China: Pingyao, A World Away

Pingyao, The Last Walled City


As I leave Beijing, I’m travelling by sleeper train to whats known as the last functioning walled city in China.



It’s overcast in the last functioning city of its kind in China.


And the walls are impressive. Worth scaling, worth cycling, and worth soaking up the strange time-capsuled quiet in this local town. Most of the industry left here is touristy, but it’s of a resigned kind that seems to be more subdued about its ancient, and now-unpracticed culture.

The walls have been restored recently; they’re only a testament to their original glory. The daily performances of walled city rituals loud and cast in lurid neon costumes.

A glance from the various scenic walls, temples and watchtowers in the city confirms that the grey overcast of the sky only extends into the leeched dry land outside the walls; ain’t nothing growing around here.







I’m missing home.

I guess the greyness of the barren, but quietly bustling Pingyao city reminds me of the overcast grey skies in Ireland autumns. I spend a day rummaging through the various tourist-trap trinket shops until I find some restaurants containing the locals, where an order of knife shorn beef noodles (刀削牛肉面) almost makes Taiwanese standard, and I phone my mum despite international charges.

Mainland China is so vast, I’m disappointed in my own surprise in its difference from Taiwan, the only Asia I know. There’s no breakfast here I recognise, and certainly no soya milk. The language is heavily accented and the bargaining rough and unfamiliar. Even my soupy bowl of Beef Noodles, the famous Asian kind, is spiced with earthy, unfamiliar flavours.

China is vast.

A little shop, from which a bleary elderly man peers out, has it’s front windows plastered with a plastic red sign in English. It cheers me up a little, and I return to my hostel for a much restoring nap.


The Band that Won’t Stop.



The traditional band at the afternoon (17:00) performance in the walled city of Pingyao get a little carried away with their own music.

The lead band-man has just given a cool look of derision to the flustered gentleman on a PA system trying, somewhat in vain, to get them to stop so the main theatre performance can go on.

Well, the band’s not having any of it.

On another note, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single instrument that they’re play that funky tune with. I’m not a traditional Chinese music specialist, but if you are let me know…


Falling Into Spirited Away


Pingyao City


I’ve fallen into Spirited Away.

For those of you who haven’t seen this world-wide, award-winning piece of animation by Director Hayao Miyazaki, it’s one of my favourite films. They say the original bath house setting was inspired by a small, traditional alleyway that’s a tourist hot-spot in Taiwan: 九份 (jiǔfèn).

Nevertheless, whether you’ve seen it or not, the walled city at night is magical, dark and mysterious, echoing of a childhood long in the past running through eerily-red light cobbled streets.

One of the most beautiful moments in China.



Original post on



The Last Walled City

Missing Home

The Band

By Night

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