Tuesday, June 23, 2015

News from China

A Much Needed Boost of Energy from St. Joe
(Short Blog Entry for a Short Visit)

            Yes, I have (mostly) loved it here on my own—living, learning, being—as Xi’an has gone on without a worry or concern for this American. And, yes, I have immersed myself into a routine during the ten months; building a connection with my students, taking in the culture, haggling over a head of broccoli at the local open-air market, perfecting my stir-fried veggies while still clinging to an early morning cup o’ joe from Starbucks; taking in a museum here, a pagoda there, a subway ride to a distant art village, but… BUT, I must say that after a while, well, homesickness has occasionally crept in and I have had to resort to a little bit of Thich Nhat Hanh to affirm that I am, indeed, still breathing in order to keep it at bay.  And then, happily, there was a visit from my dear bff, Rosie Lammoglia. The ten days we had, exploring, visiting sites, and simply hanging out to watch some DVDs of American TV shows (namely, The Newsroom—take that Michael Charlton!) brought me a second-wind for the months leading up to my inevitable departure from behind the Great Chinese Firewall.
            Our first stop was the famous Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum. Now, I know Kay and Z have also visited the site, and scrolling back through previous blogs will reveal her (different) review of it. The place is impressive. It’s fascinating. It is something I have wanted to see. We had a driver for the day (¥200, about $35) because it’s an hour’s drive northeast of Xi’an and difficult to get to via subway and bus. We also had a tour guide for ¥150 (about $25). 

The guide told us the history of the site, of farmers who were digging a well some forty years ago and how one of the farmers sent buckets of dirt up to his friends while he toiled down in the hole. He hit a few pieces of what he thought was pottery. He had the sense to know what he found was possibly important, so his friends pulled him out of the hole and he insisted they alert authorities. It turned out that his find was huge—an army protecting the First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, in his afterlife. Now the farmer, who is still alive, receives ¥1000 per year ($160) as a stipend. (A measly hundred and sixty bucks a year for one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in China. Meanwhile… ah, well, I won’t.) The photos show the enormity of pit number one and how a hole for a well turned into rows and rows of warriors and horses and carriages and weapons (and hundreds of millions of tourist RMBs). Pits numbered two and three are less dramatic, with only a few rows of excavation having been completed. For some reason, along the walkways of pit two, there is an enclosed glass case that holds the only undamaged warrior of all the thousands of warriors they have uncovered. It’s actually very cool.
            Yet, simple photos don’t quite capture everything about it. I mean, until recently, former President Clinton was the only foreigner allowed down in the pits, other than archaeologists. But they don’t call me lucky for nothing. Yeah, Rosie and I had a good time.

            During other days, we shopped and ate and saw fireworks and strolled amongst huge lanterns atop the city wall during the spring festival and New Year. One of the best places to visit in Xi’an is the Muslim Quarter, which is close to the Bell Tower. The Quarter is a few narrow streets of some shops offering knock-off designer labeled purses, wallets, and watches, while other shops sell cheap knick-knacks made in China (like selfie stick extensions for cell phone cameras, tiny plastic toys, and small silk purses). Other vendors cooked up “stick food” (wooden skewers) with squid or quail eggs or mutton.  The streets are always crowded and moving along takes time. However, Rosie and I continued to walk until the crowds disappeared and the streets widened just a bit. We came across a restaurant with about six tables inside where three women sat while making dumplings for a steamer. A young cook came in and grabbed bamboo trays full of the dumplings and went back out front to steam them up. Rosie had the mutton and I had the veggie. Delicious! The restaurant was a great find. Most of the time at the Quarter, though, was spent strolling through the crowds, haggling over satin robes or chopsticks or anything else that looked interesting to us. Fun, really.

          And then, unfortunately, Rosie had to leave. It was a sad day, but I will be forever grateful that my dear friend took the time and spent the money to travel halfway around the world. It was a great visit for both of us.
            Recently, I got back from my visit to Lhasa, Tibet. It was incredible and whatever I write about the experience, well, whatever I write just won’t cover how amazing it is. But…I’ll save that for now and send along another blog entry about it in a few weeks (when I’m making my way back to the States). Until then, see you all sometime in August.

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