There wasn't much to see, initially, as it was still dark and overcast, but as we entered the city, driving past the old wall, we marveled at the old buildings decorated with hanging red lanterns which now surrounded us. There were almost no lights anywhere—no neon lights and no late-night joints open—as we twisted through the narrow winding streets and along the quiet houses and store-fronts. Ping Yao is famous because, aside from the completely intact Ming Dynasy wall surrounding the city, it is probably the most well-preserved ancient city in China. Finally, we reached our destination, the Tian Yuan Kui Guesthouse, which seemed like the only place in town with its lights on, and went inside. Angela talked to the proprietor while me and Dawn sat on a bench smoking and looking around. After some discussion about the price, Angela wanted to go look at the rooms before making a final decision, asking us to join her. Dawn accepted. I said that if it passed her inspection it would be good for me. I wanted to sit there and relax in the quiet.
All of the furniture inside was made of wood, replicating an old Chinese style. The tables, made of a light brown wood, were large and square with intricately carved dragons, two facing each other with open mouths, along the sides of the table. Between the table top and each leg, a carved dragon in the corners. The seats were low benches, matching the wood of the tables, and looked like elegant sawhorses. The front desk, which doubled as the bar, was made of the same light brown wood as the tables and benches. There were four large Chinese characters engraved within large circles along the front representing, as Angela translated: good luck, success, happiness, and fortune as you wish. The ceiling was made of wood, also. A darker, smoked shade of reddish-brown. Two large posts near the entrance, about one foot in diameter, extended from the floor upward supporting two beams of the same diameter running east to west along the ceiling. There were crossed with many smaller beams about half the size running from north to south. Hanging from these smaller beams were a number of cylindrical red lanterns with gold tassels hanging from the bottoms of the lanterns in a perfect circle. There were also six octagon-shaped lamps with wood-slat lampshades hanging over each of the tables in the room, as well as over the bar. There was also, as we would later discover, the ever-present sound of a cricket chirping from some hidden recess.
On each of the tables, there was a small tray with six tea cups turned upside-down and a matching teapot with a wicker handle. There were off-white in color with a subtle pattern of blue flowers. There was also a large black candlestick on each table and a small, unidentifiable houseplant with tiny, smooth spade-shaped leaves. A wall separated the room from another room of the same size. Where the entrance was in the other room, stood a large refrigerator. A large wooden staircase ascended to an upper level. The walls surrounding the room were black brick up to about my waist, and above that, the walls were flat white. The floor was composed of cubes of smoothed cement with little cracks trailing every which way.
Angela and Dawn liked the rooms, bubbling with excitement when they returned. They were inexpensive, 70 RMB per night for each of us and we paid for two nights. We collected our things and went to our rooms, Angela and me in one room and Dawn in another by herself, making our way through the beautiful old inner courtyard of the guesthouse. Our small room had a Chinese kang bed spanning the width of the room, an old bed made of stone beneath which hot coals used to be placed to keep one warm at night, and a tiny bathroom with a shower head and a Western-style toilet. After putting our things in our rooms and freshening up a little, we reconvened in the lobby of the guesthouse. Although it was still dark outside, we were eager to look around and left the guesthouse to take a walk in the cold early morning. After walking a few deserted blocks in the freezing cold and fog, we turned back, hungry and tired.
The young girls behind the counter, the waitresses eating sunflower seeds and applying creams to their hands and faces, were wearing thick, red, Chinese shirts, typically worn in the winter, with black buttons in the shapes of leaves along the right side and embroidered roses on the left. They were talking and chattering together happily behind the bar as any group of young girls might. We sat down at a table near the window and ordered coffee, bacon, eggs, sausage and toast, which was served hot and very good. After a second cup of coffee, all of us went to bed, planning to take a short nap before heading out to explore Ping Yao. It was, perhaps, 9:30AM.