Took the 12 hour night train last night (Sunday) from Beijing to Pingyao. We took "hard sleepers" which actually aren't that hard, and they do have a mattress and duvet/pillow/sheet etc on them. It's an open carriage, but instead of rows of seats all facing each other, on one side of the carriage it's rows of bunks, in threes - upper, middle and lower - and twenty rows of them. So 60 people all sleeping in an open carriage! We were the only westerners in our carraige (if not the train as we didn't see anyone else!) but we're travelling like the natives..we had stocked up on our pot noodles, as there's ample hot water, and fruit to keep us going. We had the top and middle bunks, which were the easiest to sleep in but getting into the bunks is tricky, the tinest ladder I've ever seen - and then you've to cling on and swing in somehow!! I'd a good night sleep until the guard shouted us awake at stupid o'clock as we were getting off at 5.15am. The gorgeous hotel we were staying in collected us from the train station and had a room ready for us to go into when we got there!
Pingyao is a fabulous old Chinese city. It still has the original city walls surrounding the town and all the old houses inside it. We're staying in a gorgeous old hotel, with original old beds and furniture. It's like a little tiny cottage - it would have been either the study or a worker's cottage back when it was a family residence back in the 1700s. Apparently the house was owned by the Zhou family, he was the manager of a draft bank in Pingyao and he bought and renovated the house, which back then would have had a courtyard with workers cottages, a study and other buildings all set around the courtyard.
Pingyao itself is just like walking back in history, and you can visit all the old residences, temples and other businesses from back in the 1700s and 1800s. The boys' favourite ones were the martial arts training schoosl and the 'Escort Agencies"!!! But not escort agencies as we know them!! These were for when they were transporting silver/money from banks and business - a martial arts escort agency would be employed to bring them from place to place, and the head escort would be the best boxer in the company.
We bumped into loads of people here from all over Europe - and everyone said the same as us, the Chinese people are the friendliest nation we've come across. They are genuinely friendly and helpful, not in a "put on" way because they have to, but they are so open and friendly and come up to talk and help when they can. We met two lovely students from Germany and Switzerland, both studying in Beijing so now Oisin has decided he's spending one of his years in college in China - but he said he can't decide if it'll be Beijing or Shanghai!!!!
The only thing I've been asked a few times is if the children have a school holiday at the moment, or how is it they are out of school - because of the language barrier it's easier just to say they have a school holiday - but in fairness they're only missing two weeks of school (due to the midterm break of a week off) but I think almost a month travelling in China is worth far more to them educationally than the two weeks of school they miss. They've learned an amazing amount, including how to figure out the trains, where to stand to get into the right carriages, how to read certain Chinese signs (such as Exit!), chopsticks, different food....
Had a wonderful two days in Pingyao - on the offchance anyone is heading to China - do NOT miss it. Gorgeous town. And I recommend the Yide Hotel, run by a lovely woman called Anna (not sure how to pronounce her Chinese name!).