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20051222_P_0087
With Jimmy and Johnny
20051222_P_0115
Confucius he say "you pass exam"

We woke to a sunny but hazy day. Stef got a great shot of the sun rise through the clouds and misty air which surrounds the city. We ambled down into town for some breakfast, stopping at a little café in the main shopping street which served western breakfasts. Stef’s cappuccino came in a really swanky decorative cup, not what I had expected to see in China, more a top London restaurant type of thing.

With our cash supplies running low we found the local Bank of China branch and with surprising ease got extra cash. I think I had expected it to be a long winded and complex process like we have encountered in India but no. On our way there, a young man caught up with us in the street and started to chat away in English. With our Yangshou experience fresh in our minds we were both wary expecting him to be a tout who would turn nasty when we declined to buy whatever he was offering, but no, he seemed genuine enough.

As we walked back past the Shan Hu Lake, the same thing happened. This time two students, Jimmy and Johnny, caught up with us, coming up on either side. They also just wanted to have the opportunity to practice their English One was studying law, but expected the bar exam to be very difficult. He was not very confident and whilst the potential earnings are attractive to him I am not sure if he has the burning desire to see it through. The other chap was studying to be an English teacher. He very confidently chatted away, steering the conversation. They asked if they could bring some of their classmates to meet up with us again tonight so that they could all practice their English. If we had given them the chance I think they would have spent al day with us. We agreed to meet again in the evening but they did not turn up.

In the afternoon we went up to Solitary Peak Park, just a short distance away from our hotel. On the way we were stopped again. This time by a lecturer from the art college based within the Park who had a very bad excess saliva problem. He also chattered away for ages. He was headed in the same direction as us so we made our excuses and went off to buy some drinks before turning back to the park. We ended up with the feeling that we had been followed during the day as we met this chap again in the park and also the first one who had chatted to us this morning.

The park is the site of a limestone karst and also the old Prince City. It is a walled enclosure and you enter through a large, decorative gate. A path leads you through to the Chengyun Hall, where guards in costume open the doors and girls in more costume show you which way to walk around. It was originally built in 1372 but has since burned down and been rebuilt. Only the steps and the carved stone railings date from the original buildings. There was some sort of museum inside but the information was all in characters so we could not really make anything out.

From here we walked further into the city towards the Resting Palace. In the square in front of this palace local students were putting on a display, it looked like music and dance. The buildings behind here have been turned into galleries to display the student’s art work and behind here is the Solitary Beauty Peak itself. A cave below the peak was used as a reading room by Yan Tanzhi, a famous Chinese writer, when he was the governor of Shianjun County. Tablets of writings were engraved into the cave wall.

Neither of us felt like climbing up to the top of the peak to see the views from here. Instead we walked behind it and went into the Confucius Temple and examination house. Passing the Confucius exam was a pre-requisite for people to work in government positions and students would come to pray at the temple for success in their exams. The examination hall itself was outside. Three long rows of small cubicles formed private and enclosed spaces for students to sit the exam. They would walk in, sit down and then pull down the desk behind them to sit the exam. Stef had a go but I am not sure that his picture of a bunny would have made the pass mark!

At the back of the city is a small lake, in a crescent shape. As with the river, the water levels here were very low, so low in fact that there was no water left in the lake. All we could see was the drying out cracked mud at the bottom with piles of building rubble. It was still a quiet and relaxing place to stop for a while and as we did we could hear the music students practising piano in the block behind us. It was divided into individual cell sized spaces, each with just enough room for a piano and for someone to sit and play at it.

From the park we walked back to our hotel along the river. Jimmy and Johnny had said that the water levels were always this low at this time of year. People were still managing to scrabble around in the bottom for fish in the few pools of water that still existed. The river bank here was lined with stalls selling bits and pieces for tourists, but the sellers had to drag themselves away from their games of cards any time a prospective buyer turned up, there were simply not enough people around to keep them busy all day. Touts were out along the river trying to persuade people to go on a bamboo raft trips similar to those we have seen elsewhere.

We stopped for a late lunch by the hotel and that was the end of the day for me. I had been pretty bunged up all day and a migraine strength headache was pounding away in my head and I simply had to crash out. Stef went down to meet the students who did not turn up, and he later sorted out our train tickets to Kunming but we just had a very early an very quiet night in.