We are to be based in the amazing Pingyao for a few days, although today we head out to check out some of the nearby places of interest.
Breakfast this morning consists of roast (toast), an omelette and chocolate pancakes. Then most of us head out into the big bad world to do some more tourism.
After an hour on the road we kick off with another family compound, home of the Wang Family . This one is much bigger and looks older (I’ve given up asking). Although there is extensive building work going on to expand the site.
In China it is believed that a family will only be wealthy for three generations. Yesterday’s compound was home to a family that had been wealthy for five generations. Today’s family gaff belongs to a family that have been wealthy for eighteen generations.
It is believed that the secret to longevity of wealth and power is thinking beyond just hard work and wanting to be rich, you must have a higher, nobler purpose.
This family dedicated part of the compound to running a school for locals and this features heavily in the museum.
The architecture is magnificent and feels more authentic. But they had taken a unique approach to the gift shop element of the tour. Basically, the whole compound was one giant gift shop interspersed with the occasional historic display or art gallery. In fairness the tat on sale was of a high quality and reasonably priced, with many new antiques on offer.
We are now starting to recognise the food put in front of us. And today’s offerings were probably the best we have had since arriving. The veggie dishes were an omelettey thing, eggplant and beans, cutting noodles and rice. They were demolished in no time.
The toilets had separate urinals and squatters and were spotlessly clean. Which is just as well, as they were cleaning the dishes in there.
To walk off the feast we headed for Zhangbi ‘Ancient’ Castle. Its age was hard to tell. Some of it was a thousand years old, some only six hundred. I suppose the adding to stuff trend is nothing new. It’s been going on for yonks.
Underneath the castle is a network of tunnels to enhance the defence of the site. They were clearly dug by people less well endowed in the height department than us. Stooping and shouting ouch were the order of the day.
At one point the tunnels emerge on the side of the cliff and we take in amazing views down the valley.
The defences clearly worked, because they were so formidable they were never tested. No barbarian ever set foot in the castle. Once back on the surface our tour of the temples, courtyards and pagodas is remarkably uninterrupted by gift shops. Clearly it was not just the barbarians that were kept from the gates.
On our return from the castle Lucas has a ‘tour of the old city’ planned for us. It was not clear what he had in mind but it soon turned into a shopping and boozing tour. First we taught Lucas how to haggle in antique shops then we dragged him into a bar.
The guy on the door tried to entice us with large beers, but he was pushing at an open door. Although when we called his bluff he did not actually have any large beers. We watched him go over the road to buy a crate, and then we sent a spy over to see how much he had just paid. Two hundred percent mark up in two minutes!
Again the pub music is bland. It’s slightly more accessible than the opera, possibly because it is trying to copy western pop music, but with unrecognisable lyrics it is difficult to appreciate. Maybe it is not trying to copy western style, maybe it would have developed this way naturally, but it feels like it is trying to be western, but without the appreciation of how western music got to where it is today – through jazz, blues, punk rock etc. The lack of cultural milestones combined with the innate politeness of the Chinese people makes it too conservative and is just sonic wall paper. Maybe state control of everything thing, particularly during the Cultural Revolution, stunted the development of music.
Maybe I am doing a whole country a disservice. After all I wouldn’t appreciate the live music in many of the mainstream bars back home. But in my, all be it slightly limited, research for my last radio show before coming out here, innovate and interesting contemporary Chinese music was thin on the ground.
I must be wrong on this. With over a billion people living here they must have developed their own equivalent to drum and bass or space rock. After all, I am expecting to go home to find a Mongolian Folk Metal Album on my door mat. I make a mental note to do more research when I get home – or maybe here if I finally spot anywhere selling music.
We find ourselves crammed onto two benches near the window. Passers-by stop to take photographs of the westerners on display. There is no toilet in the pub, we have to avail ourselves of the public facility over the road. I will say this for the Chinese – many of their toilets are, frankly, appalling, but there is no shortage of them. Public toilets are found in greater abundance than they are here in the UK and they are all free.
When my bladder finally needs emptying I have two options. Climb over the gang to get out of the alcove, or hop out of the open window. I suspect my ‘reverse burglar’ trick may have gone viral on Chinese social media by now, with half the street stopping to applaud my dexterity. Little things eh.
Eventually we poured ourselves back to the guest house and kept the other guests awake till the small hours. We teach Lucas Wenglish, ‘whose coat is that jacket’, ‘I’ll be there now in a minute’ and the subtle differences between tidy, well tidy and super tidy. He even manages to do impressions of the gang.
The youth wing then spend ages trying to connect with Lucas on WeChat, the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp. We had all managed to use it on our last trip but since then access has been tightened up.
Eventually, we discover that some inconsiderate Germans had put paper down the toilet and blocked it, so once again climb the wooden ladder before we get the blame.