Tuesday, March 27, 2018

China part 2 Pingyao, Xian

We packed light, backpacks only

Security at every metro station, but I'm not sure they pay attention

We had an early train so we were up and out the door by 6am to head to the train station. I had purchased tickets online but we still needed to pick them up at the train station and not knowing how busy the ticket windows would be or how much time we needed to figure out the station and where to go, we gave ourselves plenty of time. The kids were tired but we did it! Once at the station we found 3 lines to pick from for ticket windows. David and I each picked a line to see which one would move faster and in case one of us picked the wrong line. The company I purchased the tickets from can deliver them to your hotel, but we were staying in Airbnb's so that did not work for us. The company had sent a detailed email with how to pick up the tickets and a few simple chinese written phrases to aid in doing so. One of the phrases said "where is the ticket window to pick up train tickets?" So I showed this one to the guy in line behind me, he just looked at my phone and then me, but the lady behind him looked over his shoulder and pointed to the window in front of me and nodded her head. So I felt like I was in the right line. But David's line moved faster and when he reached the front I looked at her and pointed to David at the front of the line, and she nodded yes again. So I hopped out of line and handed David the passports and my phone with the ticket info and a few minutes later we had our tickets in hand. We headed into the station, through security where they first check our tickets and passports, then thru a security screening, and finally we were in the station. I should mention that every metro station in the city has security screenings. People put their bags thru but the metal detectors go off all the time from phones and belts and stuff in peoples pockets. At most stations they don't seem to care, but at the train stations they had hand wand detectors out to use if the metal detector beeped.

Once we were thru, we checked the board to try to distinguish where to go next. In China the train stations have waiting areas to use before they allow you to go to the track. They only allow you to head to the track about 10-15 mins before the train departs. The waiting areas are numbered and the tracks are numbered, and not usually the same number. So you first find the waiting area, and then once they allow you to head to the track, then you find the track number. So we still had a 20 minute wait in the waiting area where there were not many open seats and a long line formed for our train. Once they opened our line to pass to the track we needed our tickets again to insert in the ticket reader to head to the track. The ticket will also be needed later to get out of the train station. We got it all figured out and even learned how to read the ticket for our car # and seat #'s. We were on our way.

Our first stop of the day was in an ancient city called Pingyao. It is being preserved and is rated by the Chinese government as a 5A tourist attraction. 5A is the best. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site. I had arranged for a tour guide to meet us at the train station to drive us to the ancient city for a tour. Jonathan first took us to a restaurant for lunch and then off to the city. The food was delicious!
Pingyao's old city is surrounded by an ancient city wall and moat. They have a 2 gate system where if the enemy makes it in the first gate, they close the gate behind them and then they are trapped and the city can attack from the gate towers above. We first climbed up the stairs to the top of the wall for a short walk. It is beautiful looking down into the ancient city with its clay roof tops, that slope up in the corners. Our first stop inside the city was at a Buddhist temple, the oldest temple is 800 years old, still standing. Then we went to the Taoist temple.

One of the reasons that Pingyao is being preserved is that it is the city where banking was first established in China in the 1800s. Pingyao is situated between the silk road and East China. The story we were told was that a man in Pingyao could be trusted. His friend wanted to exchange goods and would make business arrangements with other business men to have money held during the transaction by his friend in Pingyao. It became well known that this man in Pingyao could be trusted and so others started asking him to do the same thing, which eventually led to him starting a bank. The sites of the 2 first banks in China are preserved in this town for a visit.

Walking through the town is an experience. It has been commercialized and there are vendors everywhere selling all kids of things. Many cooking on the streets. In one area they were cooking with vinegar and it was so stinky. Our next stop was to pickup bikes for a ride around town. We didn't go too far before stopping at a paper cutting shop where we had a paper cutting lesson. It is an ancient practice to cut designs into paper to put in the windows for decoration. It is still something they do for celebrations and holidays. The wife of the shop owner creates detailed and exquisite designs. The shop owner taught us how to do 3 simple designs.

We then we rode the bikes along the ancient streets to the city wall and outside through the parks surrounding the city walls. The town is beautiful and is restoring for more tourists to visit.
Our few hours here were up and it was time to return to the train station. Jonathan walked us inside and helped us pick up our tickets. There was no line, so he helped us get our tickets for the next 2 train rides as well. This will make it less of a rush to the train station when we leave Xian.

 We arrived in Xian late, 10:40pm. We took the subway 45 mins into the old city and then attempted to take a taxi to the apartment. It was a Saturday night and we were at the Bell tower which was all lit up and beautiful. There were many people out and about. We had the apartment address written in Chinese and tried showing it to a taxi driver who just shook his head at us and waved us away. So we tried another taxi, he read the address multiple times and then nodded yes. The boys and I climbed in the taxi and off we went. David and the girls would take another taxi. They do not like to take more than 4 people in the taxis here. In Beijing, finding our apartment was easy as it was associated with a hotel. But here in Xian, it was a whole different story. The apartment building was in a group of buildings behind a busy street and it was hard to find. It didn't help that our taxi driver dropped us nearby, but not in front of the building. I believe they are not used to being given addresses but cross roads, so having the address was hard for him to know where to go. The boys and I waited on the street hoping to see David and the girls show up shortly. So we waited and waited and waited. Finally I asked a lady passing by for help. I showed her the address and she thought for a minute, pulled out her phone and map and then pointed across a smaller street to a building. We headed that way, where I showed the address to a man sweeping the sidewalk outside a shop and he pointed into a parking garage. My guess was the apartment was in the building above. I was right, i just didn't know how to get to it. The 2 were both really friendly and kept pointing. The lady came back over and pointed again. But I was still hoping David would show up. I had my data turned off on my phone as were using the Chinese phone and our T-mobile phone- both of which David had with him. I finally decided it was time to turn on my data and spend $10 on finding out where they were. I texted him, but he did not respond for 10 minutes. Finally the text came that he had found the apartment. He had called the Airbnb host and his taxi had dropped him at the right place to walk back into the apartment building groups to find the security guard to let him in the building. He came down to the street to meet us. maybe because it was so late at night and we were tired, but it was overwhelming to me to not be able to find where we were going.

The next morning we planned to head to church. I had asked the Airbnb host if he could write the address for church in Chinese so we could show it to a taxi driver. He informed me the address was for a residence, not a church. I told him that was okay, maybe church met in a house. He sent me a picture of the address written in Chinese characters and we found a taxi driver who nodded yes to take us. So again the boys and I hopped in the taxi and David and the girls would follow. A taxi pulled up behind us so they were able to follow closely until traffic got in the way The map showed us church was 3.5 miles away, but it took us 50 mins to get there. Some of that was traffic, some of it was again the taxi was not quite sure where to go once he reached the area. He stopped 4 times to ask for directions. I gave him my phone and he would hop out and show it to security people at different buildings. He was persistent. And I am thankful. I had mapped the address from the church website and we were headed in the same direction, but I also know from experience that it isn't always right. Sure enough we stopped and a security personnel walked me to a townhouse across the street from her building and pointed. I wasn't sure and felt bad if i were to interrupt someone at home. But she walked up to the door and rang the bell. Soon it opened and an American in a dress shirt stood there. He asked if we were here for church! Yes, i replied! we made it. I went out to the street to get the boys, and to text David we had found it and to come to my location. I heartily thanked and paid the taxi driver, I wish i could speak Chinese to really thank him for his persistence. I sent the boys in, since we were late. And I waited on the street for David so he would know where to go. A few minutes later we were all seated inside the home listening to wonderful talks. It turns out the small branch is mostly senior couples living here through a BYU teaching program. They mostly teach English in the universities here. There are more than 50 universities in Xian. There are a few exchange students, and a couple young people or families working in the city for companies here. None were Chinese. They are not allowed to attend church with the Chinese. They are not allowed to share any information about the church or religious beliefs. But they are allowed to discuss American morals and ethics. If you are living or traveling through China were there is not a branch--and that is most of China, then they have a phone in church service. You call and join other members in China via a phone conference church meeting. This is what we needed while living on a boat in the Bahamas!


We had a lovely 2 hour church meeting and stayed after for their linger longer and enjoyed visiting with the members over lunch. Afterwards we walked through the nearby park with a couple and enjoyed hearing theirs stories of living here this year. They will go home for summer and then return in the fall for another 2 semesters.

After parting, we explored the nearby Big Wild Goose Pagoda and the park and water fountains nearby. It was a beautiful sunny day and may were outside enjoying the weather. From here we walked towards our apartment and stopped at a Walmart along the way to pick up breakfast foods and snacks. Then we enjoyed the walk back along the old city wall and surrounding parks. It was beautiful. Trees are blooming, Spring is in the air here. Many people were out enjoying music, walking, workout equipment in the park and playing games. We came across a group of old people walking in socks and slippers on rocks in a circle. So we stopped and tried it out. It was fun! And a little painful.

That evening we tried the restaurant on the corner near our apartment. there were lots of people in there eating so we figured it much be good. We ordered a big pot of noodle soup and Chinese pancakes with scallions. It was delicious!

In the morning we met up with our guide Pheonix for the day. We walked over to the wall where she told us Xian also had a 2 tower gate to trap the enemy if they made it past the first gate. We paid the fee to climb the stair to the top of the wall. It is the largest restored ancient wall in China. It's wide enough to drive a car on. We rented bikes and rode all the way around the wall. On the South side they had their decoration still up from their Spring Lantern Festival, which is the 2 weeks following chinese New Year. They had huge figurines and flowers all over, they probably light up at night and look beautiful.

It took us an hour and a half to bike the whole wall. We even stopped to let David fly the drone.  He set it up to follow us on our bike ride until the Police stopped him to tell him No Drone.  Next we headed to the car. Our first stop was at Banpo museum and excavation site for an ancient Chinese people that lived about 4000BC. We're not sure we have ever seen anything that old before. They found the remains of a large village and burial grounds. It was interesting to see and learn about.

From here we drove over to the area of the Terra Cotta Warrior Museum, but we stopped to have lunch outside of the Museum. Phoenix told us about a local noodle they make here in the area called the biang noodle. It is wide and one super long noodle is served per bowl. It was delicious!

Inside the Terra Cotta Warrior Museum it was amazing to see the warriors. In the mid 1970s a few farmers in the area were digging a well and discovered the broken and buried and lost Mausoleum of terra cotta warriors. In 200 BC the emperor began building his burial site. He wanted to take the warriors with him, so he had them built near his burial site. His burial site remains unearthed to this day. They believe he was buried with many jewels and treasures but that it is booby trapped, and along with oxidation and mercury poisoning, they do not wish to uncover it at this time. It totally sounds like an Indiana Jones movie. When they found the warriors they were smashed into bits and burned. They believe the enemy came before they could finish all the warriors and found 2 buildings of them and smashed and burned them. The 3rd building which was incomplete was not smashed and burned from invaders, but overtime as they became buried, the roof collapsed on them and they fell over and broke. All but one. One Archer was found intact and complete.

It was amazing to see them and all their unique characteristics. Each warrior was made to look like the craftsman making it. Every last detail was included, even the tread on the soles of their shoes. It is incredible. They were colored, looking real. Today almost all of their skin coloring or cloth coloring is gone. They are lined up and organized just as a really army as well, with flanks and a young sacrificial front line, who were expected to die in a battle. They are still unearthing portions of the army, trying to find the pieces to put the figures back together. It was a great experience to visit this museum and see these.

Phoenix drove us back to our apartment to say goodbye. It was a great day in Xian. After a short rest we decided to head over to the Bell and Drum towers for the evening. All lit up they are beautiful. There were people all around enjoying the evening. There are shops between the 2 towers and then behind the drum tower we were told is the Muslim Quarter, a lively area of shops and street food. And sure enough- it was lively. We walked down a narrow street until we came to the Great Mosque. We paid a small fee to enter the old Mosque. It has a huge open court area. We made it to the back where many had come to pray. It was a good teaching opportunity for the kids to learn about another faith, especially one so heatedly discussed nowadays.

We made it back to the main Muslim st. and it was even busier than before. Men standing on blocks selling their food, dried meats, roasted meats, vegetables, fruit, all kinds of foods, even squid and octopus roasted on skewers. A butcher was carving lamb meat right off the carcass straight to be cooked. We say lots of different things coated in sesame seeds or other nuts and seeds. And a yogurt shop chopping up fruit and mixing it on a frozen plate to make frozen yogurt that was then rolled up and put into bowls. We tried none of it, too afraid of getting sick! But lots of it looked interesting.
Tomorrow we will ride the train ALL day, and i don't want to be sick on the train.