Shanxi has a reputation for poor air quality and it does contain a number of the most polluted cities in the world, but just a short distance away from those, up in the mountains the air is as clear and beautiful as parts of Kyrgyzstan.
Driving in Shanxi
Shanxi has a reputation for being home to the Shanxi Coal Baron -a coal miner who has bought his mine from the government at a knock down price and has moved to Beijing to live among the cities elite.
Unfortunately, they’re not very well regarded, but some of the elders are delightful, still wandering round with a rope belt holding up their trousers, despite being worth billions. The same can rarely be said for their spoilt children.
Due to the sudden burst of wealth in Shanxi, there are a disproportionate number of luxury cars on the road, driven by people who a) seemingly only passed their test the previous month and b) live in the absolute knowledge that the world revolves around them.
Driving along at the standard 10% above the speed limit it’s an hourly occurrence to have a Porsche or Range Rover tailgating the car with the lights flashing and the horns blaring.
Once it’s safe to left them pass, they’ll do so ungraciously, with rude symbols and tiny shaken fists.
Having had enough of being insulted in Pingyao, it was fun to follow them into a service stop or petrol station, where away from the safe confines of their car and confronted with a real person they do their best not to catch your eye.
Playing on the Chinese fear of individual confrontation, they’d panic when I’d point them out. Walking towards them would cause them to run back to their vehicle and hide behind the blackened windows. Rude of me, but the rude reception at Qiao’s Family Courtyard was the straw that broke the camels back.
The other thing noticeable at service stations is the amount of rubbish generated by each car. A saloon will pull up and four people will get out and scoop all their litter onto the tarmac, often a few feet from the waiting bins. Usually this is three or four plastic bottles per person, some crisp wrappers, old tealeaves and a collection of gnawed bones.
McAccents in Taiyuan
We didn’t spend long in Taiyuan, but I loved it. Despite there being very few apparent foreigners around, the citizens had refreshingly little interest in our arrival.
The only difficulty I had in Taiyuan was in speaking to people. They had a heavy accent but the real problem was I don’t think they were listening to anything I said.
Searching for breakfast the only source of fruit juice I could find was a McDonalds.
In Chinese: “Can I have two orange juices please”
“Can I have two cups of orange juice” – please isn’t used very often, so I drop it.
There’s an impatient “Tsk” from behind me.
Back to basics. Holding two fingers up, I say “Two of Orange Juice”
She hands me one orange juice.
“One more orange juice”
She points at the one on the counter. I point at the machine.
The man behind me barges in front and demands a McMuffin. Not being in a rush, I let it slide, as I’m taking a while and he does seems desperate for a fried egg.
My turn again.
“One more orange juice please”
A student steps up next to me and explains in Chinese, “He just wants two orange juices”. The girl at the till shakes her head. By now, I quite fancy a McMuffin myself, but can’t be bothered to enter into negotiations, and agree to leave with my one orange juice.
She charges me for two orange juices…
Yellow Dirt Tall Slope Mountains
The route between LiShi and QiKouZen passes over the ‘Yellow Dirt Tall Slope Mountains’. These are row upon row of terraces, cut into the tall slopes of the mountains of yellow dirt. Historical records don’t show how they came up with the name.
These mountains are also home to millions of people living in caves cut from the soft rock.