[ASIDE: Before I say anything else, I want to give my condolences to the families of the one hundred people who died in Tianjin last week and wish the best for the injured. I went to Tianjin- it is a lovely place full of lovely people. I hope they quickly control the disaster and will be able to prevent similar accidents happening in the future.]
To be honest, I had this post mocked up on my laptop weeks and weeks ago! However, I was reluctant to talk about the Pingyao part of the trip before my little travel article was published in China Daily. In my opinion, the ‘historical relics’, ‘ancient civilisation’ and ‘intangible cultural heritage’ of Pingyao were about as authentic as the fortune cookies at your local ‘Happy Wok’.
Once upon a time, a visit to Pingyao would have been a delight. The old Ming Dynasty (1644-1911) town is sheltered by ancient city walls, and a crisscross of ‘hutongs’ (胡同 : alleyway) twist, tumble and huddle together.It truly is a beautiful ancient town and a popular travel destination for those living in Beijing or surrounding areas, but has been wildly Westernised.
However, our tour guides had us walk twenty minutes through the hutongs, and the reality was quite different to how it sounds. We were taken to all the crowded spots, the high end restaurants, the souvenir streets: in short, all the fakest sites they could cram in. Instead of noodle cafes, there were tens of European style bars crouching under imperial roof tiles. There were no fruit stalls or peddlers during the day, and every ‘Old Shanxi Goods’ shop for miles around was selling the same tourist tat. Every Pingyao person we met on the main streets was either yelling at us to buy things, or feverishly buying things themselves. Occassionally, we’d find a small snack stall that looked halfway decent, but seemed to be selling burgers and hot dogs ( at least, a close approximation). Daytime Pingyao was a place I felt absolutely no connection to at all.
Night time Pingyao was different. Once we were out of the clutches of our tour group , we were free to walk around and explore after dinner. Once we stepped outside the city walls, a very different Pingyao appeared to me. But, you’d have to read the article for that!
Okay, there was one good thing about daytime Pingyao. We ate at a very, very posh Ming style restaurant named De Ju Yuan. The place was a maze of ornamental fountains, curtained banquet halls and windowed courtyards. I’ve never been anywhere like it! It was like a museum, except that all the artefacts inside were brand new. It looked spectacular, but I was very conscious that the food was not altogether different from the street stalls outside, if we had only had a chance to visit them. Cat’s ear soup (left) and ‘Mountain Noodles’ (right) are Pingyao specialties.
That’s all for now. One blogger I met recommended I keep my articles to about 500 words so…oops, out of space!