Thursday, December 16, 2004

If you love dirt, you'll love Xi'an

But first, a few things I accidentally left out about Beijing:
  • When we left for China, the war in Iraq was getting going pretty good, and Anti-American sentiment around the world was rising. We were honestly concerned about this and seriously considered answering those who asked that we were Canadian, British, or anything other than American. (We were guessing that they wouldn't be able to distinguish accents very well.) As it turned out, very few people asked, and those that did were genuinely interested in befriending Americans. They probably didn't get much news about the war from their government anyway. On the street, we were aware that we stuck out, but decided that most people just keep their head down and don't make eye contact. If you do break that "barrier" that people in densely populated cities carry, they are genuine, friendly, inquisitive, and trusting people. You may be tempted to bring one home. Don't.
  • One of the pictures I posted is of the Back Lakes Region. This is one of the more trendy parts of Beijing with lots of night clubs and restaurants. I wish we had known to spend more time here, as it looks like a lot of fun. Most of the restaurants are walk-up, but there looked like a couple on little islands in the lake that required the gondola-like boats.
  • While strolling around the lake at Qian Hai (pronounced Chee-ahn Hi) we happened across the most amazing thing the three of us had ever seen: Ballroom dancing. Don't get me wrong, I've seen ballroom dancing before, but this was 150-200 people spontaneously gathered at this little park after dark dancing to music broadcast from someone's boombox. It was clearly an impromptu gathering, as noone had costumes and the music was running off of a car battery. I caught it on video, but it's too big to post in my usual place. (aside: If anyone knows of a free server that'll let me put a 10M mpg video up, I'll happily share it.)
  • Traffic in Beijing is something else, and you know how much I love traffic. Jaywalking isn't a problem because noone lives long enough to do it twice. But still, sometimes you gotta cross the street. This is accomplished by walking out into traffic, right up to the edge of where a car is, was, or will be. It is Extreme Frogger.
  • Cars in China, similar to those in America and elsewhere, have horns. They are used with great frequency and vigor regardless of whether you or I (or the other drivers) consider it an appropriate time to honk the horn.
  • Trips to the Great Wall and other daytrips from Beijing are common so the hotels generally have pre-arranged tours with local companies. Part of EVERY pre-arranged tour, whether its on the printed itinerary or not, is a stop at either a cloisonne factory, a silk mill, a jade factory, or some combination of the three. At worst it's an excuse to get out of the car and stretch your legs. At best you get a little tour of a factory with people making 50-cents a day. Your driver gets a kickback whether you buy something or not, so don't feel pressured. (aside: I'm not an expert on either, so it wouldn't be fair for me to pass judgement on price or quality. "Average" on both is a safe bet though.) On the plus side, the English spoken here is excellent as compared to street-vendors.
Xi'an- Gateway to the Silk Road
Xi'an was the first true "capital" of China dating from before the 2nd century B.C.E. when the first Qin (pronounced Chin) Emperor unified several warring states. Xi'an is at the edge of the desert and is the eastern end of the Silk Road, the traditional route linking East and West, and has only recently been repaved as the 90% Rayon/10% Spandex Road. (aside: Dryclean only.) When you first arrive in Xi'an, you're surrounded by beautiful farms and fields, which gradually yield to the hole that is Xi'an the city. Dusty, industrial Xi'an is neither beautiful nor beautiful. We stayed at the Sheraton, which is reasonably located just outside the city center, and even more reasonably priced. The Bell Tower Hotel is right in the middle of the city, and looks charming from the outside, but with the 24-hour stream of cars, trucks, and buses I wouldn't want to stay there.

We arrived early enough in the day to visit a museum called the Forest of Stone Stelae. A stele is a stone tablet with either a picture or inscription carved into it. This museum has something like 13,000 stone tablets, most of them as big as a Hummer, dating back a thousand years or more. The inscriptions include Confucian writings, laws, memorials, poems, and a recipe for walnut brownies. There are other carved-stone relics here including buddhas (buddhae?) and various other creatures. A pretty neat (and quiet) little museum.

The Forest is in the shadow of Xi'an's city wall. Like most cities, the citizens of Xi'an built a defensive wall around the city. Fortunately Xi'an's still stands and is well maintained. It's relatively flat, so for a couple Yuan you can climb up (stairs) to the top of the wall and stroll around. You can even rent bicycles, but the bikes don't have shock-absorbers and the cobblestone surface isn't exactly genital-friendly.

That's enough for tonight. I'll create a new album and upload more pictures. As before, you can click on the title of this entry for the link.

[Next: Why'd we come here anyway?]


At 7:26 AM, Blogger Badaunt said...

Dusty and industrial, eh? And not beautiful? As not-beautiful as Japan, you reckon? (Aside from the tourist spots, of course.) Hmm... maybe I did make the right decision...

I still want to visit Xi'an, though. I have a couple of students from there, and they assure me that it is beautiful. You must have been looking in the wrong places. My students never lie. (Their English isn't good enough.)

We did New Year Resolutions in class a couple of days ago, and one of these students wrote: "I will go to home fast," and the other wrote, "I will go out from Japan fast." So even if Xi'an isn't beautiful, it can still inspire considerable homesickness. (Of course it could be *Japan* inspiring the homesickness... come to think of it that's equally likely.)

At 7:30 AM, Blogger Badaunt said...

Just looked at the photos, and if those pictures are supposed to show how unbeautiful Xi'an is they have failed miserably.

At 7:45 AM, Blogger se7en said...

Wow, those stone stele are pretty impressive, and the fact they care enough about their history to put a mini-carport of sorts over them for protection gives me a whole new respect for Chinese culture. Ya I am a history buff, sue me, lol

I would imagine just taking a cab ride alone would be a cool adventure, not to mention what you see once arrived.
I appreciate all the effort you are putting into this, thanks!

And again the pics are totally coolioso =)

At 10:56 AM, Blogger Allie#3ga said...

excellent story telling....i like this series of posts!

At 1:12 PM, Blogger Zelda said...

I guess Xi'an is the Chinese equivalent of Pittsburgh.

At 1:13 PM, Blogger tinyhands said...

Theic- Well, beauty is relative isn't it? The drive from the airport went through a part of town that looked like it had been bombed...that first impression stuck. A much smaller city than Beijing, I'm sure Xi'an appeals to those that know it best. Naturally, I avoided taking pictures of ugly stuff.

I really liked Japan. In Tokyo we stayed in Shinjuku which is nothing but neon, skyscrapers, and asphalt. But when we took the shinkansen to Kyoto I was pressed against the window the whole time. I really liked Kyoto.

Lucky 7- I love history too, which makes travelling outside the US so fascinating since we have little history. And I too was surprised at the care the Chinese people have taken with their treasures. Cab rides are interesting because there's so much to see in between the places "worth seeing". I've got mental video tape of hours of stuff like the picture of an ordinary street from the Xi'an city wall. I wish it were possible to share everything. I'm really glad y'all are enjoying this.


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