Pingyao is a small, not particularly easy to get to town that was nevertheless teeming with (mostly domestic) tourists. It's one of the few Chinese towns that's managed to maintain many of its old buildings in the city center, so we thought it would be an interesting counterpoint to Beijing's shiny newness.
Logan says I'm talking too much about the cold weather. Well, too bad, because I want you to know that it was also quite nippy in Pingyao. Just you wait until this blog gets to Thailand - then I will bring you the bitching about heat! Betcha can't wait!
In Pingyao, the traditional bed is this wide platform that takes up a good portion of the bedroom. It's constructed with bricks or stones and you can build a fire under it. See? The residents think it's so cold they prefer being flame-broiled in their beds.
So what's up with Pingyao?
Well, they're famous for their vinegar, which you can get in big fat unwieldy casks that are bigger than our luggage.
We ate peanuts flavored with it, which were really nice. The vinegar has a strong, yet balanced taste - it's up there with a really good sherry vinegar.
Walk the walls! It's 6 kilometers all the way around, I think, so we only walked half the walls. Each of the 72 watchtowers contains mini dioramas of city life, which you can view through a porthole. They are quite strange.
This being Chinese New Year, there were lots of popper fireworks exploding at right about our eye level as we ambled about above town. KABOOM. Pingyao's got some pretty sweet rooftops, eh?
There's lots of shopping along the main drag, through the center of town. It's supposedly pedestrianized - tell that to all the folks riding their electric stealth scooters through the crowds. Those things are super quiet and quite sneaky. Death from behind!
You can buy... GINGER CANDY! It's a hard sugar candy that's firey with ginger heat. It splinters when you bite it and makes a really nice ginger tea if you melt it in hot water, perfect for if you're say really sick with a sinus infection.
COMBS AND MASSAGERS AND SHOEHORNS MADE OF HORN! This guy was actually set up in the street in front of his shop, sawing away. We saw a lot of cheap, plasticky imitations, but his combs are the real deal.
CUT PAPER! There are guys selling from street stands as well as lots of storefronts. The folks in the shops insisted everything was cut by hand. I'm not so sure, but the prices were good and it's certainly an interesting, intricate art form.
Pingyao is mostly famed for its courtyards and temples. And they are pretty.
I got an education in the Eighteen (Quite Graphic) Punishments of Hell at the Temple of the Town God. Think men getting ground through millstones while dogs lap up the rivulets of ichor. Weee!
Other areas were more... relaxing.
And the tiling was beautiful. Whaddaya guys think? Flying eaves on the Austin condo?
We also went to the Confucian Temple, where we tendered our New Year prayers.
And, if you were wondering the fastest way to gather a huge crowd of Chinese tourists taking lots and lots of pictures, we found it! You give Logan a cotton candy and pose him in front of a cool wall. Works every time. I'd say he had twenty people all taking photos. My husband the model.
We also snuck in the back door of a martial arts museum. Pingyao used to be a center of banking (there are in fact more than two financial museums in town!) and was thus also a center of the early bodyguard industry. Hai-yah!
But always remember, kids:
After your exhausting day climbing walls and buying paper and noticing the safety, you should try the famous yellow wine of Pingyao. Distilled from sticky rice, it's a little on the sweet side. But supposedly it has 18 amino acids so... there's that.
You might want to avoid the rose wine though. No, there isn't supposed to be an accent over that e- the wine just smells and tastes like roses, the flower. It somehow manages to skirt just this side of bath salts.
The restaurant situation in Pingyao's old center is dire - lots of picture menu boards with the same dishes repeated. So we went to San Ge Da, where it was kind of dificult to figure out what to order but we did have a good dish of "cat's ear" noodles.
Not to worry! With help, we did find a great place to eat some of Shanxi's variety of famously delicious noodles - Logan's writing about that, which you'll see soon. Until then, though, pretty Pingyao says bye!