanked by some important buildings and home to some
mausoleum, the Great Hall of the
People, Monument to the
Peoples Hero's and the National Museum of China are all found here.
There were guys
with camera's and backpacks carrying printers that would take your picture
with Mao's portrait and print it right there for you. They seemed to be
doing a bustling business. We never did find out how much they were
selling for. But we did take our picture with Mao's portrait. I
think its required.
Just north of Tiananmen
Square is The Palace Museum or Forbidden
City. It is the worlds largest palace complex covering over 183
acres. Right now many of the buildings within the palace are being
restored for the expected tourist onslaught as a result of the 2008 Olympics,
being held in Beijing. So there were many building that we could not enter
and some were completely covered with scaffolding.
It was also
extremely crowded. In come cases there were so many people it was
difficult to enter the Halls and see the items on display. What we could
see displayed were paintings, furniture, ceramics and many jade and bronze
The palace is said to have 9,999 rooms and it does seem to go on and
on. It is impressive and difficult to express the massive size and
opulence in photos.
The Starbucks was still there but I have heard it has since moved
out. It was a very small shop with no sign next to a gift shop in a
building once used by court officials during the Qing Dynasty. We enjoyed
the imperial garden right inside the far northern gate. It was the only
place within the Palace that we saw gardens and trees and was very pretty.
Though exiting proved a bit difficult through the crowds of people. There
are more pictures of the interior on the photo page.
Bill and I walked on north past Jingshan Park toward the Drum Tower and the
Hutongs. The neighborhood changed along here and after walking a bit we
found ourselves in a rather upscale area of little shops and cafe's. It
seemed the kind of area put together for tourists and we did see more Caucasians
here. We walked on past Beihai Park, home to the White Dagoba, a
Tibetan style Buddhist tower. We could see the Dagoba in the distance on
Jade Island in the middle of the parks lake. Walking on we came to the Drum
Tower, an imposing and drab building. Just around the corner from the
drum tower are the Hutong neighborhoods.
These are the old homes of the working class merchants. Courtyard
residences would be connected with narrow alleyways between. Usually there
was a shared bathroom area and sometimes a shared cooking area centered around
the community well. Most Hutongs in Beijing are being torn down to make
way for high rise apartments. Very few people live this way in modern
China. There are an abundance of rickshaws and their drivers in the area
that will give you a tour but we chose just to walk around and look on our
own. It was a bit like touring the slums. Not particularly pleasant.
We decided to get in some souvenir shopping as the next day would be busy and
our flight out is early on the following day. We took a taxi over to the
Silk Market with the plan to find some silk robes to bring home. I had
heard that they were aggressive sales people in the silk market but I had no
idea! The sales girls would grab you as you walked by and if you stopped
to look they would haggle down to pennies to get you to buy. A couple of
interesting things happened in the silk market. Bill was looking at some
cargo pants and the sales girl grabbed a tape measure because she insisted he
couldn't be a 32 waist. She kept saying he was very thin, 32 was too
fat. When she measured him at a 25 inch waist we knew something wasn't
right. Turns out they have a completely different "inch" in
China and you had to be specific about AMERICAN INCH.
The other interesting thing was when I decided to buy my dad a really nice heavy
weight silk robe. I had already purchased some other robes for the ladies
so I had an idea of where I wanted to end the bartering. After deciding on
a size and finding one I liked, the sales girl wanted to make a really good deal
with me "because we are friends now", umm hmmm. She was going to
cut the price down to 1200 yuan (about $160 US). Since I had paid about
ten times less at a different vendors stall earlier I told her I wouldn't pay
more than 150 yuan. She was appalled and started hollering about the 100%
pure silk, blah blah blah. They had one on display exactly the same marked
315.000 or 315 yuan so bargaining for half that wasn't out of the
question. She then tried to convince me that was 315 US dollars. So,
I simply told her I was sorry I had apparently made a mistake and would go back
to the other vendor and get something different. This is when she GRABBED
MY ARM AND SHOVED ME IN THE CORNER. She got in my face and said "I
don't want to have to hit you, because that would not be nice and that would be
disrespectful". Holy crap, I thought she was going to beat me
up. I jerked away and got Bill's attention and said we needed to get out
of here. We started to walk away and all of a sudden she was yelling
"OK. OK YOUR PRICE". She seemed to be attempting a switch and I
talked about it loudly and she just gave up, gave me the robe, exclaiming softly
how we are friends and I should be happy to come back and shop there again.
SMILE . SMILE . SMILE. ok, sure.
Shopping was so exhausting and practically dangerous! Sure hope Dad likes
We had dinner at a sidewalk table at a restaurant near the hotel where we got a
lot of food, beer and watermelon for dessert for about $2.00. Yeah,
total for the meal.
It was our last full day of the trip and we would be walking the Great
Wall. The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall is about an hour Northeast of
Beijing. Since it is farther than the Badaling section and not as easily accessible
from the road it is less crowded. We took a chartered bus and
planned to spend four or five hours hiking around. It was a beautiful
clear day, not too hot but warming up as the day wore on. We walked the
gauntlet of vendor
stalls to the beginning of the cable car ride up to the wall. You can
hike up the trail to the wall but we chose to do our hiking on top.
The cable car that
showed up to pick Bill and I up had a sign that said it was the car Bill Clinton
rode in June of 1998. The cable car lets you out at Tower 14 and you can
go right and hike to Tower 1 or left and hike to Tower 20. Although the
hike to the left is shorter it is much steeper so, as everyone went to the right,
of course, Bill and I took the steeper route to the left.
We walked the distance to Tower 20 at the top of a set of very steep steps and
then turned around to go as far as we could the other way while we still had
some time. There were very few people when we got to the wall and although
as the day wore on more people showed up it was certainly never crowded and we
often had an easy time of getting pictures without a bunch of other people in
them. The photo tab at the top of this page will take you to a lot more
pictures of the wall and our walk. But here we are at the end of the line
at Tower Twenty.
As time was running out and
we were to meet everyone at the cafe below, we made our way to the toboggan sled
ride to the bottom. It was a fun ride even if I did have a slow person in
front of me that made me keep my speed in check. Probably frustrated Bill
more than me as I was perfectly happy to tool along slowly rather than fly down
and perhaps off the side of the mountain. We had time for a beer at the
cafe with Puma, Ken, Jolyn, Dick and Mary while we waited for the others to make
their way down.
We had a little time to
get cleaned up before going out to the Kung Fu Show. Everyone met in the
lobby and we were off by bus across town with Puma in the lead. It was an
elaborate performance, almost opera like in that it followed a story of a young
boys life becoming a monk and studying the teachings of Kung Fu. As a
young man he becomes disillusioned with this spiritual path and leaves for a
time in search of love, but comes back and goes on to become the master and
begin the teaching of another young boy. All this with a lot of lights,
costumes, music and of course Kung Fu. It was a very enjoyable evening.
Directly after the show the group went to a restaurant for a traditional Peking
Duck dinner. This was our farewell dinner and Puma treated us to some
'traditional' Chinese liquor. It was some strong stuff and we all
toasted our China experience with small liqueur glasses. Some of the group
were going on to Tibet, some were spending more time in Beijing but Bill and I
would be headed home by noon the next day.
We completed our packing that night and met Puma in the hotel lobby early the
next morning where he had a taxi waiting to take us to the airport. We
said our goodbyes assuring Puma we would be back one day to see Tibet and
perhaps a trip through Mongolia. This part of the world still has many new
adventures to offer.