Ancient City Luxury

By Stephen | October 19, 2013

After almost 100 km of riding yesterday, I was pretty tired. So I took advantage of our day without travel and slept in. Luxury. I slept so hard Jane actually had to wake me at 9:30 so we could get on with our day.

She had already been up for a while, busily planning our trip for the next week.

After yesterday’s ride through industrial China we weren’t too excited about another week riding through more of the same to get to Xi’an, so Jane has sorted out a bus that will take us and our bikes the same distance in six hours. This will also give us a few extra days to explore Xi’an.

Take A Walk On The Quiet Side

Before that we needed to explore Pingyao. The town is surrounded by a wall with gates and watchtowers and reminds me of The Great Wall, except that this wall is in excellent condition, and surrounds an entire village. The wall was built in the early 14th century and most of it is still original.

Within the city are small alleys, cobbled roads, and ancient buildings. Cars are not allowed in much of the city, so tourists are carted around on electric vehicles, or they rent bicycles. We decided to walk.

The main streets are filled with tourist shops, selling a lot of tourist tat, but many also sell locally made products. There are taffy pullers, scarf weavers, bakers, peanut roasters, lots of different candy and sesame bars, and even small busts carved in your likeness – or your President’s likeness, if you are American.

The streets are also filled with tourists, despite this being off-season. I really can’t imagine a visit here in the summer being at all fulfilling.

As in any tourist town, as soon as we walked a few meters off the main corridors, the hustle and bustle vanished and we were alone on quiet streets where the residents of Pingyao live. The houses are mostly from the Ming and Qing dynasty and on the backstreets, they look their age.

We saw dogs and cats living on the streets, laundry up to dry, chillies in the sun, and locals excited to see tourists in their hood. Also, lots of lanterns. Lots.

Jane’s note: Seeing all the stray animals made me a little sad, since most of them looked like they could use a hearty meal. We walked by one tiny kitten tied up in the hot sun. It mewed at us so pathetically that I had to stop. When I dribbled some water from our bottle, it was almost frantic trying to get at the few drops. So I used the lid as a dish and held it as the kitten drank and drank.

Jane watering a cat with help from a little local, Pingyao.

Jane watering a cat with help from a little local, Pingyao.

We looked for something to leave water in, but failed to find anything. I just hope the people working in the neighbouring shops will take my actions as an example and look after it. Wishful thinking I’m sure, but it helps me be less heartbroken.

Spitting distance from the tiny, humble dwellings are several upscale hotels, catering to wealthy Chinese tourists.

Ping. Yow!

There are countless places here offering foot massages, scraping, cupping, and pedicures. When I am in Tucson I always visit the incredibly talented Charlie Roach, who is a Chinese medicine specialist. He has done scraping and cupping on an old neck injury of mine to great result. I wanted to experience this while in China and this seemed like as good a time as any.

Last night we walked past a massage shop that was off the beaten track with Chinese people availing the owners of their services.

After walking the streets of Pingyao for a while, we went over and I negotiated a price. I then stripped off my shirt and spent the next half hour having yak horn scraped along my neck with fervour, had my back scraped until it was raw, and finally had several hot cups placed on my back to pull out the toxins which the scraping had freed.

Scraping, while painful, is something I could see myself getting addicted to if I lived in China. It accesses the same pain/pleasure receptors as piercing or tattooing, and it costs one tenth of the price it does in America. My back now looks like this, and will for the next week or so:

Cupping survivor, Pingyao.

Cupping survivor, Pingyao.

We made an appointment for both of us to come back later for foot massages, since we have done a lot more walking than riding the past month.

18 Foot Massage

We took it easy for a few hours at the hostel, then it was time to head back for our massage. Just after we got there and got settled in, a Danish family of seven came in all wanting their feet massaged. There was just enough room for all nine of us in the tiny shop, and the manager quickly began calling friends and family to drop whatever they were doing and get to work.

Pre-massage soak, Pingyao.

Pre-massage soak, Pingyao.

We weren’t sure they could round up nine masseuses in a matter of minutes, but while our feet soaked, women trickled in through the door, ready to see to everyone’s feet. After much bustling, they had everything set up and went to work. The small front room was shoulder-to-shoulder with clients and masseuses.

A foot massage, at least to me, doesn’t employ the same pain/pleasures aspects as scraping. It is more like pain, pressure, and then some relaxing sensations. I definitely felt my whole body was more relaxed afterwards, but I wouldn’t say I am the biggest fan.

Evening in the streets of Pingyao.

Evening in the streets of Pingyao.

I am glad to have experienced it though. It was quite a sight to see the room fill up and have people from the age of eight to almost 80 having their feet soaked, rubbed, and massaged by a gaggle of local women.  

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