Because Pingyao is a little town on the train line between Xi’an and Beijing, it’s hard to get tickets – especially on the day you want to travel. So when we got off the train we went back into the station to try and get tickets. When we were in line, a woman came up and said she was from a hostel and could help us get tickets if the agent couldn’t.
When we asked the agent, she looked at the woman from the hostel, then typed something into the computer and said she could only get standing tickets – no guarantee of a bed or seat. The woman from the hostel said the would give us a free ride to the hostel and she’d see about getting us a ticket. Having nothing to lose, we took the offer.
At the hostel she said it was impossible to get tickets for that night and suggested we try for a few days. I said we would be leaving that night regardless, even if we had to take a bus to another town and get a train or bus from that town. Once she knew we weren’t staying in the hostel no matter what, she said she’d make a call.
While checking in other guests, the owner came over and said it was hard to get tickets, and asked if we wanted breakfast. I said we had stuff to eat but if she could get us tickets, we’d order something. In about ten minutes, she came over and said we were in luck – should could get us tickets for that night and to come back at 5:30 and they would have them. And trying to be a man of my word, Tina and I ordered some pancakes and hot chocolate.
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Pingyao is a small town that has kept it real. All the streets look like movie sets, but it’s authentic and untouched. However, to get into the courtyards and museums, you have to by a ticket for $20 that’s good for everything. So even if you just want to see one museum or go on the wall, you have to buy the ticket. But since we started walking around early, there weren’t people manning the entrances so we got into most stuff for free. Then later in the day we tried to get on the wall, but was told we needed the ticket.
Since we didn’t want to buy the ticket for just the wall, we tried to try a bribe. We walked around until we found another entrance to the wall and I got out 20Y bill and folded it up nice and small. I went up the guard house and said we wanted to get on the wall. He asked were our tickets was, and I said, “You mean this?” and slyly offered him the 20. He looked at it, and at me, and said we needed a ticked and closed the door in my face.
We also tried to get into a museum without the ticket by saying we only wanted to enter that one museum, and didn’t want to buy the ticket for everything. The guards were funny about it and wanted to let us in, but then they pointed to the security camera and shrugged. Then a street vendor came over, and at this point there was a whole crowd around us, and started saying things that everyone thought was really funny. Then he led us over to his store.
Having had success with the breakfast-for-tickets deal, I offered to buy something if he could get us into the museum. So we haggled a bit for some stuff, it was going to be really expensive still and I would end up with some bronze piece of junk. So no deal.
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When we arrived back at the hostel to get our tickets, we discovered that the two tickets were not just for different train cars, but for different departure cities! We were told that it didn’t matter what city was on the tickets, just as long as you area getting on after that city and not before. When I pressed him on it, he got huffy and said I needed to trust him. I almost went into how it’s been really hard to trust people in China when it comes to information and procedures – and because they see dollar signs and not people – but thought better of it. Good thing, too. Turns out he was right – we got on the train with no problems.