Beijing West Station is from a distance an impressive piece of architecture. Enormous central arch with three pagoda like roofs. But it could be one of the busiest in the world, and I think a few extra decided to travel on the afternoon we were off to Pingyao. It’s a queue just to show your ticket to get into the station, well actually there is a queue just to get on the walkway to get to the station. Once inside is the largest indicator board with trains and times only in Chinese with one of those big video advertising screens. It was a bit like blade runner without the rain. As one has the train number on the ticket it is possible to get to one of the eleven waiting rooms. Then you have to join another queue for your train. Hot . You have a seat number and when the gate opens ticket shown again everyone then rushes to their carriage. But there appears to be twenty or thirty more people than seats. Some stand for hours perching on the side of peoples seats others have bought collapsible stools and fit them in between seats. Twelve hours was hard but as a novelty it passed . Generally, as in a country of 1.4 billion, people not only have to get along but do so reasonably happily, men who had seats perched elsewhere so children could sleep over a couple of seats .
The slow pace through suburbs showed the amount of tower blocks and the amazing number of high rises being built in blocks of twenty, thirty even forty. Then darkness a lot of trains seem to leave Beijing late afternoon for next day arrival. For those with sleepers this is perfect but for those on seats there is nothing to see.
Pingyao station at 5 in morning but there are already a couple motorised rickshaw like taxis ready. It was rather dreamlike whizzing around cobbled streets in the dark in a traditional Chinese town and for the first time in China there was noone else around!
Wonderful hutong courtyard hotel. Sleep.
Pingyao is “one of the best preserved ancient cities in the world”. There has probably been a lot of rebuilding but the medieval walls have kept the outside world at bay. It is a very peaceful place. It was the old financial capital of China and these buildings and the temples with their courtyards museums. The old shopfronts have been mostly preserved and if there is a little Disney it is an understated Chinese Disney.
There are the odd western tourist but like most of China the tourism is geared for the Chinese, us bignoses are the added bonus. It is still not easy for Chinese to travel abroad, well it is for the rich!
China is a very unequal society and it’s not just a few at the top. There are an unbelievable number of Mercedes,Audi and VW’s and not the compacts. Japanese and Korean 4 wheel drives clutter pavements everywhere. For the young though it is the electric scooter, these have overtaken the bicycle as China’s mass city transport. Dangerous for the pedestrian as one cannot hear them coming.
Addendum to the Great Wall of China Scam.
Our guide says you have to visit the Tibetan hospital, Herbal medicine and reflexology. She says “ very interesting and free foot massage “
During he free foot massage which I declined .. oh here comes dr xchuo you are so fortunate he has passed by he is the most important Tibetan doctor in Beijing.
“Ah let me see your palm oh yes you have heat in your liver” pulls out Chinese prescciption pad and writes 3 * 900 = 2700 YUAN for his herbal treatment. With a good cold hard stare that says you will regret not taking my advice. Only just managed to get out of that one!