Frozen in Time... Except for the Road Construction

by Caroline Killmer May. 17, 2012 2944 views

About a month into editing at a certain magazine, I was informed we'd be making a group trip a Ming-dynasty village called Cuandixia on the western fringe of Beijing.

The village is tiny, and so in my humble opinion, one trip to Cuandixia in a lifetime is enough. Since I'd visited before [], I was a little reluctant to make the trip again, but there's no harm in getting out of the city now and again.

Except, as it turns out, to your eardrums. And your bladder. For as anyone who has made a work-unit mandated trip before knows, a key part of the adventure is having a guide recite endless historical facts through a static-fuzzled microphone. Additionally, the road to Cuandixia had no rest stops as far as our driver was concerned. The one middle-of-nowhere gas station we tried said its restroom was out of order.

Finally, a short distance outside the village we arrived at the tourism office. Surely they have a bathroom, we thought, our eyes watering, and after much denial on their parts, they told us they had one unit for employees that we could use.

That's where the above picture comes into play. For as we rounded the corner of the building, about 30 chemical toilets came into view. Only one of which was unlocked. And a woman was standing outside it with the key, waiting to lock up after we were done. Classic.

To continue with this theme for just a few more moments, should you ever make a trip to Cuandixia, you'll want to insist on using those chemical toilets, because restrooms next to this little water feature at the village entrance rank high on the list of most-vile facilities I have ever encountered (and I once was shown to a toilet 10 feet up on wooden stilts that had a pig wandering around underneath it).

We had a guide, but the village is best enjoyed wandering in and out of people's courtyards, taking pictures, not tripping over the numerous art students and hoping to find someone serving hot coffee and cold beer.

This guy was doing neither. He was just sitting kind of on top of his dog. I also appreciated that he was squatting on a wall but holding on to the back of a perfectly serviceable chair to stay balanced.

The blue skies alone do make the trip rather worthwhile.

Obligatory “Use Mao Zedong Thought to Arm Your Mind” photo.

I like photos of textures, and so I just thought this was neat. I was also impressed that someone used a stick to tie up more sticks. Yeah, it doesn't take too much to make me happy.

Coal cakes for heating stoves and homes.

Pretty sure this handy recycled wire cover is going to be the next big thing on Pinterest.

Follow-up note: After writing the previous sentence, I did a Pinterest search for recycled plastic bottles, and even I have to say that this [] takes the concept, and crochet, too far.

We had lunch in this cheerful little courtyard. The rooms were filled with movie stills from a film that was shot here some years back, the name of which escapes me.

It's not very green in Beijing proper, and you often don't get much in the way of direct sunlight - it's either obscured by haze or buildings. As a result, I tend to be overly excited by back-lit leaves, which I only get to see rarely.

Many photos of such things tend to be taken as a result. Case in point.

From above the village, you can't see that there was road work taking place on the main drag, causing a mini-traffic jam of impatient tourists who'd had enough village and were keen to get back to town.

Fortunately, our bus was parked past the construction zone, meaning we were able to make a clean break. Even more fortunately, the microphone stayed off, allowing us to enjoy the views of construction cranes and power plants (below) in relative silence.

Nothing like a little contrast to make a pagoda look really tiny and sad.

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