Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Not Old For Da Earth

Recently eaten: tapioca with fresh fruit
Recent annoyance:

To recap my recent excursion to China, our first full day started at the Ancient City of Pingyao. We took little tuk-tuks from our hotel into the city because reguklar cars and buses are too wide to fit into the narrow streets. My little video of the city itself didn't come out, but here we are on the way into the city.

While we were eating breakfast, I noticed a group of people being commanded by a uniformed officer outside of the hotel. They were split between men and women and each group was set up in rows. The began with a quick jog around the hotel twice. They lined back up and began executing some complicated routine of turns, steps and repositioning of the rows. I asked my Mom what they were doing. Apparently, they were just hotel workers. In China, many workers mix physical exercise with repetitive mantras about their jobs and work principles each morning. My Mom said the Chinese learned this militaristic style of training and morale building from the Japanese. It was a very strange sight to see maids, drivers, porters, front desk workers all marching around and ordered around by just another hotel worker in a very fancy uniform.

Anyway, I won't bore you with all the details of the city itself once we got in. You can check out my photos on flickr for that. What really amazed me about the city is that people still live there. In the narrow streets, with some running water, and thousands of tourists. I asked my Mom what she thought the people thought about all these tourists. She said they probably like it because they bring in money. But I wondered, as someone who lives in a tourist city, if the citizens of Pingyao were happy about their 1997 designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Clearly, lots and lots of Chinese tourists come to see one of the first financial centers established in the world.

After we left the city, I experienced what would be a running theme throughout the trip: wacky traffic. Lane markers mean nothing in this part of China. Our driver honked and weaved his way through a net of coal trucks chugging along in the fast lane, the passing lane, the shoulder, wherever they could fit. Just as we got on the ramp to the expressway, we hit a wall of stopped trucks. FOG. The ever present shroud of fog had closed the road and we were stuck. There was no other road (at least a passable one) that we could take to our next stop. The highway itself had been built by the provincial government for tourists and for the coal to keep moving out of the province. Since this sort of stoppage is a regular occurrence, many of the drivers just slept at the wheel, or came out to socialize with other drivers. Then the vendors descended. A line of entrepreneurs came selling tangerines, hot noodles, buns and eggs.

We were stuck at the roadblock for 4 agonizing hours before we were let through. Le sigh.

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