I am a little late in posting this, but China keeps me busy. Despite its tardiness, this was one of those experiences you never forget and have to tell. The story will come in two parts. Part 1:
The weekend of the 8th, a group of friends and I decided to travel. Up until then, we had only left Beijing once, which was our first small trip with the entire program to Changde. This particular trip was full of surprises. First, I could not for the life of me decide whether I wanted to travel to Shanghai or Pingyao. In fact, I was so indecisive that I was in the office to purchase train tickets with both groups and still had no idea what I wanted. As people were busy purchasing tickets, I heard the Shanghai group chime in, “They’re all sold out. Looks like we’re all going to Pingyao.” So, my indecisiveness and efforts to make a solid choice were meaningless. We were headed to Pingyao.
Pingyao is a city in the Shanxi Province. It is renowned for its ancient architecture. It is home to China’s best-preserved and oldest buildings. A coworker of mine told me a little bit about Pingyao and said it was a much better choice than Shanghai. Even though Shanghai is different than Beijing, Pingyao is in a lot of ways a more interesting contrast. The week leading up to the trip we all kept calling it “pingguo,” which is Chinese for apple. The two names sound very similar So, we were headed to China’s “apple.”
Our adventure started on a sleeper train from Beijing to Taiyuan. We started off in a hurry as our dinner before the 8:30 PM train departure took longer than we thought. We threw money at the restaurant and, like we were in “The Amazing Race,” took off in cabs to catch our train. Luckily, we all made it just in time. We boarded the train and settled into our middle bunks—not the most convenient beds in the hard sleepers. My bunk was in car 9, while most everyone else was in car 13. Once we were off, we convened around the bunks in car 13 to play cards, have a drink, and chat. Around 10:00 the lights went out and it was time to sleep. I returned to my middle bed to catch some rest only to be met by a few friendly Chinese people who spoke with me for a few minutes. I practiced my limited Chinese and we tried to communicate as much as we could before we all agreed it was time to sleep.
Nine hours later, I woke as the sun was coming up. We were only an hour from Taiyuan. Once there, we quickly purchased train tickets to Pingyao as well as our tickets back to Beijing (this was important as these tickets can get sold out if one waits to long). Our hour and a half train to Pingyao was in a standing car. We crammed onto the car standing only feet from the door of the train rubbing shoulders with Chinese men and women. We entertained ourselves with games of tic-tac-toe on the small foggy window of the train car.
Once out of the station in Pingayo two men from the hostel we had booked met us. Our moods were shifting from exhaustion (from a lack of good sleep) to excitement. We had no idea our hostel was providing such good service. The men took us to these motorbike taxi contraptions that seemed like run down versions of those extra large golf carts you see at resorts in Florida. They took us inside the ancient city walls of Pingyao where we arrived at our hostel. Our hostel was unbelievable. We each paid 8 RMB for the one night stay (a little over $1 US). We had two large and clean rooms, showers, a bar, a ping pong table, a TV, Internet, etc…
To be continued…