By 10:30AM the next morning, after showering and changing, I went down to the lobby to wait for Dawn. Angela had gone down minutes before me and was already enjoying a cup of coffee while surfing the hotel's free internet. I ordered a cup of coffee and sat down to write. Dawn soon arrived and we left to try breakfast at Sakura's. We all ordered an English breakfast, which wasn't that good, if only because everything was cold when it arrived. We had an appointment to meet a driver who would take us to the Qiao family residence, which was a beautiful house where the movie Raise the Red Lantern was filmed, but we called him and changed the appointment to 12:00PM as we were running late. Angela had found him earlier in the morning and he had agreed to take us the 40 kilometers for 130 RMB.
He showed promptly and led us out of the hotel and down a sidestreet to his waiting car There was a large read balloon arch with meeting dragons over the road, which looked like a giant sausage. It was near the entrance to a house which was decorated in the typical way for a wedding, with red banners pasted around the doorway. We got in and drove through the little dirty backstreets, navigating bicyclists and donkey-carts, until we got out into the open countryside. We stopped for gas at a very small gas station and I got out to take a picture. We were back on the road in no time.
It was foggy and we really couldn't see much. The desolate country on either side of us. There were almost no green plants anywhere, and old dried cornstalks dotted the earthy landscape. Many leafless trees were white-branched with frost and the wasted yellow grasses and small plants were also whitened in this way. We drove between white willow trees which seemed something out of a winter wonderland. My feet were cold in the backseat but, otherwise, the ride was fine. Again, we passed lots of animals: a truck full of pigs, large black cows in roadside pens, a herd of sheep crossing the road, two goats looking for something to eat. We passed, perhaps, four or five other weddings and a wedding motorcade along the way. The driver mentioned that 2005 was not a fortuitous year for marriage and that many people had waited until 2006. It made me feel good about my own decision to get married this coming summer.
After a wrong turn, the driver had stopped to ask an elderly woman who pointed in the opposite direction, we finally arrived at our destination after one hour in the car. There were hardly any visitors and we passed by the desperate vendors, almost all of which were selling the same old trinkets and replica items. You have to come to China to, at least, get your hands on some genuine knock-off crap. We considered a few items, but held off on purchasing anything until after we had visited the famous residence. We purchased our 40 RMB tickets and entered.
The interiors of the rooms weren't exactly what we had expected, but typical for a Chinese tourist attraction: lots of dust, no lighting, strange displays and recreations depicting historical scenes, and wax figures in traditional costume. The many stone rooms of the house were very cold and our toes were freezing after a few minutes. After walking around for a while, we warmed up a little and the cold didn't bother us. Despite the poor condition of the displays and interiors of the rooms, the exteriors of the various buildings, particularly the entranceways, were very beautiful and elaborate. We were impressed by the intricacy of the designs and the lovely colors painted upon them. The architecture was also noteworthy with lots of ornamental chimneytops and other strange stone carvings and adornments.
Angela disappeared and I was looking for her. An old Chinese man tapped me on the shoulder as I peeked into a room displaying old farm equipment. I looked at him and he pointed up to the rooftop. I turned my eyes to the spot in which he gestured, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Then he motioned for me to follow, pointing to the same place, and I looked up again and saw Angela taking a picture of me from the roof. "How'd you get up there?" I shouted. "Shhh!" she said, and pointed to a stairway below where she was standing. I was surprised because we had asked an attendant if it was possible to get to the upper level, and she had told us that it wasn't--that it wasn't safe. I climbed up and joined Angela. In a few minutes, Dawn had discovered our whereabouts and we were all happily on the roof. It had gotten sunny and it was nice to stand in the sun and take some of the chill off. We roamed around for about 10 minutes before we were found out and escorted off the roof. Happy that we got away with our little indiscretion and a few pictures, we made our way to the exit.