Friday, January 7, 2011

Pingyao Day 1 – We made it!

(I’d actually finished my posts about the Pingyao trip much earlier but had difficulty accessing Blogspot and uploading photos – coupled with the fact that I was Taobao-ing, and sorting out an avalanche of photos to develop, make into photo books/calendars etc… so this has gotten into a backlog.)

We spent Christmas Eve on the roads – our girl had surprisingly woken up by 7:30am that morning, in spite of going to bed at midnight the night before. Maybe because she knew we had a long way to go, but mainly because her diaper could not hold her large pool of urine and she wet her pants and bed. So as the adults were groggily trying to get up, Nainai got her egg ready as our girl fed herself breakfast since the former had to cook the staple on-the-go foods of peas+corn/carrots+sweet potato for her.

By 9am, we were all ready to go and bade farewell to Nainai. We made a stop at 7-Eleven first to get some food on the way, and she liked my pepper chicken with rice ball (of course, it was salty…). It was going to be a 600km journey southwest of Beijing, so I’d prepared some new books for her – 4 in all. However, she didn’t seem to like them, either that or I gave her too much of a choice, as she kept wanting to change the books that I was reading to her. In the end, I let her play with a new sticker board that came with lovely stickers depicting an ocean scene. It was quite fun for both as us to see her stick them on and create her own ‘story board’. (I got this for RMB17.90, the RRP, in stores, so I quickly snapped up all 8 designs when I found they were on Taobao for RMB8.90 each!!!)
Along the way, we stopped at times for a toilet/stretching break, and the adults had instant noodles as I fed her lunch of 7-Eleven potato salad – she liked the raw vegetables, and sadly took no more than 5 bites of what Nainai had prepared for her.

I was hoping she would sleep after lunch, but she was strangely alert, and we saw a tractor that had fallen into a ditch at one point – maybe because it was negotiating the bend too quickly. How dangerous. I also noticed a lot of mining companies along the road, testament to Shanxi as a mining place (and thus the renowned bad air quality and smog…).
When she finally slept, it was way past 3pm, and I was already very sleepy, having woken up equally early as well. However, she started fussing and saying that her back was itchy (maybe because of the dry skin), but I was too sleepy and irritated to pay heed to her cries, and true enough, she stopped and went back to sleep after awhile… for 1.25 hours!
She got up close to 5pm, and the first word she muttered was ‘tractor’, then ‘tractor 摔倒呢?', asking about the tractor in the ditch we’d seen earlier. Heh! It wasn’t long before we finally reached Pingyao at around 6pm, and strangely enough, a man on an electric bicycle was tailing us so closely by the sides that Wayne almost banged into him. Wayne had to wind down his window and ask him what he wanted – apparently, he’s a hotel tout and pushed a hotel brochure into our window, asking us to consider and follow him. Sheesh! They must be on the look-out for non-local registration plates, but we soon shook him off as our own hotel staff was giving Wayne driving directions on the phone to get to Jing’s Residence. We took a wrong turn once and ended up at the dead end of the city wall, which looked quite eerie, but still very grand, at night.

Pingyao’s history goes back more than 2,700 years, and until this day, the town looks much the same as it was in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Situated on the trade route between Beijing and Xi’an, Pingyao developed into a business center with the use of the nation’s earliest banks, and was the financial center of the Qing government in the 19th century.

But when we reached Jing’s, wow. First of all, we parked outside a barricade as the hotel was situated about 50m in on the pedestrian street (cars cannot enter), but no problem – we were greeted by 3 smartly-dressed hotel staff who were ready to help us with our bags, and Achmad, the Resident Manager from Indonesia who has been tending to my email booking, was there to welcome us as well. Surprisingly, Rosabelle let Achmad, a total stranger, carry her all the way to the hotel, without fussing at all. How cooperative! It must mean she has good vibes with him, as kids sure don’t hide whether they like or dislike somebody!

Upon reaching the hotel, which really stood out from the rest of the run-down structures with its rather grand façade, there were no check-in/presentation of passport/pre-authorisation of credit card crap, just bringing us to their restaurant and meeting room as we were given our welcome ginger tea. Their staff, Jackie and Alice, all locals (they employ locals with a fair level of English understanding), then brought our bags and us to the room, as Jackie taught us how to lock/unlock our door – even the key is so nice, huh? (Though for the next few day, we just went around with the key rather than lug a big metallic keychain and heavy knot around...)
When they left, we were free to explore our complimentary upgrade of courtyard suite – very nice and tasteful furnishings around the room; think our girl liked it too!
Free fruit of the day every day (persimmons, kiwis, apples…), and a daily-replenished mini bar (well, just Coke and Sprite, no alcohols, but still!), which we made sure we emptied every morning to leave in the car so they would top up for us, haha! Pingyao is rather dry, like Beijing, and with no humidifier in the room, we were asking them for many bottles of mineral water every day, which they very quickly and obligingly provided. Heck, even the bathroom looks nice (well, the toilet bowl was strangely high my legs dangled off the floor…).
We took a lovely family photo on the big king-sized bed before we messed it up, and before heading to dinner in the hotel. However, the floor heating did not seem warm enough, and we turned on the room aircon before leaving.
There really isn’t much else to do when the sun goes down in Pingyao, and my initial plans to try to catch some Shanxi opera or puppet show were squashed as they said the shows aren’t running because too little people go to view them. Oh well… So we had a relatively early Christmas Eve dinner at around 7pm over a bottle of complimentary red wine that the owner, Jing, had so nicely provided. Even Rosabelle’s high chair was the exact same one we use at home – talk about a home away from home! The food was quite good – I had local delights, a set of their local delicacies, whilst Wayne had Western, and our girl had a fusion of both. Dinner, without any drinks, cost us RMB500 – which is expensive, as our meals in other hotel restaurants over the next few days did not go beyond RMB120 for a few dishes. But Jing’s is expensive, because of the ambience, presentation, service etc…
As I was finishing my dinner, Achmad came over for a chat – I found out he’s originally from Batam and from Banyan Tree Resorts, with a last posting at their Lijiang resort. However, due to an unfortunate family accident where his second daughter (about same age as Rosabelle) passed away (I did not have the heart to ask), he had to get home leave and resign from Banyan Tree. A chance referral landed him this job with Jing’s in Pingyao, and his wife and three daughters (including a third adopted one) are away from him at home. He does seem like a workaholic and I can see he really loves his job, training his staff well, and doing everything by example. Over the next few days, he always greeted us with a cheery smile on his face, and in spite of the hotel having very little guests (maybe at most 2-3 other parties?), he occupied himself and his staff by giving them a lot of trainings.

During this time, Wayne brought Rosabelle to explore the place as they had a second floor with a book corner and bar area – most of the time it was empty, and you could even use a laptop with complimentary Internet access there. Think sofas, plush pillows, mood lighting, Zen feel, chill-out. And our girl did make herself most at home, running all over without her shoes on (and giving Wayne and I a nightmare as Wayne had to scrub the filthy socks clean during his bath later…).
As we were heading back to our room at around 10pm, Jing called Achmad and asked to speak to me – she was in Beijing and preparing to fly to Atlanta for two weeks for a holiday. It’s a pity I could not get to meet her, but I thanked her for the wine and great service so far, and hope to meet up with her some time in the future, as she has a 2.5 year old girl too.

When we got to our room, we saw that their complimentary turn-down service meant they turned down the lights, prepared your bed covers, and gave you a nice snack of sweet local dates (and a Jing’s postcard). Such very nice touches – I am a sucker for things like these…
We did not bathe Rosabelle that night, just washing her up, but I used the study table chair as her stepstool and left it under the toilet table, so she knew over the next few days to shift that and use it when washing her hands/brushing her teeth. And then we, especially Wayne, from the long drive, had a relatively early night at close to 11am as we slept our way into Christmas!

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