Friday, 11 February 2011
Pingyao ancient city China
The mysteries of centuries lie behind Pingyao's gates and walls.
When a city becomes both the subject and the host of an annual international photography competition you cannot fail to acknowledge that something magical has been discovered. Pingyao can claim its own distinct aesthetic. An aesthetic which chimes in the twist of bicycle spokes, the steely patterning of turning wheels and the soft tones and gradients of the city walls and its crumbling brick gateways. I was not free from its monochrome spell. Labyrinths of allies which drowned you in stone surfaces turned the play of light and shadow in to a game of photographic hide and seek. In Pingyao time slipped endlessly in to past and present at every corner and through every arch way. Hundreds of years passed in a single circuit of the city walls.
Shadows create alternative perspectives, Pingyao collapses in on itself.
The sense of a world still yet undiscovered, relic still coated with the dust of its discovery. Pingyao teeters between touristic manipulation and the genuinely undisturbed.
Pingyao, in the North of China in Shanxi Province, may not be found on your typical China-itinerary, but it is gradually developing a niche market for the Western tourist and is an enriching stop-over to make between Xi An and Beijing. The survival of the walled city has earnt it the status of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Pingyao remains as a relic of an ancient China which has largely been swallowed by industrialism and urbanisation in recent years. My advice would be that however long China has been depriving you of your Western comforts (coffees, English breakfasts, pancakes and Spaghetti bolognese) you resist being enthralled by Pingyao's central axis of tourist honey-traps. There is little charm in the courtyards which have been painted and converted in to luxury hotels and inconsequential museums; it is the crumbling and derelict outskirts of Pingyao which are truly magnetic. For a pound a day you can cycle its streets and allies exhaustively and learn more about China than the entire Lonely Planet guide book can offer...While we are on the subject of the Lonely Planet, be wary of its advice and instructions when it comes to the often neglected province of Shanxi. While Hostels like the Harmony guesthouse appears to offer an Oasis to the traveller in China (which includes access to all those beautiful yet oh-so-difficult to get to places in Shanxi and a hand in the black-market of train tickets,) the Deng's don't always hand over these things graciously and will always put profit first....They are not like the harmless old couple who owned the B&B you always go to on your family holiday!