Friday, 5 November 2010

Strangers in a Strange Land

When you're travelling, you spend a lot of time staring at strange things and strange people. Well, unless you're the kind of person who travels to eat, drink and spend time on the beach. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but we most love seeing things that are different - in their geography, culture or time.

So it's a bit weird to have the tables turned and become tourist attractions ourselves.

Another boost for Sino-Kiwi relations
But that's what we were sometimes in both China and India.  Both countries have massive middle classes that can afford to both travel to the big sights in their lands and take cameras with them. Many of those people are from places off the traveller radar, so they probably will not have seen a pasty, bare-legged Westerner before, and often love taking photos of and with you. It's quite charming - and turnabout is fair play - but can get a bit much at times. And sleazy too, with Lauren and some men. Not a problem that affects me, strangely.

The walls of Pingyao, which date from 1370AD
It got a bit overwhelming once on the walls of Pingyao, a beautiful historic town about halfway between Beijing and Xi'an.  As the best-preserved Imperial era town in a country that has concreted over much of its architectural history, Pingyao is a massive internal tourism drawcard.  Being there on a Saturday, the area around one of the entrances to the wall was packed with visitors. Several guys wanted to take a photo of me and I obliged for a few snaps, then I looked up and saw a score of other Chinese visitors rushing towards me with their cameras!  We fled. The paparazzi scence is not for us.
View down one of the main streets from a watchtower
Pingyao, by the way, is a wonderful place. It is the home of Chinese banking and as such became a wealthy place, with many beautiful wooden houses. Unfortunately for the bankers, the interference of the Western powers and rise of Western banking in the 1800s brought the good times to an end. But that was fortunate for the bankers' descendants, as the town became a backwater and thus its heritage was preserved. Now it's been repaired and repainted to make Pingyao a beautiful and chilled out spot to spend a few days. You get a feel for how China was a century or two ago.

Courtyard of our hostel. Mint.
It's definitely somewhere worth taking a camera. After all, there's lots of strange wide-eyed people with backpacks hanging around.

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