I woke up around 11:30AM well-rested and refreshed, and went to the lobby to wait for Angela and Dawn. They joined me after a few minutes and we ventured out from the guesthouse once again. "It's like a big surprise out there," I said, as we really hadn't seen anything yet. It was light now and we could see, but foggy, cold and not quite sunny. We walked north along the slushy street looking at some of the Chinese antiques, artifacts and knick-knacks for sale. Dawn bought a few items and we wandered on, surprised at the difference now that there were people and vendors out in the street. It wasn't too crowded and we stopped periodically to take a picture or gaze into a shop. After roaming about in the cold for an hour or so, walking east until we reached the wall of the ancient city and discovering that we couldn't get up onto the wall from this side, we turned north and began a loop back toward our hotel. We were hungry again and stopped for a bowl of noodles in a small dirty shop in which we were the only customers.
It was quite cold inside the noodle shop, as well, and not much relief from the weather outside. A young girl was warming her hands near the stovepipe, although I couldn't feel any heat coming from the stove, which was quite near us and in the middle of the room. There was a young boy, probably the young girl's brother, walking around showing off his cassette player. An older woman, perhaps the mother of the girl and boy, came over to take our order. We'd all ordered a bowl of noodles with beef, a kind of cubed beef which was a specialty of the area, and another dish which the waitress recommended. When she brought the first dish, the one she had recommended, which was a kind of vegetable soup with beef, I noticed that the bowl was cracked and that the broth was beginning to leak onto the table. We called the waitress over to ask for a new bowl and when she tried to pick it up, it split into a number of pieces. We jumped out of our seats, grabbing our hats and gloves and cameras which were on the table, and moved to the only other table in the room, below the television, which was airing a hip-hop dance competition. We eventually finished our meal and bundled up to return to the world outside the noodle shop. The food was good and filling and we were happy.
We headed west toward the west gate of the city, which was where we learned that we could ascend the city wall. We purchased tickets for 120 RMB, which also guaranteed us admission to most of the major attraction within the city and for which there was no alternative, and walked up to the top of the wall. We walked the entire length of the west and almost all of the south walls before descending. There were almost no other people on the wall, so we felt like we had it to ourselves, crunching along on the snow-covered path. There were, periodically, a duo of Chinese women sweeping the snow into piles with their small twiggy brooms.
At the focus of our attention during this walk, the ancient city below built up to the very edge of the wall in many places with passages so narrow at some points that only a bicycle could pass. We were flabbergasted to see such dirty, poor living, the earthen houses built of stone or brick, and the bare skeletal trees stuck here and there, seemingly gasping for air. It was not so clear so it was impossible to see across the city, but there was a sameness in everything. Many houses were built around an inner dirt courtyard which contained all variety of junk or trash: here a broom hanging from a tree, there an old wooden cart on its side, rusted bicycles, a plastic bag decorating a tree, piles of coal and wood, old tires and stacks of bricks, and everywhere the thin little stone chimneys poking up through the fog. "There's a woman using the bathroom," I said to Angela and Dawn, noticing a woman hitching up her pants within three stone walls. Angela and Dawn walked over to the edge of the wall to take a look. I started to notice these bathrooms (toilets in all of the other yards) and realized that almost all of the residents had this arrangement tucked into the corner somewhere on their land. I had walked ahead and Dawn caught up with me. "That woman saw me looking at her and she didn't even flinch." "Imagine how many people see them doing it every day," I countered. "They're used to it."
And we continued walking. There were animals everywhere: a mule pulling a cart of coal, a horse ridden by a monkey in a yellow costume and matching hat with pheasant feathers, a German Shepherd licking a plastic bag, another black mutt curled up near a fence post, a fluffy dirty-looking cat perched on the stone roof of one of the low houses, another orange cat stalking it from behind, two cats sitting on a motorcycle seat, little brown birds no larger than baby's fists flitting from branch to roof to ground, black and white pigeons pecking at the roofs, two mourning doves on an electrical wire, an old man feeding a raft of ducks in his yard, roosters crowing and hens perched in trees, a lone woodpecker hopping up the trunk of a tree poking its red head and bill into bits of snow.
At the south gate, an older woman approached me. "Hello," she hailed. "Hello," I returned, walking toward her. "This is where the wall collapsed last year," she informed me, as if I was wondering where that part of the wall might be located. "You can see the new brick there where they repaired it," and pointed to a section of the wall. I thought of something clever to say without being rude and came up with: "Why do you know that?" "Oh, I'm writing a book about Ping Yao," she answered, looking down at some boys who were observing us from below. We talked for a while before Angela and Dawn caught up with us. We had a hankering to swallow an aperitivo and get out of the cold for a bit, and the four of us made our way down to the street. The old woman directed us to a nearby guesthouse and we walked there. She had a fit of coughing and excused herself to track down some cough medicine, wishing us well. We entered and the owner recognized us saying, "Oh! You three." She was the woman who had greeted us at the train station when we had arrived, suggesting her hotel to us. Anyway, we sat down to enjoy a cup of hot tea as there was only Chinese alcohol to choose from, and talked to the owner. We were happy to recognize her, and we talked briefly before heading back to our own guesthouse. It was starting to get dark and we needed to make plans for our evening. It was, after all, New Year's Eve.