Today, we took the bullet train to Pingyao. We all had to get up extra early so we could beat the Beijing traffic. We learned that we had to go early because a lot of the soldiers in the military were retiring and we would’ve got stuck in traffic and missed our train. When we got to the station, we had to go to security just like an airport. When we got past security, we walked through the airport to find somewhere to sit and relax for the next two and a half hours. Right before we got on the train, we stopped at an authentic Chinese restaurant, KFC. You have no idea how happy I was when I found out we were not eating dumplings, noodles or Sheep intestines. (I didn’t eat sheep intestines, but they were on the menu!)
When we got on the train, we had to say goodbye to our guide, Jude. After saying goodbye, we all sat down and enjoyed ourselves. After about half an hour, we could finally see the countryside. Boy, were we disappointed. We thought there would be hills and trees and tons of nature. All we saw was lots of dug up spots where buildings would go in the future, huge nuclear plants, coal burning power plants with smoke filling the sky and mountains leveled to the ground from mining. It was terrible. The only beautiful thing we saw was this cool lake, but sadly we learned it was totally dammed up and it was artificial. Beijing has such a high population and they just need to make so many buildings that the environment has just been destroyed.
When we got off the bullet train, we were all exhausted from the four hour train ride. When we got out of the station, we met our guide, Mare. We all piled into the cramped van and drove to our hotel. The town of Pingyao is a walled city, so the city center is surrounded by a moat and an old crumbling brick fortress type of wall. When we got inside of the town, the roads were super narrow and small, and the alleys and paths were all stone and looked ancient. It was a cool town on the inside of the wall that looked historical and ancient.
When we got out, we found ourselves right in front of a very cool looking old-Chinese style hotel. The narrow walking streets around the hotel were really amazing, with little store fronts and interesting foods, smells, art all around. Each building has a red paper lantern in front of it that is lit up at night. It looked amazing and we were tired but excited to be in Pingyao. We all went to our rooms, and plumped down onto our beds. Later that night, we had dinner and went to bed.
When we got up, we ate breakfast and all piled back into our cramped little van. Today, we were going to the Wang Residence which is a huge mansion for the Wang family. It was only for the Wang family, although now it is a big tourist destination. On the way to the mansion, we almost got hit by a truck, nearly steamrolled a moped and barely escaped three cars coming at us. When we finally got to the Wang Mansion, we all got out of the car and instantly were hit by a terrible smell of smoke, from all the smokestacks. We all sprinted for the smell-less mansion.
The mansion was a huge stone-brick building with dull colored dusty wood floors. It was made in 1739, and it was finished in 1811. The mansion had many large courtyards with bowls of water and many assorted plants and flowers. While walking through the mansion, we passed some very odd rooms, like the Moral Character Room and the Quiet Thinking Room. We explored many of the rooms in the mansion. We started by walking through the older brother’s rooms. Until the children were 13, they slept in a room near the parents, but when they were 13 they got their own courtyard and room. When they were 15, they would marry and have their wife or husband live with them, or they would leave with them. At one point, we had to cross a bridge to the other side of the mansion. There is so much smog in China that the flowers on the bridge were all plastic. Before we left, we went up to the top of the mansion where there was a lookout point, and could only see a very smoggy haze. There are so many smokestacks, that even on a clear day like today, you couldn’t even see a mile ahead of you. Even though we were on top of the mansion, it was still so smoggy we could barely see anything.
After viewing the many rooms of the Mansion, we all piled into our van and headed to the temple of 1000 Buddhas. When we got there, we all stepped into this large courtyard and realized there were no tourists! After walking through the courtyard, we came to a large Buddha statue surrounded by the four kings of heaven. The temple of 1000 Buddhas was a relatively small red-roofed wooden temple complex. We walked through the temple and kept looking at more and more Buddhas, and Bodhisattvas. Right before we were about to leave, we walked up on the temple wall and looked at the visible buildings. It was unbelievable, everything we saw was either a run-down building or a huge smokestack or coal factory. The environment was just totally falling apart from all the pollution.
After we visited the temple of 1000 Buddhas, we headed back home to Pingyao for lunch, and some time to explore. After a delicious lunch, we headed out to explore some of Pingyao. We started by walking to the first bank in all of China. At the time, merchants who had just made a lot of money would ride back to their home and get robbed. The banks were made so a merchant could deposit their money, and then take a slip from one bank and then go to another town and show the bankers their slip and then receive their money, which was usually silver. We walked through many rooms in the bank, we walked through the managers room, the accountants desk, and the main lobby. When the bank needed to fire someone, they would throw a fish on the table, and whichever way the head was pointed, that person was fired. In the main lobby, we saw this large map of where all of the banks were located in China at the time the bank opened. It was cool to see how all of the bank branches grew from one main bank to all over China.
Before having dinner, we all walked to the outer edge of the city and climbed the steps to get to the top. From the top of the wall, we could see lots of the walled-off city of Pingyao. We could also see lots of the cities outside of the wall. After we walked around the old stone wall, we walked back down at a different point and into a Confucian temple. The temple had a huge Confucius statue surrounded by ten of his disciples. There was also a rock that you could touch that had a dragon under it. When we left the Confucian temple, we were all exhausted so we ate dinner fast and all collapsed on our beds.
We had a very exciting day visiting the some of the historical buildings in China!