PINGYAO

Pingyao is one of the best-preserved[1] old towns in China. This gives me the opportunity, uncommon in nowadays China, to turn back time once I enter the city walls:

Most of this central area is closed to traffic, which is a big relief for me. At least for one day I won't hear the horn rang at every possible occasion, I won't see aggressive, dangerous and useless maneuvers; in short, I will enjoy a bit of quiet. The traffic-free streets offer nice snapshots of daily life:

and allow me to enjoy Pingyao typical architecture:

The best thing in Pingyao, in my opinion, are the inner courtyards, which tell you about the old times:

Sure enough, in these places you don't feel the wealth of Shanghai, but the quality of life here seems to be better. This, by the way, makes me wonder why there is such a race to the "progress". Something that holds for China, but not only for China.

»In places like Pingyao, but also in many others, including the large towns, you experience the "low-intensity work" of Chinese. The Chinese, in many jobs (especially in self-employed jobs like the retailers), mix work and normal life, whatever private business they may run. It just so happens to see them playing draughts (picture above) or cards while they wait for customers, to see people eating inside their shop, or a woman sleeping, her feet on the little table, in front of the tv in her hotel, while you are wondering, a bit embarassed, if and how to wake her up to get your room's key. It's not uncommon to see them sleeping on their workplace: I experienced this with museum staff and even policemen. Other Europeans working here told me that this happens in private companies too.
The common root of these behaviors, in my opinion, is the fact that many Chinese do not have definite working hours: who runs a private business is often open from 8 AM to midnight. Employees, too, often do not have predictable working hours and they end up working many more hours than we'd consider acceptable in Europe.

Before leaving Pingyao I buy some fruit from a stall on the street. The man weights it[2] and shows me the price with his hand:

I hand him 2 Yuan but he shouts back "Baaaaaaa", again showing me the price with the hand. I am very confused, so I give him a 50-Yuan note. I receive a 42-Yuan change, which makes me understand that the hand sign meant 8. As soon as I have the chance I ask and I learn that Chinese use a clever system to indicate numbers with one hand only. Unfortunately, their sign for 8 is the same as our sign for 2 - so many countries, so many customs....

Incidentally: "Ba" means 8 in Chinese. "Baaaaaaa" also means 8, when you're in a bad temper .

  1. ^More by chance than on purpose: it was the financial centre of the Qing dynasty but it later decayed, thus not being affected by the rapid development of the other Chinese towns.
  2. ^Fruit in China seems to be priced the same, regardless its type: for instance, if you buy two oranges, an apple and two bananas, they are weighted together.