Friday, January 7, 2011

Pingyao Day 2 – Hypothermia in Old City

I think our girl was also tired-out from the road trip – maybe it was too much for her, and she woke up crying and screaming at 2+ in the morning, not wanting to nurse, and Wayne and I reassured her she’s in a safe place in Pingyao and锦宅 (our hotel), because some children can get afraid when they wake up in a strange surrounding and forget they had travelled elsewhere. She then just asked to go and pee and slept till 5+ in the morning before she got up to nurse. I wasn’t sleeping so well as the aircon vent above the toilet area seemed to be making kick-start whirring noises at night (I told Achmad about it in the morning and miraculously enough, it was gone by the time we got back!), and it was rather dry. Also, they might have given us a king-sized bed but Wayne was sleeping so far in as he said the blanket wasn’t broad enough for him, so he had to encroach onto poor Rosabelle’s space as well, haiz!

We got up at 8:15am as Rosabelle got up – that is our suite on the left of the picture…
Then headed for our complimentary breakfast, where we each tried an Eastern, and a Western breakfast. There were full-length windows in the restaurant and I could capture street scenes as we looked out.
Rosabelle did not eat much of breakfast, just some scrambled eggs, and even rejected the 7-Eleven cheesecake I’d gotten her. Surprisingly though, she loved the yogurt with cut fruits they gave, and we even had them prepare one bowl with just oranges, at her request. We could have any drinks we wanted, so I had some tea, and it was ala-carte buffet as we could just top up anything we wanted more of. Yums!
And then we got ready to head out past 10am – we found out later temperatures were like below 10 that day, brrrrr….no wonder Wayne said he did not feel like going out! That’s our mighty traveler outside Jing’s Residences. Over the next few days, I was always very happy when Jing’s is within sight, providing much respite from the cold, and a cosy hotel room to get back to.
Maybe it was because of the cold, but our naughty girl did not want to walk much, and kept crying for Papa to carry. When Wayne finally stopped to carry her, she was so contented and gave such a 'Heh heh, I got what I wanted!’ smile!
We first had to go and get tickets down the street before getting access to the main tourist venues – it cost RMB120 per adult ticket, valid over two days, but problem is I could only re-validate it between 5 to 8pm every day, so it meant that if I wanted to use it the next day, I needed to swing by later to get it stamped. How inflexible of them – can’t they make a standard two-day pass, because that’s what it is anyway, or even better, stamp it there and then so I did not have to go back, right?

Anyway, with tickets in hand, we first headed to Ri Sheng Chang, the earliest bank in China, first opened in the 18th century, and once world-famous for ‘remitting money all over the country’. The first manager of Rishengchang was Lei Lvtai, a gifted and professional person in management and the most noted person at that time.
There are a lot of urns in the yard, for cultivating plants, as without any foliage, a square yard would read as ‘囚' (or criminal in Chinese), but if they were directly planted as trees, it’d read as ‘困' (or sleepy in Chinese). Covering an area of over 1,700 square meters, the Money Exchange Shop was rebuilt in 1995 and is now known as the China Museum of Money Exchange Shop. Our girl preferred sitting on the stone ingots in the yard…
And she also loved climbing steps, insisting on opening and going behind the door at the top of the steps, no matter how much we have to convince her that it was (really) locked. As she did a lot of climbing and negotiated steps on her own, you can imagine how dirty her pants/down jacket and shoes were…
We then headed to 古居, just an old residence down the road. I really should have listened to the hotel staff and went to the major places she highlighted, as places like these all looked the same after some time. Courtyard, check. Dusty old furniture, check. Dusty old wax figurines, check. Rosewood furniture, check. Room with photos of dignitaries who ever visited this place, check.
After some time, it did get quite boring even for me, an eager and avid traveler, not to mention the cold was really getting to us as there’s obviously no heating in such places. So Wayne suggested that we head back to the hotel for a rest/to thaw first, and I wasn’t very keen, but he was right about the fact that it wasn’t worth it to get a cold (especially the driver!) just to see these places. So I made him go to one last pit-stop, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, just outside Jing’s, before we went back.
Maybe our girl was also tired, but when she climbed up the steps and saw this chair in the room, she told us, ‘我们坐这里讲话吧' – think she meant ‘聊天'. And so we chit-chatted as I asked her to sing songs for us, which she was most obliging.
However, she wasn’t as cooperative when I asked her to take a photo with me. Grrrrr….
We then went back to Jing’s for a toilet break and rest – our girl was most happy in the room.
We then walked around the hotel compound – there are 19 rooms in all and it was really quite big. The hotel used to be a courtyard of a wealthy Qing Dynasty silk merchant, built around 260 years ago.
The new owner, Jing, decided to take on the huge project to restore the house to its former glory and incorporate all the modern hotel facilities, and along with a world renowned architect, has created a place of outstanding beauty and elegance.
Next, we went to the lounge area upstairs to enjoy our complimentary tea of the day – Wayne was in heaven as they lit a live fire for us as we sipped on our teas (I chose chrysanthemum whilst Wayne had Earl Grey) and they prepared snacks for us. Rosabelle liked the prawn canapés, had some of the cake, and a tangerine I brought along. Once, when Wayne was adding on wood to the fire, Rosabelle touched the glass pane and it must have burnt her slightly as she quickly retracted her hand. Luckily it wasn’t too hot or cause any injury, but that taught her to heed our warnings when we repeatedly tell her ‘Don’t touch! It’s hot!’. Wayne wasn’t keen on moving from the warm comfort of the lounge, so I decided to go venture out again myself rather than force him to come along unwillingly. As for our girl? I let her have the choice of staying with Papa, or coming with me. She chose to venture out with me, and I was all-excited that I was tasked with looking after our little one in such a strange, cold, new place, and got both of us all psyched up with a loud ‘Yaaaay!’ and victory sign before we bade farewell to Papa.
Luckily I borrowed Wayne’s beanie as that helped to keep out the cold. I was planning to cover as much as I could before we met Wayne for lunch, and it was a long way, but no way I was going to carry her, so I could only prod her along to walk herself. However, it was hard as she kept getting distracted by little stalls and their interesting curios and artifacts…
And then she told me, ‘sssh ssshhh….' – yikes! We were only less than 100m from the hotel and we had to turn back already to use the loo?! What a lousy adventure! So I quickly brought her back to Jing’s as no way I was going to expose her rear/privates in such inhumane temperatures. So when she was again ready to go, I asked if she wanted to stay, or leave with me. She chose to stay on, so I thought, just as well, I can cover more spots more quickly on my own.

I had walked barely 20m from Jing’s when Wayne ran out with her, saying she wanted to follow me. Aiyo! And so we got all psyched-up again about our all-girls adventure and headed down to the main street, or南大街. I was telling myself to be selective about things to buy, and not be waylaid by anything tacky – luckily there wasn’t much that caught my fancy. I mean, I’ve been living in China for so long and there’s only so much paper-cutting, lacquer ware or Mao memorabilia I can take, so I wasn’t wasting time on browsing or ‘shopping’, so to speak.
We passed by the Tian Ji Xiang Museum, not on my to-go list, but we headed in anyway (I was hoping against hope I could cover EVERYTHING, see?).
Our girl, when Papa’s not around, did not once clamour for me to carry her, walking around on her own, and even leading the way at times.
As we made our way, I saw a lot of paper-cutting stalls, lacquer ware shops, makeshift food stalls, and interesting alleyways that would have been fun to get lost in and around if only it wasn’t so cold and I wasn’t running against time with a toddler in tow… Many places in rural China like Shanxi are famous for paper cutting and is a tradition in China spanning more than 1,600 years.
We then walked on the main street and headed towards the Ancient City Building. I could not see any stairs leading up, but it does look quite elegant and exquisite. Apparently, you can overlook the signs of the whole city if you are on the highest floor, which isn’t too hard as Pingyao isn’t that big anyway.
We then went to the Chinese Armed Escort Agency Museum, an establishment providing escorts for a fee in old times (not the ‘dirty’ escorts kind…). In olden times, the flourish of commerce in Pingyao resulted in the development of this office as they needed protection, so obviously there were loads of weapons lying around.
Can imagine the bodyguards doing their training here…
And our small bodyguard attempting some jumping as well…
By this time, we had been gone for slightly more than an hour and I asked if she wanted lunch. When she nodded, I said, ‘Ok, let’s go look for Papa for lunch’, and she immediately called, ‘出租车!' So hilarious! She must be so used to having me in Beijing bring her out for meals and flagging a cab down, but sorry dearie, no cars in this area. I then called Wayne and asked him to walk over from Jing’s. As we slowly made our way out, we saw Papa in the midst of the crowds and she was of course most happy since somebody could carry her already, heh! I told Wayne we covered the grand total of THREE spots, if you count the Ancient City Building we walked BY, and not even go INTO, haha! How ambitious I was that I could make the whole lane down and back…

Anyway, we walked on down to lunch at Tian Yuan Kui Hotel, as recommended by a Jing’s staff who used to be a waitress here. Food turned out pretty good, though it was quite spicy in some and our girl ended up not having much to eat. However, she was happy to pose around the restaurant…
Whilst I went to take a look around the courtyard as it’s quite a big place – but I really can’t imagine staying in such hotels and not Jing’s – it’s quite something to see these in the day time as a tourist area, but to come home and sleep in them, erm….
After lunch, which Wayne thoroughly enjoyed, saying he wanted to come back for dinner again, I cajoled Papa into hitting two more spots before we went back to Jing’s. I was so elated he agreed and I had wanted Rosabelle to walk, but the winds were coming up, and at the speed she was going, it would not be long before the sun set, so off we went, with Papa hurrying off with girl in arms as we passed by more paper cutting, and over the next day or so, saw a lot of such balloon get-ups declaring the birthday celebrations of some kid. Sheesh! How opulent, and it’s strange the deco is all about weddings with the double 喜word, with a phoenix and dragon!
First stop was the Cheng Huang Temple. Wayne was carrying her and I just put my cold hands under his armpits to get some warmth (as I passed Wayne’s beanie back to him), and our girl started whining and getting all possessive. Sheesh! She thought I was trying to take Daddy dearest away eh…
We next headed to the Confucian Temple – Wayne was so happy that the gates were locked, thinking it was closed, but luckily they had another entrance. Wahahaha!
A national relics protected unit, there are 87 sculptures of Confucius and his disciples at the site, which is the largest number in any temple and has a fine regular exhibition of the history of the ancient Chinese Examination (which we didn’t see). It was quite cold and deserted, and it didn’t seem all that nice, and our girl said she needed to pee. When we went around looking for a washroom, she said ‘尿尿了' and looked down – luckily she was wearing a diaper, phew! When Wayne wanted to carry her up, she said, ‘爸爸先不抱,玥玥热呢', pointing to her diaper that was probably nice and comfy with her hot urine, haha!
And then it was back to Jing’s, as Wayne looked at the map and decided to cut through some narrow alleys on the way back – it’s nice to see other parts of the less-touristy main streets, and if not for Wayne navigating, I sure would not dare to venture in these parts alone! That’s a stone door with the words ‘厕所' on top – I’m sure it’s not in-use now, or is it…
When we were nearing Jing’s, I saw that there was another site just down the road, so I let them go back first whilst I walked on myself, and passed by this clinic (top pic), and this makeshift ‘chair’ beside a table… haha…
It was about 10 minutes to walk to Qing Xu Taoist Temple, originally built in Tang Dynasty (DC 657).
After snapping a few shots, I walked back, and it was really very cold. When I got back, I could not even take my ring off my painful fingers as they were frozen red and swollen – can you imagine that? I almost suffered frostbite to see a Taoist Temple, and I’m not even Taoist! But another tick off my map was priceless… wahaha!

I met Achmad when I reached Jing’s, and he spent some time showing me around the different rooms and suites. They were all very beautiful and exquisite, and he actually took the time to show me around almost each and every one of them. Nice… I then went back to the room and settled our girl down and nursed her, and she slept almost immediately at 4:30pm, giving me time to escape and go for my massage, haha! Yes, Achmad was telling me they have yet to launch the service officially, and he’s been training his hotel staff to do it, so for me, they will charge RMB380 for a 90-minute massage (instead of just 60 minutes).

I was most eager to enjoy this R&R as Wayne slept with Rosabelle in the room, as Judy, a chambermaid by day, attended to me. I enjoyed a luxurious foot massage, then chose from two Thai oils. However, the only difference was in the scents, Judy said, which I think could have been explained better as I’m sure they had different properties. Small matter… as I went to take a bath – no hairbands/rubber bands/shower caps. Hmmm… I was expecting better. The massage overall was ok, though she could have used more strength, and the lights could have been dimmed but hey, it could very well have been her first time, and it was definitely something I could not get elsewhere in Pingyao!

So off I went back to our room, recharged, and she was still sleeping, in the same position I left her! When she woke up at 7:15pm, I quickly nursed her, then rushed out first as I wanted to validate our lousy two-day passes. It was so dark that I missed the turning, and had to turn back as I did not remember having to walk so far on. When I went back, I know why I missed it – they had boarded it up and turned off the lights, but it was only 7:45pm, so I banged on the wooden planks, and a lady asked me to hand her the passes through a gap, asking me why I was so late – I told her it’s because they told me to come between 5 to 8pm what! Luckily I made it in time…

I wasn’t keen to eat at the same place we had lunch again, so the hotel staff recommended Yun Jin Cheng Restaurant just down the road. Erm… the food was really not as good, though the wait staff were all so mesmerized by Rosabelle they stood in a row staring at her, and peeping at her from menus/papers covering their faces, even taking photos of her with their handphones. It was quite disrupting as they kept coming over the point the phone in her face as she was eating, asking her to smile, and one even came up and kissed her cheek! Horrors!!! The bill was more pricey than lunch’s, so we made a mental note to not come here again… to avoid the scary staff as well.

We then headed back to Jing’s, where Rosabelle had fun at the lounge area, liking to hug and kiss her dinosaur friend (and make it kiss her), which she thinks is a crocodile (this UCCA thing costs RMB80,000 for one, so I made sure she did not topple it over in her over-zealousness!).
The Jing’s staff were so nice, preparing a cup of hot milk for Rosabelle even (and gave her a nicely-wrapped apple), which she did not take (and I finished it, haha…) – Rosabelle was also very pally with them and even answered them when asked for her age and where she was from. Here she is, busy with her books from the shelves (no children’s books though), as Wayne was checking the route for tomorrow’s outing to Shuanglin Temple and Wang Courtyard.
After that, we headed back to our room and Rosabelle took a shower – but she turned it off and on again, getting water over me and the floor in the process. The room layout is quite strange, with a long corridor separating the room from the living room, so with our things in the latter room, I have to run both ways to get things, quite inconvenient, if you ask me. And I found out the remote control for the TV did not work as well, or maybe I did not know how to use it. But not that I had time for it, as we hit the sack a little after 11pm…

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