Tuesday, May 7, 2013

April 27th, Cuandixia, a small ancient town outside of Beijing

A few days ago Dylan and I took a trip outside of Beijing which was really interesting.  It is probably the only chance well have to get out of town, so I especially appreciated the view of the mountains and rivers and countryside.  We went to a town called Cuandixia.  The character for the name of it in Chinese has 30 strokes to it - quite, quite long.  It means something like "cooking pot".  It's so interesting how language develops.

Dylan's Zoolander pose in front of the large carved rock with the 30-stroke character which mean's Cuandaxia.
The town has been set up as a sort of Williamsburg of the region. (Though that might give a false sense of the sophistication of the level of tourism. It was nothing like that! It was just a small village charging money for people to see it and catering to tourists with B&B's, (i.e. letting people stay at their house), and places that serve food.

 It's at least 800 years old.  It's a small village built between two fairly high hills which have been terraced for planting.  The terraces aren't used anymore.  Dylan and I decided they get more income from tourism than agriculture now.  It seemed like most of the houses were being used as B&B's and/or restaurants.

The town is overwhelmingly brown, the brown of the mountains because its build from stones from the mountain and mortared with clay from the same place.   The houses usually have courtyards off of which are bedrooms and the kitchen area.  I'm assuming whole families, with mixed generations lived together.  There was one new courtyard/house, but the others looked to be as old as the ages.
The garbage truck in Cuandixia played music reminiscent of an ice cream truck to let people know he was coming so they could bring out the garbage.  I promise to try to remember that videos only record one way - horizontally! - next time!

door to one of the inns.

entrance to another B&B

We climbed up the hill, up the stairs, to the top to get the view.

There was no water in the town for the day, so this was our option for washing our hands.

The courtyard behind the restaurant.  I'm guessing they had guests stay there.  There were three sides to it.  Each seemed to be a separate bedroom.

Dylan was eating part of a "loaf" of steamed bread, a baseball-sized lump of white dough, steamed.  It had little taste, but provided effective starch to accompany a meal.

Steamed bread, an excellent omlette, and an eggplant, onion, tomato dish.  Dylan LOVES the eggplant in China - I can see why - we had several dishes of it, beautifully prepared and very tasty.
We went to a restaurant up at the top where a couple of people who teach at Bei da, Dylan's university, were  also eating a meal.  The man took a picture of us which he sent us later.  They were very friendly and, of course, complimented the heck out of Dylan's Chinese.  It's enough to make a mama proud!  Interestingly, when Dylan says he goes to Bei da, it's sort of like saying you go to Harvard in the US - raised eyebrows, knowing nods, assumptions of brilliance, immediate regard.

Before lunch was served, I went down the hill to use the public bathroom which had obviously been built to accommodate tourists who visit the town.  It was nasty beyond compare.  The squat toilets had been used a lot and not flushed - by several people.  I had to shut my mind down to the sight.  It was only later that I found out that the whole town was without water or electricity the whole day, so that must have been the reason.  I was glad for the explanation.  Somehow it made it better.

The lack of electricity and water also explained why there were so few tourists.  Apparently the place was usually crawling with thousands of people.

The taxi driver who brought us showed us the parking place about 2 miles away where people usually parked to go to the town.  It was huge, with room for buses and hundreds of cars and its own Beijing Tourist Center. I was surprised by the infrastructure.  There was only a relatively small parking lot in the town itself.  We also found out that the road we didn't take to the town was blocked.  We'd taken a VERY roundabout way to get there because the taxi driver didn't really know where she was going. 

When we got to the metro station at the end of the line, we were greeted by a woman wanting us to ride with her.  I found out later that she drove a "black" taxi, not a legal one.
 Dylan negotiated hard with her and got her down to 220¥ for the trip, agreeing to pay her 270¥ if we agreed it was a long way and worth it.  She then proceeded to drive in the general direction, asking people along e way how to get the.  The trick was that no one knew!  They hadn't heard of it.  She ended up calling her family members to ask them to help out.

This is the left hand lane of the two-lane road/highway we were driving on.

The only notice there might be some issues ahead of us!

We drove along a highway which was (apparently) just being finished.   We saw something we would NEVER see in the US - there were rock sprawled all across the road (but only in one lane, even if that lane did alternate - there was always room for one car to drive through at any given point).  There were lots of workers using the rocks to build the shoulder of the road and/ or walls along the side of the road.  It appeared that a dump truck had come through and clumped the rocks every so often then the workers came along over the course of the week or month to put them in place.  There were no flagmen or anyone to indicate there were blockages ahead.  Nor, thankfully, did we run into any other cars on the road.  I guess the road was pretty darn new.  Those workers didn't know where the town was either.

We kept driving until the highway ended and turned onto a road that was sometimes paved, sometimes not.  I was fascinated by the journey and sometimes a bit curious if we would get there or would have to turn around and not get to our destination.  We passed through a rock formation that almost, but not quite, closed over our heads.  It was very pretty.

Then we drove into a very small town with just one road through it.  There was a block in the road that had us stopped for quite a while.  In the one road, in the middle of it, there was a crane from the electric company working to take down older  electric poles which had been replaced with newer, taller ones.  There was a man who was going at the pole with a sledgehammer, knocking out the concrete all around the base of it.  Then another one took some massive wire cutters to cut the rebar that was holding up the pole still. With that, it came down and the crane lowered it slowly to the ground then moved on to the next one.  After that one we were able to drive on through.

While we were waiting I took some pictures of the town because it was as interesting as anything we saw that day.  I noticed there were some ancient - well, 50-year old auditorium seats, one row of them, lined up against the wall on one side of the road.  There was a niche in the wall above them which held a large speaker.  Beside those seats were a couple of torn and decrepit sofas.  On the opposite side of that one lane unpacked road, there was a fairly smooth white plaster rectangle.  I think this was there movie theater!  Sort of like Cinema Paradiso.  I wished I could have seen it in action!  But for that afternoon at least, the residents had another show to watch - the removal of the electrical poles.  There were several people out on their porches watching the proceedings.

The ancient auditorium seats with the speaker in the wall above.

the rest of the seating for the cinema

the movie screen, across the street from the seating and the speaker

One of the men watching the proceedings with the electrical pole.

The taxi driver was very frustrated by the delay, but I told Dylan I found it as fascinating as anything else we would see that day.  It didn't bother me a bit.

We ended up having beautiful weather that day, and the apple trees were all in bloom.  We saw lots of orchards abloom, but what was even more entrancing were the trees that Mother Nature had planted along the mountainsides, dusting the crags with their beauty.

Once we got to Cuandixia, as we walked through it, I contemplated what it would be like to live in there, especially before it became a tourist destination.  I imagine the poverty was mind-boggling, trying to scrape by on what they could grow on the rocky terraces, when they didn't have to send it to Beijing to meet the Party's requirements.

The houses are attractive in the way Venice is attractive, with lots of small alleyways and twists and turns.  The well is on one side of the street, most of the houses are on the other.  In the 1970's they got an electric pump so the water came up more easily than by hand.  Now, I think, they have piped-in water, still from the same well.  I didn't see a grocery store or anything like that other than what was clearly meant to serve tourists' fast food needs.  I'm not sure where their food would come from other than by driving somewhere for it or growing it themselves.  There was certainly no place for them to park cars by their houses, but perhaps they marked in the town lot where we also parked.

I so wish I could have spoken with the people there to find out about their lives.  Maybe I'll have to learn Chinese so I can come back and talk to people and learn about their lives.  I miss so darn much by not being able to converse with them,  I think it's the conversations and person-to-person connections that make travel so wonderful and make up for the inconveniences.  Without the people's stories, I unfortunately focus more on myself and what I need or want.  Meeting others expands my universe.  Not being able to necessarily restricts it to what's inside my own head.

After wandering around the town for a few hours, we went back to the taxi to return to Beijing.  In the meantime our driver had figured out the shorter way to get to the city so our return trip was only half as long as the trip there - no more fascinating small towns with cranes blocking their only road, but that was OK.  We were weary enough by then for that to be OK.

When we got back to town, Dylan took me to the massage place to get another massage, this one was only $13 and quite different.  For this one, the masseuse jiggled everything strongly as he pressed firmly.  I wouldn't say it was relaxing, but I could tell that what he was doing would ultimately make me feel better, so I enjoyed it.  It certainly kept me present to the moment because the sensation was so intense.  I think I like the type of massage I get in the US better, soothing, relaxing, calming with pretty music, but the ones I've had here have definitely been interesting and enjoyable. And I'm so thankful for the cost of them!  It's been really good to give that gift to my body.

After the massage, Dylan picked me back up. I think we just went to dinner then in the restaurant in his building.  It was quite good food.  Dylan chose a vegetable dish that was mostly water chestnuts, but they were delicious, certainly not like the canned ones we have in the US.  They had real, savory flavor.  That was one of my favorite meals the whole trip.  We also had dried fried green beans, one of Dylan's favorite dishes.  They were terrific too.

These pictures are of foods we didn't order.  Somehow they weren't quite as appealing as the ones we did get!  I think it would be hard being a vegetarian here - everything is cooked in meat broth whether it's all vegetables or not.  I'm not sure what Laura, my vegan daughter, would do.  Rice day in and day out would certainly get tedious, not to mention boring!

Miscellaneous other pictures from the day:

souvenirs in the Cuandixia gift shop.  I was surprised by the number of Red Guard and Mao souvenirs available.  I thought people would be glad to be done with that part of their history, but it doesn't seem to be the case.

My hostel at night.

Our transportation around campus. 
Dylan at dinner

Beautiful textures:  the colors are so muted in all of these pictures, leading me to wonder at one point if something was wrong with the camera, but it's just that the country is muted.  When I happened to glance at dozens of my pictures from Paris next to dozens from China, it really struck me the difference in the intensity of colors in the two places.  China tends towards muted browns and greys.  Paris tends more towards bright colors and glam.

The terraced hill across the street from Cuandixia

Grease caked on a wall below an exhaust fan in the small town outside of Cuandixia. 

Seen on the way to the town.  Men playing cards by the side of the road.  Waiting for a bus?  Break from working?

Tourist center along the road

Apple trees in blossom across the street from Cuandaxia.  Notice the terraced hill.  Nothing was being grown there anymore.

Cuandixia with the Chinese flag flying over it, almost the only spot of color in the town.

This statue is recessed in a wall where he awaits people who have died.  The explanation is below.

One of several grain mills we saw in the town.  I think it had to be turned by hand.  There wasn't room for an animal to go all the way around it.  It was heavy!  I like the pattern on the wheel - practical and beautiful - and one I use in my Zendoodles!

Nice names!

Looking down on one of the courtyards in Cuandixia.

A speaker embedded into the rock by the stairs as we climbed up to the restaurant.  We didn't hear anything coming from the speakers, but we saw them all around the town.  They made me curious!

Ancient and modern dichotomy - food being prepared at the subway stop in Beijing while the cook texts on her cell phone.

Dumplings being prepared at the subway stop in Beijing.

That same shop.

Snack food, Chinese style

American snack food, Chinese-style.  The flavors were quite different from what we have - steak and potatoes was one.

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