For G and I’s book, there was a good portion of it set in the Shanxi countryside. I wanted to see if our research matched reality. We hired a driver and car for 600RMB ($97) to take us outside of Datong to where Shanxi borders Inner Mongolia and to The Great Wall of China. I ate a huge breakfast once again as I knew lunch was probably not going to be good. The below was only plate 1 of 3 of my breakfast. I was shocked at how fresh the vegetables and mushrooms tasted in Datong, so I ate huge quantities of vegetables every morning.
The Northern China villages are similar to the Southern China villages and yet worlds apart at the same time. Rarely have I found any of the old villages I have been to quaint. I am enamored with the idea of village living and not the day to day reality.
We were lucky that the day we drove out was a sunny day and had been sunny the day before because it was mostly poorly maintained dirt roads. Lots of abandoned homesteads. The Northern China countryside is a harsh place. It is extremely cold and there is not much water. We passed by many villages and there was nobody left except the elderly or the very young kids. Everyone else left to work in the cities. Picture below is the abandoned Shanxi style houses.
The Great Wall of China is not just in Beijing but it extends to Shanxi as well. Wikipedia states that the entire length of the wall is 13,171 miles. Not of all it is built of mortar and bricks like it is around Beijing. Here it is built with rammed earth which deteriorates much faster than bricks. Below I am standing on top of a section that is overgrown with grass. If you look carefully you can see a better preserved section behind me.
My driver and I inside one of the villages. The rammed earth that is used to build these village walls are the same that is used to build The Great Wall
Sneak peak inside a traditional Shanxi Homestead.
Shanxi people are quite friendly. We were invited inside this house to take a tour. The dried corn on the left will be used to make cornmeal. And the coal to the right is used for cooking.
It is very basic inside. Faucet is right next to the stove which is right next to the kang bed. The stove is dual purpose used to cook and also to heat the kang bed. In Northern China, the kang bed has been in use for thousands of years. Wonder when will it be the end of kang beds in this region? The small table is their dining table, all meals on eaten on the kang bed. No chairs to be seen in this household.
Closeup of bed. The grandma who lives here was very nice. She and her husband still farm that plot of land in front of their house In China most villagers have less than an acre of land to grow food to support an entire family.
A house made of brick is a status symbol signifying that this family made enough money working in the cities to be able to afford it. Having toured many Chinese villages, I will say that the richest villages are those near the seaside cities like Shanghai, Wenzhou, Fujian, where they build marble houses three stories tall. But still even those houses are built along dirt roads.
For lunch we ate at a local place I found on dianping.com. Inside there were no tourists, not even domestic. Everyone spoke with a Shanxi accent and all the males smoked inside the restaurant.
This is a Halal place which specializes in the flower petal dumpling similar to what we ate the night before at Fenglin Ge.
Except here it is not as intricate and there is only two choices for the filling, lamb or beef. I still say why eat a flower petal dumpling when xiaolongbao’s taste so much better? This is lots cheaper than Fengling Fe about 1/5 of the price, taste wise about the same. Good but not great.