Monday, January 15, 2007

Shanhaiguan, part V - Around Xingcheng & Haibin

Xingcheng - Sugar-Coated Candy WheelWe arrived in Xingcheng, exited the station, and quickly hailed a taxi, asking the driver to take us to the best hotel in town. We thought it better to check on our potential lodgings for the night before purchasing our tickets to return to Shanhaiguan in the event that we would be returning that afternoon or the next morning. The town was quite small and we were sure there probably weren't very many choices so we left our fate in the driver's hands. As we sped along on the busy streets full of pedestrians and vendors, the town appeared vibrant and active. Lots of bicycles, and not just your average two-wheeled varieties. Most of the cars we saw were either taxis and trucks, there were very few private cars, which shared the road with little blue plexi-cabined, three-wheeled motorbikes and horse-and-cart get-ups.

Xingcheng - Men in Fur Hats Playing CardsThe hotel wasn't far from the station, nothing was really very far from anything else in the town, and we went inside to bargain for a room. The taxi driver followed us inside, hoping to get a piece of our payment. Angela couldn't get the clerk lower than 260 RMB for the hotel's deluxe suite, and we eventually accepted after having looked at the room, which was quite nice as well as spotlessly clean. We put our things down inside the room and went back out into the world. We needed to go back to the station to get tickets for our return trip the next day. Nothing impeded our efforts and we were soon free to wander. We had come to Xingcheng to see the old town, another one with the old walls around it, and we meandered through the hutongs, passing tofu and egg vendors on bicycles until we came to the entrance to the old city. Men in fur caps playing cards and everywhere the green and blue militaristic attire circa Mao.

Xingcheng - Pheasants & ChickensThe old city was in excellent condition though nearly all of it had been rebuilt. We crossed through the old city, passing through the gate on the opposite side and went in search of food as, by this time, we were getting hungry, and we thought we should fill our bellies before exploring the various attractions of the city, of which there were only a handful, the main one being the city wall. After bumbling around the outdoor meat market and talking to some, possibly, locals, we settled on a small shop off the main road.

The waitress, beaming as she took our order, a woman who looked to be in her mid-forties and seemed to be the owner of the restaurant, recommended a couple dishes to us, which simplified things considerably, and we agreed to try them. Then the waitress suggested that we move to a small booth in the back to eat as we would be able to sit on an old, but still functioning, kang bed. This was exceptional as it was very cold and the heated surface of the kang made everything that much more cozy. We spent about an hour eating and talking when a noisy group of kids entered. We took that as a cue to move along, and we did just that.

Xingcheng - GateWe returned to the old city and unhappily discovered that the entrance to the stairs which led to the top of the wall was closed. We thought, perhaps, that it was only this entrance, there being entrances on all four sides of the wall, and began to walk to the next gate. When we arrived at the next gate, we found that closed, also, and started to think that, as it was the first of January, maybe the city's attractions had closed early. We seemed to be the only tourists in town, but we weren't disappointed and continued our walk through the old town's beautifully reconstructed streets. It wasn't crowded, the sun was beaming, and the old streets were clean and well-kept.

When we came to the southern gate in the city wall, we stood before a long street lined with shops and vendors on both the sidewalks and along the center of the road, which was closed to automobile traffic and thick with people. Everywhere, people were walking and talking and hanging about on the streets and sidewalks. Angela had her boots shined in front of a department store. At least eight other people were having the same thing done to their shoes. I spit sunflower shells while waiting for her, and watched the throng of holiday shoppers come and go, many of them giving me long looks as they passed, unused to seeing foreigners, at least at this time of year in a cold beach town.

We stopped for a coffee, lucky to find some at a bakery, and ordered tapioca drinks instead before going back into the cold and hailing a cab to take a ride out to Haibin, a seaside town wherein the little cove was almost completely frozen over. We walked around in the sub-Celsius for about an hour before going back to the cab which had waited for us on the edge of the nearly deserted beach, and returned to our hotel. We napped for a few hours and then went back out to look for something to eat, walking for a while down a long dark street which yielded no very good choices, flagged another taxi and headed back in the direction we had come. Nothing grabbed us and we settled for dinner in our own hotel's adjoining restaurant. Angela and I were the only customers. The food was good and recommended by our waitress: a bowl of pork, potato and green bean stew typical of the region and hand-made noodles. The food was good, warm and hearty, but the staff was waiting for us to leave, standing nearby with the chain for the door in their hands, so we hustled down the rest of our food and went back up to our room to sleep.

2 comments:

With Hammer And Tong...The LetterShaper said...

I very much enjoyed my time here; as a poet and an avid reader, I found it both enlightening and enriching. Thank you...

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