Wednesday, July 1: Pingyao, China
8:30 I’m reading email over breakfast and realize that it’s my one-year anniversary of life on the road. I feel that I should say something like “it seems like only yesterday” but in reality it’s hard to believe that I’ve only been gone for 365 days. I’ve seen and done more in the last year than in any other decade of my life, so it’s only natural that itit feels like years ago that I boarded a train for Winnipeg. I’m still loving life on the road but it’s times like the morning of Canada Day when I stop to think about how good life is in my home and native land – the True North strong and free.
8:50 My e-visa for Azerbaijan arrives by email. Now all I need is the eVisa for Turkey and it should be smooth sailing through the end of September. (I have received ‘Letters of Invitation’ from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and will be able to obtain those visas at the border.)
9:30 I’ve been texting my brother for the last half hour. We don’t get to talk that often but Facebook Messenger is the next best thing. Plus it’s free.
10:00 I set out for a full day of walking Pingyao’s back alleys. The two or three main streets and many side streets within this ancient walled city are jammed with western-style bars, cafes, pizza joints, and souvenir shops, but walk 100 meters down any alley and you’ll step back in time. Not much has changed in the last seven centuries for the thousands of people who go about their lives deep inside the walled city. Sure, many of them wear western clothes and have cell-phones and scooters, but they still buy their food every day in open air markets, prepare it over fires, and live in brick buildings arranged around central walled courtyards.
19:00 We gather at the hostel for pre-dinner drinks and a little task that Helen has devised. Over the next 10 days we are going to play a game of Murder. On three slips of paper we write our own name, a possible murder weapon (cell phone, water bottle, key, etc.), and a murder location (in a restaurant, on the truck, in a tuk-tuk, etc.). The slips of paper are placed in three piles and we each draw one slip from each pile. My mission is an easy one: Murder James, in a restaurant, with chopsticks. To do this I must hand him a set of chopsticks, in a restaurant, and he must accept them willingly. I could probably execute this hit within the next 10 minutes but the game doesn’t officially start until tomorrow morning.