My daughter popped in my office early. She was supposed to be at school this morning at 7:00AM for a field trip. It was now 5:45AM. “Aren’t you supposed to be there at 7:00AM, my love?” “Yeah. I want to get there early.” “Alright. Let me get dressed for the gym.”
She was off to Ping Yao, in Shanxi this morning with the rest of her eighth-grade mates. I remember Ping Yao. The Mrs. and I visited the remarkable, medieval city back in 1998. I don’t think it was the must-see destination it is now. I don’t believe it was called out in the 98’ Lonely Planet. I suspect we’d heard about it by word-of-mouth.
I told my daughter about what it was like to stand above the main city gate. I remember looking down into the inner courtyard you’d need to walk through to get to the second city gate. Innocuous architectural flourish until it was explained that this was a defensive measure. Invaders who made it past the front gate, would be trapped inside, before the second gate, with high walls all around from which archers would fire down on them. Worse, there were rolling juggernaut devices with spikes protruding that could, it was explained, slaughter dozens of invaders with one roll down the incline. Woe to the vanguard invaders, certainly. But once the main city wall had been breached, one can only imagine it would only be a matter of time before the invaders surmounted the next one, over the bodies of their impaled comrades and they would unlikely find themselves in temperate mood with the townspeople who’d let loose these horrible medieval machines.
“Wait. There’s a book. We bought a book when we were there. Let me find it. It was a nice book. There are some great pictures. Where did we put that book?” “It’s OK dad. We’ve got to go.” “Right. You remember this Buddha here? This was from Ping Yao. We got it on that trip. It was really heavy to carry.” “I know. It’s heavy. Do you have the house key?”
Driving over I went on for a while about how Ping Yao had the empire’s (and therefore the world’s) first banks. The first place to figure out lending notes, and bullion at interest. And though Ping Yao could have become London or could have become Shanghai, the center of Chinese commerce moved on from Ping Yao, leaving the city frozen in time, preserved for what it was. “What are you guys going to do there?” “We have teams and we have to look for stuff. And then we have time to explore. Shop.” I tried to imagine her there, with her friends in the city of my mind’s memory, with two decades of tourist accretions, tourist compromises.
We parted ways once we were through the security gate at school, I carried on straight ahead to the gym and she went right to pick up some things she said she needed for the trip.