Sunday, January 9, 2011

Pingyao Day 3 – Running Solo… & Family Time

On Boxing Day, I woke up slightly earlier at 8:15am so that I could be prepared to go out earlier myself and cover some sites, but our girl woke up at 8:30am, so I hastily got her ready and left instructions with Wayne to get her changed and go for breakfast first. Then out I went, taking shots along the way of goodness knows who posing…

I then reached the Yingxun Gate of the renowned Pingyao City Wall (it has 6 gates), first constructed in 827-728BC with mud to protect the city against outside invaders.
here was nobody up there but me, and it was so nice and serene, almost unreal…
love how the outside of the city looks from the top, and I liked the fact that it was just me and no jostling tourists like on the Great Wall in Beijing.
I did not dare to venture far as I did not want to have to go a long way back home as not every gate could be ascended, so I just walked a little and turned back, taking in the sights.
In the year 1370, the wall was widened greatly with many stones and bricks and is now 10 meters in length and 5 meters in width, with a total of 72 towers (representing the 72 top disciples of Confucius) and more than 3,000 battlements (said to represent his total number of disciples).
I could look down into many courtyards and old houses from where I was, and Pingyao City Wall is regarded as Tortoise City with its head, tail and four legs of gates (also regarded as the First City in North China by some experts) and is now one of the cultural relics under the State protection. I could even see an old lady dusting her mats…
Obviously, with nobody around, I could only take close-up shots of myself, which cast shadows as I was blocking the sun with my hand and camera…
So when I saw some people later, I was actually glad and asked them to take photos for me, heh!
And then I made my way back down where I came from, intending to next head to Lei Lv Tai’s Residences around the corner.
I got directions from the guy manning the gate, but wasn’t sure to turn at a narrow and dubious alley, so I asked another lady, who told me to walk on straight ahead, and before I could turn back, I realized I was walking back in the same direction I came from, meaning I skipped the residences behind me and was heading towards my next destination, The Ancient Government Building. Oh well, I didn’t want to retrace my steps so I decided to just skip that and head to the Building instead, but passed this Ting Yu 听雨Building first.
I then reached their Yamun, the local administration department, first built in 1346DC and apparently one of the best preserved.
There was something about sedan chairs that day, and even Cixi Dowager’s clothing…
With an archway, ceremonial gate, six divisions, the prison, the court, meeting room, residential area and garden, it was really quite big.
The lake was all frozen – sub-zero temperatures here…
And you can imagine the olden days with their court cases…
I chanced upon their prisons with the heavy iron ball chains.
And if not for a tour guide next to me explaining in detail to her group, I wouldn’t have caught it that the jail rooms on the left belonged to officials who were imprisoned – the rooms all had windows, were big, had heating below the beds, and even stoves they could cook upon with food bought by Ayis! On the right are jail rooms belonging to the commoners – no windows, no beds, and once you closed the door, it’s pitch dark. Sigh… even in prisons, the corruption continues… I then went out and asked the attendants if there were performances outside the building that I’d read about happening at 10am, but he said that they don’t have them in winter.
After that, I realized it was close to an hour since I was gone, so I headed home, taking some shots of street scenes along the way. We really should have covered the City Wall and City Building together yesterday, rather than those run-down houses/museums. It’s really much nicer and representative of Pingyao (if I really had to choose, I would just visit these two sites and not see the rest), and it’s a pity both Wayne and Rosabelle did not get to see/experience it (though Wayne would think he’s not missing on anything much, heh!). Well, at least one representative of the Shi family did it – yaay….
Our girl was just finishing up breakfast, with Wayne giving her scrambled eggs. Daddy doesn’t normally let her feed herself, preferring to control the mess and feed her instead, haha. I was famished and very cold, and craving a hot chocolate, which the Jing’s staff amazingly whipped up as part of my breakfast! Yums…. After that, I had energy to take a shot of our girl climbing her favourite spiral steps up to the lounge area as Wayne confirmed the route with the hotel staff. There are interesting pieces of art hanging all over the hotel, like these.
By the time we headed out, it was close to 11am, and it was quite a scenic drive to Shuanglin Temple, about 7 kilometers southwest of Pingyao.
When we reached, Wayne stopped at the car park and actually suggested that I bring Rosabelle down whilst he waited in the car. Sheesh! I was quite irritated, coming all the way here and not going down and expecting me to take care of Rosabelle alone?! He really does NOT like travels, but I asked him to go down with a ‘真把自己当司机了啊!' – think he got it. It costs RMB25 per person for the entry, and is most famous for the 2,000-plus painted statues distributed among 10 halls in three connected courtyards.
Our girl was most pious, wanting to kneel and pray at each floor cushion, and requesting I take a photo of her in the hall (though photos are not allowed, of the statues, I suppose, since flash photography destroys the paints).
There was a short flight of steps up a small surrounding wall, so guess this is as close to a City Wall experience father and daughter are going to get! (She’s happy to pose with Daddy, but not with Mummy – why?!!!)
We saw a fat cat eating some fish bones, and she tried to make friends with it…
The whole place, in accordance with a temple, was of course very serene.
And that’s us taking solo pics as she refused to pose with me – hmph! She gets sticky when I don’t want her to, and rejects me when I want her to be sticky!
After about an hour at the temple, we left and headed to Wang Family Courtyard, located 35km from Pingyao – we were deliberating between this and Qiao Family Courtyard, made famous by Zhang Yimou's film ‘Raise the Red Lantern’ but the latter was further and not on the way, and also much smaller, so we thought let’s go for grandiose over marketing, and headed to Wang instead, paying RMB66 per adult.
We did not intend for a guide, and went to use the toilet first, but after seeing how big the place was, and how meaningless it was to walk around ourselves, turned back to get a guide for RMB50 – she said it will take about 1.5 hour to cover the main areas.
The Grand Courtyard of the Wangs is the largest-existing folk residence compound in China and a symbol of the business family's living place, showing the example of Chinese architectural art and cultural relics.
There were groups of tourists around with their respective guides – doesn’t our girl stand out with her rainbow colours from a sea of black? However, she was most sticky to Papa and kept wanting him to carry, sigh… poor Daddy.
The decorative lattice screens and windows, shaped openings between rooms and courtyards, and undulating partition walls are exquisite examples of Ming and Qing vernacular architecture.
Rarely are so many classic styles found all in one place, and the exquisite stone carvings all over, even on the floors, were all so nice and patterned…
At times, Rosabelle would come down and walk herself, much to Wayne’s relief… and she had a funny quirk of wanting to pose with stone lions…
This huge courtyard covers an area of about 45,000 square meters with over 120 compounds and 1,118 rooms and took about half a century (1762-1811) for construction.
We could not resist taking a family shot at this corner with a carving of an auspicious crane on one side, and the motif of a turtle’s back on the other.
Gold ingots on the wall, and fortune on the floors (but not to be spilt away…)
They even had a school for their own kids!
Along the staircases, there were carvings of a mummy monkey piggy-backing a baby monkey, to signify something along the lines of the kids becoming scholars/officials etc, so of course we had Rosabelle take a photo with that – the civil servant of tomorrow, haha!
Even if you were filthy rich in the past, but were not a government official, your doorway can only be that high, so here’s to the Wangs and their high status…
Our guide, though not overly drawn to Rosabelle (you know when some people are really all into and over kids, like me?), was very patient though, waiting around for us as our girl liked to explore around on her own, and not once hurrying us.
We came to this bridge with the 12 Chinese zodiac signs – that’s our Miss Minnie Mouse staring at her rodent friend, and I caught a weirdly-angled picture of Wayne’s and my snake since this was at the corner of the stairs, facing outwards into nothingness.
From where we were, we could also see the connecting bridge leading to the other side of the whole place – it’s really darn huge…
I told you she has a fetish for stone lions, insisting that I take photos of her posing happily next to them. Twice on each side of one lion…
And so we made the journey onto the bridge, where she flew solo and refused to take a shot with me…
Then when we reached the other side, our girl claimed she needed to poo, just after I had asked if she needed the toilet on the OTHER side that we came from. So Wayne quickly carried her back there, and asked the guide to carry on with the journey. She was very nice, and said to let’s wait for them as it’d be hard for them to look for us later. I then had an idle chat with her after I made her snap some shots of me, haha…
Apparently, the lull season now for them means the guide only gets one customer every two to three days. During peak periods like the CNY, she can get 5 to 6 groups per day, and of course the whole place will be milling with people. Of the RMB50 we pay for a guide, only RMB14 goes to her. Gulp. She also said that it’s more worthwhile to visit Wang’s than Qiao’s because of the former’s grandeur and massiveness, as they are government officials. At the end of the day, Qiao was just a merchant and no matter how grand his courtyard was, it still cannot stand up to Wang’s, though Qiao is more marketed because of the various films taken there.

Before long, our girl came running back, telling me肚子舒服了. I’m sure, because it was Day 5 since she last pooed - at least Daddy did not make a wasted trip!
A place without tourists… nice…
We continued with our journey and saw an olden-time sundial, as well as a natural piece of stone that looked like two jade lions.
Rosabelle wanted to ascent the steep steps on her own, though I stuck by closely behind as she would have fallen on cobblestones if she lost her footing.
We came to a swing, which our girl wasn’t keen on sitting, but instead preferred to push.
走马看花...
Her face lighted up when she saw this – there’s this thing about stairs and slopes that are very appealing to her…
It was all a rather normal walk down the slope…
Until I made a game out of it, running, then stopping suddenly and asking her loudly if she was ready, then running off together in a burst again. See how gleeful she is…
Daddy wasn’t as adventurous and said that she must hold his hands on the slope, that is, until he saw how much fun she was having. Wayne, strangely so, is more protective of Rosabelle than I am – maybe it’s a Daddy’s Girl thingey, but I think it’s more because he underestimates our girl’s hardiness and capabilities since he does not spend as much time with her as I do. So at times I have to just signal to him to just ignore her cries and/or let go of her to explore on her own, as long as it’s within safe limits and we are still keeping watch.

Not the whole compound is restored and/or open to the public, but if we’d really wanted to, we would take at least 3 hours to cover the main area.
I think we had enough for the day, and took a last shot first before giving our guide RMB15 in tips – enough to cover her for another customer, since she was very nice and patient.
When we went out the back door, we had to walk past some dirty shops and the carpark – how unbecoming for us to enter the grandest courtyard and be shooed out a back door like an unwelcome visitor, cheh!
Wayne went to get the car as we waited by the road, and we then headed back towards Jing’s, since the restaurants in the area looked dubious. By this time, it was already past 3pm, so I gave Rosabelle some bread and biscuits to snack on first, and whilst munching on her小馒头, she actually dozed off, the poor girl! But no way I was going to let her catch a 30-minute power nap and not sleep properly later, so I woke her up and enticed her with the trusty sticker board again.

By the time we got into Jing’s and had our lunch, it was already 4pm, so we ordered extra food like fries, spaghetti carbonara (had to wait strangely long for this, and it wasn’t very good – quite pricey too at RMB66), and some dumplings to go with our complimentary tea set. After Wayne was done eating, he went out again to buy some vinegar and cooked beef pieces (山西vinegar and beef are famous) for home and his colleagues. Not surprisingly, when he came back, Rosabelle was still eating her lunch/tea, haha!

After that, we went back to our room to rest, and Rosabelle immediately slept at around 5:30pm when I nursed her, giving me the chance to head out for some shopping. My brother had messaged me when I first reached, saying that when I get the chance, to pop into this shoe store and help him buy two pairs of shoes as the ones he have from the previous trip are oh-so-comfortable. So for the past few days, I was trying to find the store on the main street, to no avail. Until I asked the staff at Jing’s, and they told me it’s in a small alleyway near the place where I got the city passes. No wonder… off the beaten track.

So as Daddy slept with her, I made my way out alone, trudging along a scary, lonely alley until I saw the unmistakable big cloth sole that my brother described in his message… 渠家鞋坊.
Handmade cloth shoes from Pingyao have been famous for centuries for their comfort, good ventilation and perspiration absorption and these shoes are often embroidered with figures of animals, flowers and plants that are supposed to ward off evil and bring good luck and wealth. This老字号seems to have it made, and when I went in, I saw four men bending over hard at work and making their shoes. There wasn’t any sales person, just hardworking crafts men minding their own business and leaving me to do my own browsing.

There were a few kinds of men’s cloth/leather shoes, and at first I wasn’t sure which to get my brother (and I couldn’t get him on his mobile phone), so I went with the simplest design I could find, the normal V-shaped with leather soles. They also have a lot of children’s shoes, but rather ching-chong looking ones with tiger faces. Instead, I got a simple black pair in size 14 for Rosabelle, and was afraid that they might be too small, so the owner said I could come back and get them changed.
Just for kicks, I decided to try on one pair of women’s shoes myself and felt myself floating. Really! They were so, very, tres, unber, extremely comfortable! And I wasn’t even wearing heels the past few days! And I ended up getting two pairs for myself… wahahaha…. The owner says they mainly do wholesale to places in Beijing, and even said you can order online from their Taobao store, though the variety is not as comprehensive as their store there.

And so, with 5 pairs of shoes in hand, I trudged back, wanting to leave the boxes in the room first before going out again to check out the rest of the shopping street in more detail. However, Wayne had other ideas – he had woken up already and after seeing the shoes, decided he also wanted to get them. I measured the cloth shoes against Rosabelle’s Nikes, and seeing that it was slightly smaller, felt it might be too small for her, so got Wayne to get it changed into a size 15, and also see if there was anything nice for Nainai.

Rosabelle was still sleeping when Wayne got back – with a pair of cloth shoes for himself to wear at home, one pair for Nainai, and two pairs for Rosabelle. They did not have bigger sizes for the black shoes, so he got size 16 instead in both red and blue (the embroidered cloth kind). Just then, Rosabelle woke up after her 1.5 hour nap, and after nursing her, I let her try on the shoes. Haha… they were way toooo big – maybe it’s because cloth shoes are thin, and unlike Nikes with all the padding/foam etc, they fit like a glove.

And what did we do next? We ALL went back to the shoe shop again after we dressed up, to change her shoes. Haha! Why didn’t we wait till the next morning, you ask? Well, Wayne wanted to leave Pingyao ASAP in case the highways to Beijing were jammed, so we had to do everything by tonight. So, within two hours, the folks at the shoe store met me, then my husband, then the whole family. Haha…

Rosabelle tried on the size 14 black shoes (I still like these over the patterned red/blue ones as they look like little boots), but said she didn’t like it. I put her lack of fashion discretion down to the fact that she had just woken up from her sleep, heh! And so we kept one pair of size 16 red shoes (Wayne said to leave it till she’s bigger…), and exchanged the blue ones for the smaller black ones. And guess what, I also bought a pair of pink shoes for Mum, haha! I wanted to call and check Mum’s sizes, but she was out buying dinner, so I got a 5 – hopefully they fit her. She says she has loads of cloth shoes from Beijing, but those are the drab black-with-motif-in-front kinds, and not as comfy, I find. And so the visitors from Beijing ended up being one of their biggest walk-in customers yet – getting NINE pairs of shoes for a grand total of RMB618. Just to put this into context, I saw boards outside restaurants offering RMB600 in monthly salaries for wait staff in restaurants…

We then made our way to dinner at Tianyuankui, where we had lunch yesterday. The wait staff remembered us, and they were very nice and friendly, wanting to give Rosabelle Christmas ball ornaments. Our girl made friends of her own – when she came out of the washroom, she walked past a table of Germans and started waving at them and saying hello. Throughout the course of dinner, she would walk to their table in the other hall (at times striding with both hands in her pants pocket) and stare/wave at them, then walk back as she took her next mouthful of dinner, and tell us things like ‘叔叔说hello,阿姨没说hello呢', or ‘不要戴叔叔帽子' – presumably they wanted to put a cap on her. Then she would get busy and use tissue paper to wipe the restaurant benches, or shift their pillows all over the place…

After dinner, we headed back towards our hotel and unexpectedly bumped into a family of Chinese tourists we’d also seen yesterday. The old lady recognized Rosabelle and we found out they were also from Beijing and had arrived only yesterday, and going back tomorrow, via train. Their 4-year-old granddaughter, holding her mum’s hand, was rather shy, and just stood there as Rosabelle hugged and tiptoed to kiss her, even clinging onto her to try and climb up. Wayne had to carry her up to reach the girl’s face, haha!

As we were reaching Jing’s, our girl was happily screaming, ‘锦宅!锦宅!' – think she loves the place as well, haha! However, I was actually preparing to go back to the room first to pack and bathe, leaving Wayne to play with her outside when just moments later, they came back, and Wayne said she did not want to stay outside any longer.

So I packed around them and our girl wanted me to take a photo of her with her ‘two’ by the corner. By the time we all tumbled into bed, it was already close to 11:30pm as we enjoyed our last night in Pingyao, our last night in Jing’s…

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