Monday was the start of our travels, we got up around 8:30ish and got our things ready for the next three days. Around 9:10 we left to eat some breakfast, which consisted of a boiled egg and a meat pancake. We met a new member of our group, Joe, who is only staying till Saturday. Joe is from the US and runs an English program in Guilin China and came to check out how Impact Exchange runs their camp. After talking for a few and getting to know Joe, we all go into this little car-bus and started to make our journey. Our first stop was the China Coal Mine Museum; they talked a lot about coal, and different types of coal, even where the coal came from in the different parts of China. We first watched this 4D short film about the process of the formation of coal and I think the death of the dinosaurs, to be honest I’m not quite sure because it was all in Chinese. When the video started I that noticed everyone’s chair was moving except mine, so I went to one of the chairs that was moving, but then it stopped, so I moved to another one, but it also stopped, and by the time I wanted to see if another seat would move, the film was over and there were no more chances to move to another seat.
After the short film, we were shown some really cool things around the museum. One of the cool things was this podium thing made of 12 different types of coal. A interesting fact I learned was that there is a really rare type of coal that can’t be burned, but is for hand carving, so we got to see some of the hand carved coal, and we even got to touch a few, it was very smooth and I would have never guessed that it was coal. We walked around a little more, getting some explanations for some of the artifacts that were around. Near the end of the museum, there was a gift shop and I bought some really cool coasters that represented old Chinese art, and the best part was that they were super cheap!
The second part of the museum was going into a coal mine. They had us put on these safety helmets and we went down an elevator. The coal mine took us through a timeline from early times of how coal was taken out of the mine to modern times. In the middle of the tour we took this train ride, and it made many of us feel like we were being taken to an unknown location and no one would ever know where we were, it was really scary. After coming out of the mine, we walked into this room with a hallway leading to another room that had pictures of famous Chinese frescos (a painting done rapidly in watercolor on wet plaster on a wall or ceiling, so that the colors penetrate the plaster and become fixed as it dries). They were really neat, and the whole time I kept thinking of my dad and how much he would have loved to see all of these.
After the museum we ate lunch and then headed to the Shanglin Temple. The entire temple was original, and the art work was amazing, every room I walked into my jaw dropped and drooled over how amazingly unique they all were, maybe not literally drooling, but it was close. I learned so much about the Buddhas, and there are so many of them. One of the rooms was about a girl that got sick and how a nurse tried to help her and comfort her, but she ended up bleeding out of her eyes and dying, and the weirdest part was that her body is actually in the statue of her lying on the bed…creepy right? Also I learned that different hand styles that the Buddha’s do mean different things, some of them we learned were welcome, hello, be not afraid, and courage. After the temple we headed to Ping Yao.
Ping Yao is this little ancient city that people still live in. They don’t have cars on the streets because the streets are too small, but they do have a lot of mopeds and golf carts. So we took a super long golf cart to what was to be our hotel, and the hotel was absolutely beautiful, very traditional. After getting situated we ate some dinner and then headed out to the streets to see the shops that lined the side. We only had time to go down one street, but it was still really cool, I bought some bracelets and a jacket, and then just kind of roamed the rest of the stores. After a while we headed back and went to bed, because the next day was going to be awesome.
Tuesday was a bright and early morning; the hotel gave us an Americanized breakfast: eggs, toast, fruit, jam, and rice with egg bits. After breakfast we headed to the northern wall of the city. We went to the outside of the wall and saw some locals playing jianzi, which is like hacky sack but it’s a weight with feathers on it. We played for a while, it was super fun and the locals where really nice about us playing with them, we kind of attracted a crowd but we had fun so that’s what really matters. After that we went up to the top of the wall and saw the city from above, the view was beautiful but a little foggy so it was hard to see everything. While we were on the wall there was this music that started to play, and we figured out that it was a Chinese opera. We sat and watched for a little while, but so many people started taking pictures of us that made it not as enjoyable.
After that we went to the First Bank of Pingyao, it was actually really interesting, the tour went from what they did in the past to present day. We got a little history about how the bank came to be, but I don’t remember much because a lot was said to us that day…. information overload. After the bank your we went to the jail, and we learned that when a man is being judged for his crimes, the judge would either throw down a red peg or a black peg, the red would mean death and the black would mean punishment. We also visited the jail cells, and for those who were punished had not too shabby rooms but the ones who were given the death penalty had a wooden cage to live in with no lights, it was very creepy. I had a hard time going in and being in that small space, just did not feel good. After that, we went to go and eat some lunch at a local restaurant and then we had free time to look at the other parts of the ancient city and buy some stuff at from little shops that were literally everywhere, like they lined the streets. I was able to get a lot of little trinkets and was also able to see the first armed escort agency in North China, and the Qing Xu Guan temple.
The Qing Xu Guan temple was really cool; it had these two huge sculptures of armed men that were protectors of the temple. The first part of the temple had statues of the zodiacs, and the weirdest part of all was the part that personified hell. The room was very gruesome and it had sculptures of men and women being killed and tortured. The girls I was with were getting tired so we had a final stop at Gu Ming Ju. On our way back there was this one dark hallway and Caitlyn thought we were going to pass it as she was ahead of us, but instead of scaring us she scared this young Chinese couple, they looked at her like she was a psychopath, and Arianna and I couldn’t stop laughing. After that we headed back to the hotel, and had a rest. After an hour we left to go out for dinner; afterwards we did some more shopping, mainly looking at the different shops. There was this one place, I believe it was a club of some kind and it had a lama standing at the entrance in a small gated area. I was super ecstatic so I got some pictures with it. The lama was so cute and fluffy and he was actually really nice. We walked around some more and there was this group of older men who were totally drunk and they came up to us asking to take a picture, and before I could react one guy slung his arm around me and the other around Nita. Luckily we had Joe there because when we tried to get away but the man’s grasp got harder scaring me a bit.The rest of the evening Joe was really protective of us making me feel like I had a person bodyguard…thanks Joe! After walking around it started to get really cold, so Joe and I headed back and I waited for Nita to come back to the hotel. Nita and I were roommates and I didn’t want to go to bed until she got there.
Wednesday we said goodbye to Pingyao, and headed to the Qiao family compound, which was really cool. It had about 313 rooms, and it was massive and really pretty. The tour told the life story of the man who created this house. My favorite part of the entire experience was this little show that had this lady be a character for an opera that had changing masks, I felt like a little kid seeing a Disney character in person for the first time. The show also had a very famous calligraphy artist that did some writing right in front of us…so cool.
After the complex we went to the vinegar factory, it was actually really interesting; they use traditional techniques to make their vinegar, and we got to see the different techniques and methods they used. At the end of the tour they gave us small sample of their best vinegar but I couldn’t put myself up to drink it. Once we piled back into the car, we headed home, that night we went to Food Street; I knew exactly what I wanted so Arianna and I stuck together. While we were eating our hawthorn berries, people kept staring at us so we created a game that every time we made eye contact with someone who started staring at us, we had to wink at them. It was actually really funny. We got three different responses from people: one, they would just keep walking and look a little at us, two, those who would continue to look and wink back, or three, those who would be completely discussed and look away and/or shake their heads. The whole time Arianna and I couldn’t stop laughing. Also I’ve been using my Chinese more, and slowly it’s getting easier to understand, and talk to people, I try my best to use it to order food, or ask someone some questions about themselves. I always seem to talk about the same thing with everyone, but at least I’m trying. Once we got home we watched “Selfless” and then headed to bed.
Thursday I slept in really late and I woke up at 10am. Talked to my parents for a little and then we headed out to get some lunch, we had these really good noodles; I got ones that had tomato and egg in it. After lunch we headed to the Shang Xi museum, Joe had to leave and head back to the US for a family emergency, leaving us without our personal bodyguard, LOL. In the museum Nita and I partnered up and started on the fourth floor, which was the top floor, and made our way down. My favorite floor was the fourth because it was about calligraphy, and it was all so pretty. Each floor was interesting and had different artifacts that made it cool, like on this one floor they had an entire room dedicated to Buddhas and different things about the Buddhas; of course, it was all in Chinese so I couldn’t read much of it. I can’t remember what floor we were on but as we were looking at the different statues a little boy came up to us and asked, “Are you in need of tour guide?” Sadly we said no but talked to him for a little, he had only been studying English for a year and he was 10 years old, his English was so good and he had some pretty amazing vocabulary.
After the museum we went to the “cheap mall”, and let’s talk about how overwhelming it was, there was so much everywhere that my mind couldn’t even focus. Out of the hour and a half we spent there I ended up only getting a pair of shoes for 50 yuan which is like $8…so cheap. After the mall we headed home and invited James and Caitlyn over to watch “Snow White and the Huntsman”. James left before the movie ended because it was late, but luckily everyone was ready for bed, so when the movie did end, we headed off to bed.
Friday was a day off for us, so we decided to go to the Mengshaw Buddha and the Jinxi temple. The Buddha we went to, I believe is one of the top five biggest Buddhas in China, also an interesting fact about this Buddha is that when they discovered it, it didn’t have a head, so they slowly created what they believed the head would look like. We got to take a golf cart half way up and then we walked the rest of the way up. On the path to the Buddha they had this really strange monk music playing, creating a peaceful atmosphere. The Buddha was massive and it had a whole bunch of decorations around it and this tool fabric stuff that was connecting to the ground and going around the Buddha’s neck. We stayed for a while admiring the view and taking some pictures. We finally made our way down and headed towards the Jinxi Temple.
We had difficulties trying to get to the entrance and with our tickets as well because when we arrived it was 4:30pm and online the website said that it closed at five, but James asked someone and they said that tickets stop selling at five and that your could still walk around on the inside till six. So we got our tickets and headed inside. As we walked around all the sudden we got kicked out of one of the buildings and when we looked at our watches it was only 5pm. We came to the conclusion that the buildings got locked up at 5pm and the six was so you could slowly make your way out of the complex. We ended up walking around and staying till like 6:30,7pm. Even though we couldn’t go inside anywhere, it was really nice just walking around and looking at all the buildings, and there was no one around us, so it was quiet and peaceful. For dinner we were all in the mood for dumplings, jiao zi, so James took us to a restaurant that was known for their dumplings. When we walked inside, I couldn’t help but snicker because everyone became completely silent and stared, and then became really loud again, and we all knew that most of their conversations were about us. We were seated in this little room right next to a window, where everyone could see us, we had many people stop and take pictures of us or gawk at us. During our dinner we had a few people just pop in their heads to say hi, and then we had this little girl come by, her name was Cherry. She took some picture of us and with us and sang “Three Little Monkeys”, she was supper cute. James fell in love with her and now he really wants a daughter. After dinner we headed back home and passed out, exhausted from our adventures.
Saturday we decided to travel to the Twin Pagodas…they were so amazing to see! It was kind of boring at first because we use the buddy system and no one wanted to go ahead with me. So I was kind of lollygagging around, waiting for them to actually go near the Twin Pagodas. However, they soon were ready to go see them and I was so excited. One thing to note about the Twin Pagodas is there is only one of them that you can go up in and the other you can only look at it from the outside. I can’t tell you how excited I was to see the inside and climb all the way to the top. The inside of the Pagoda was very dark and cold, the only light they had was the light coming in from the very few windows. The steps were very narrow and somewhat varied in height. The view from the top was outstanding, and the only way to see the outside was to lie down on your belly and look through these bars. On the way down we met a man from Australia who was doing some traveling on his own. Going up was supper easy but on the way down, now that was the tricky part, the whole time I was slowly going down with my phone in my mouth for some light. I might have almost slipped a couple of times, but luckily I made it down safely. After that fun little adventure we ate some lunch and headed back to the “cheap mall”, and this time I wasn’t as overwhelmed. I decided to get two more pair of the shoes but in different colors, and then I got some really awesome socks that I absolutely adore, and I also got some leggings that have fuzzy stuff on the inside and have these straps that go on your heal to keep your leggings from ridding up your legs, and let me tell you…. they are so comfortable. After shopping for what was way too long, we got picked up by James and headed home. Once we were home we decided to watch the second movie to “Maze Runner”, but the whole time it was trying to buffer so instead of a two hour movie it was like a three and a half hour movie.
Sunday was my “sleep-in” day (I might have slept in until 11ish) but was finally able to get some personal work done and just rest the entire day. I watched four movies and just relaxed all day. Katy and Megan left to go do things so it was only Arianna, Nita, and I in the apartment; it was a really nice day. I really don’t have much to say but keep in tune for next week’s post because there is a lot to be said about the week to come:D