May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets’ towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkey’s howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches where storms come and go as lightening clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you---beyond that next turning of the canyon walls. ---Edward Abbey (thanks Trudy Hall)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Mid China: Ancient Xi'an and Splendid Yangshuo

Emma Willard with Asian hairstyle
Good idea, slit toddler's pants and let em go in the street, carry a bag.  Fewer diapers in the landfill!
 21— We arrived in Xi’an and while we waited at the train stop, we watched people.  Do you know we see a lot of young toddlers with slits in their pants and no diapers?  I suppose you would carry around a bag like you do when you walk a dog in the park when they poo?  When I think about the environment and loads of diapers in the landfills, it seems like a really good idea!   Melody from the hostel found us and took us by bus as a pick up.  We found a spot in the alley to eat some noodles.  It’s handy that most places have pictures of food that we can point to.  Even KFC has a card they hand to tourists. 
Model of an ancient Banpo Village

You can't argue with Banpo man

Can you mass-produce dragon/lions by hand
Silk worms and pods: washed, stretched
You can buy your own warrior or horse here.
Model of Qin Shi Huang in his luxurious coffin
Rug Maker
May 22—We got red bean porridge (not my favorite) for breakfast and we were off on a tour with one other (Indian) tourist.  We grunted and sighed when our first stop was a “silk factory.” There was no factory, only a demonstration of silk worms and cocoons, and how they can stretch the cocoon into a large sheet to use as batting for a comforter which, of course, you can purchase in the next room along with clothing, scarves and hats made of silk.  We hoped this tour was not a shopping trip in disguise.  Our next stop was an exhibit of an ancient village excavated from the side of a hill. The Banpo people dug their homes in the shape of a square or circle and planted poles in the ground to support a roof of adobe-like material.  The fire in the middle solidified everything so that it was rainproof.  Then we went to a factory where they made tiny likenesses of warriors and displayed some huge ones too.  This too was a shop, where the only way out was by walking a zigzag pattern through all the various items for sale including kites, furniture, silk items, rugs and more.  UGH. Next, we went to a walk-through model of the tomb and city of the first emperor of China: Qin Shi Huang.  The idea of this was mind-boggling.  This emperor had people building an underground city (buildings adorned with precious gems) around his tomb site with a map of all of China as the floor, with rivers flowing with liquid mercury and mountains of silver and gold.  His coffin of copper and gold floated in the scene.  All this was made based on a prophecy of a great king, took 38 years to make and buried all the artisans along with him in the tomb.  Of course he had 100’s of 1000’s of slaves also working on making him an army for the afterlife that guarded the tomb.  People have uncovered a massive amount of these soldiers on one side of the tomb, while experts anticipate each side to have the same treasure-trove of army figures.
terracotta horses and chariot driver

Jack as Warrior!

Warrior parts still embedded
A very small amount of the life-sized soldiers.  There are 1000's!

Terracotta detail and size

Archer found whole

In situ

Get me outta here.  I can't breathe
So, after lunch we went to the Terracotta Warriors exhibit!  Outside the entrance we were taken to a store, where the man who first discovered the site while digging a well sat and signed books or posed for photos for a price.  We all stared at each other awkwardly before going into the museum.  The scope of the exhibit was unbelievable.  It was difficult to imagine that these figures were actually life-sized.  Each soldier was unique, and possibly based on the people from all the provinces of China.  I imagined the artisans (slaves) looking at the likenesses of their own selves as they made them.  Fascinating too was seeing the progress made from total reconstruction, to excavation to be started.  The pieces of the figures were crushed in many cases; one would have to be a good jigsaw puzzler to do this job.  I enjoyed the life-sized horses with drivers behind; the wooden chariots were burned in a fire, or disintegrated.
Xi'an Drum Tower sounds the beginning and end of the day

The Great Mosque Gardens
Chinese Muslims called to prayer

Beautiful lettering

Minaret disguised like a pagod
After we got back (reminded that the tip was not included), we went to the train station to buy tickets to Shenzhen.  We were one day too early, so we found a bus that would take us to the drum tower and great mosque.  We wandered around looking for the mosque, pointing for the word “mosque” in the phrasebook, and found it down some thin corridors.  We paid for a ticket and got a fabulous map with bus routes on it.  A distinctly Arabic-Chinese fusion decorated walls, formed the minaret that looked like a pagoda and clothed the Muslim people.  The beautiful gardens lead up to the prayer hall, and we heard the call to prayer as all the tourists groups suddenly disappeared.  We made our way back to our hostel by bus, after enjoying a cheeseburger at McDonalds.  I didn’t think it would happen; but it did!

May 23-24—One question we didn’t ask about the airport shuttle is how often it runs.  We were going to catch it at 9:30, but it goes on the hour.  So we caught a cab to the downtown area to catch that bus, minutes before it left.
Omeida Language College where we taught

Students at the College

West Street is the tourist area of town
Guilin and Yanshuo Landscape

Dentists work in the front wind
Jennifer teaches Les the 4 inflections of Chinese Languag
Check in was super easy; and we were met in Guilin by a taxi sent by the Omeida Language College, where we were to spend the next week teaching English.  We wanted to buy a train ticket to Shenzhen, but our host said it would be better to do it on line, so we sailed through the magical landscapes of vertical hills to Yangshuo.  The driver dropped us at the school where Lindy had volunteered years ago.  Odar greeted us then returned to his class.  We stowed our stuff in a nice, clean, roomy en suite dorm, with squat toilet and spray nozzle on a hose shower, a wonderful fragrance of sandalwood and two full-sized beds.  Upon returning, we already had assignments to talk 1:1 with VIP students who had paid extra to talk with native English speakers.  My first students were Sean and Summer.  We talked lots about travel, body image for young Chinese women, mold making and the clothing retail industry.  The next day, Rick and Lynn also talked about clothing retail, Chinese geography, how to end a word without another “ah” sound after it, and fabrics for the clothing industry. 
 The third day CC and Fiona discussed how to make the “L” sound, the difference between the sounds f and v (“Laugh all you want.  I’ll never love you!”), life on the farm, how delicious are dogs, and lakes and islands in a province near Shanghai.  I am certainly getting a real education on things Chinese.  We are expected to write up a response and evaluation for each encounter.  I don’t know the standard, and we are to grade them with an A, B or C.  In general, grammar and fluency are very good; pronunciation and vocabulary are the areas where the most work is needed.
...on the street where we lived...

 It’s stimulating and fun to work with students who are eager to improve.  Les charms and entertains them with his grand physical responses and examples.  We learn how to say “waiter” with big gestures going up, down and around as we say fu-wo-yan.  Lynn invited us to eat rice noodles with her and her friend Jennifer.  They are both enthusiastic students who talked with us about being cheated in China.  Sometimes it’s just restaurants asking for more than they should, but another example is that they fear helping a stranger because it could be someone who will accuse them of hurting him instead, and then demand hospital money.  Because of this, they will let old people lie in the street before helping them up.    I saw a boy carrying the back of a bike that was locked.  I asked a local girl, “Is that boy stealing that bicycle?”  Les followed him, and I went looking for a policeman, but the girl didn’t want anything to do with it.  We went to “social hour,” a gathering of English students and fluent English speakers.  We played an interactive game around the table, then just chatted.  None of the girls had a glass of beer.  I wonder why.  Also, I never see girls smoking, but SO many males smoke.  Lindy said that even the government encourages smoking.  One thing though, the air is much less polluted here; Les coughs much less and no longer wears his dust mask. 

Boats dancing in between huge strips of red fabric
The huge, natural scene of the performance
performers carrying torches
Women with nude unitards and sheets danc
May 25—One of the highlights of the day after our 1:1 sessions was seeing the spectacular show by film director Zhang Yimou, who also directed the Olympics opening ceremonies.  Wow.  The scene included 12 “karst” peaks lighted in various colors and a section of the Li River on which glided all kinds of floating things.  600 men, women, children and fishermen perform two shows each evening for an audience of over 1000 people in the open air seats.  The performance started with a woman gesturing gracefully with a song in a small traditional covered boat, then bamboo rafts skimming across the scene between thin strips of bright red fabric.  Soon people with torches and songs came from EVERYwhere; even a buffalo and calf came out on a long dock as fisherman carried sticks on their shoulders with live cormorants flapping on them.  Children on the hill to the right rode their bikes into the distance, as we saw a typical rural town scene emerge.  After a section with a large crescent moon and a dancer making it rock, and then girls (sporting hair extension ponytails that fell to their ankles) bathing and running among the white laundry, it grew dark and from the distance came women in LED lit traditional costumes seemingly walking on the water, holding hands in a long line. This line didn’t end until the entire area was full. 
The one-dollar dinner place we frequented
It was like the famous scene of Le Bayadere  Of course the perfect timing led them into light play where they turned on and off their costumes cleverly.  Before the scene was done, people started getting up and leaving.  They were still making magic and out went the audience, in came the clean up crew.  How strange?!  When I asked the Chinese students they all said that that was normal.  OK, new country, new ideas.
Delicious home-made dumpling

May 26-27—Weekend: blogging catch up. Today’s highlight was going to Winne’s place for homemade dumplings.  (Lynn and Jennifer invited us.  CC, Cecily [a teacher] and Seba joined in.)  I watched Winne heat oil and toss in dried chilies until they were almost black, then pour just the oil over some vegetables, saving some of it to go with the garlic and vinegar for dipping the beautiful and plentiful dumplings.  After we ate, I grabbed the guitar and taught them to sing “Bamboo.”  We got up and danced some cha-cha and swing, and sang some more.
Les and birds...

New hat
Sunday we went for a stroll to the touristy and popular “West Street.”  There was a pair of silk pants for 250 Yuen that I was surprised easily came down to 40.  Les made friends with a couple of parakeets while we sipped expensive coffee.  I finally found a huge visor that you can see through!  I can wear it riding on a bike.  Also I found the water bottle I’ve been looking for to replace the one I lost.  I bought some langdon fruit, but gave it back because 4 little fruits cost the same as two dinners we’ve been having. 
It’s funny going to the store.  We see all these things that are vacuum packed; are they grapes or green olives?  Octopus or intestines?  Chicken feet—how do you eat them?  Oh, these looked like apricots on the cover, but no….  Snickers bars—yes, we know that, but is this beverage milk or yogurt, and why isn’t it refrigerated?
Recycling System in China
Also, what do we do with our garbage?  Apparently we dump the bag into a barrel out front and folks go through and sort it for recycling.  It’s both gross and incredibly important, I think.  I can let the important outweigh the other for the sake of the environment.
Cherry was the coordinator of teaching volunteers
I’m reading a thin book I picked up in India about the Dali Lama’s speeches about the environment.  I stupidly thought that I could bring it to the English College when I was done so they could practice.  Duh!  It’s probably contraband here in this country.  Freeing Tibet is not something to play with here.  The Dali Lama is very VERY critical of China for “invading and desecrating” his country.

Biking in paradise
Rafting on bamboo rafts down the Li River

What IS this?

Everyone wants Les's hat
May 28—We rented bikes (<$2 a day) and rode around getting lost and found again.  We had a great cup of coffee and a so-so ham and cheese sandwich at the Orange Tree café, then sailed along a nice bike trail past vendors and along the beautiful Li river.  We stopped to listen to bullfrogs (on one hot pot menu along with braised cat) and watched fish bob for some floating white fruit too big for their mouths.
We went back to work and I met Happy, who is a make-up artist hoping to join his brother-in-law’s business in cable; and William, a personal trainer who is looking for a foreign woman to marry—maybe in New Zealand.  These sessions were videotaped to help them see the progress they are making.  The best part of my conversations included how having freedom isn’t really something that is that important.  Responsibility to family is essential for a happy life and a feeling of security.  You take care of your parents; your children take care of you, and so on.

Duck, yum

Rodent.... eh, culture shock for me
After watching a movie (Bruce Almighty) with some of the teachers and students, we stopped in a restaurant and were seated by all the animals that I assume will be someone’s dinner.  We used the phrase book to order some sweet and sour pork and sesame noodles, but they didn’t taste so great.

"Braised Cat" ?
Was it because I was watching the little mole rat fight for his life each time someone walked too close to him?  Turtles in a dry box?  Pigeons silently looking out of their cages?  Snakes, one bubble-loving eel and a variety of fish in dirty tanks of water?  I got a little culture shocky and went home feeling strange.  As it turns out, that feeling may have been the start to my bladder infection.  Thank you doctors for giving me Cipro! 

May 30—Other than teaching, highlights included a long bike ride in the countryside, sailing past fields, animals, ponds, new buildings and people to say “Ni How” to, or to say “Bu Yow” to their invitations to buy flowered headbands.  We found a little used smooth cement bike trail, and my one-speed tooled around quite easily.  We ended up near a great temple, an ancient banyan tree, and passed the butterfly spring on our way back to town.  After teaching our host Odar invited us to a very nice dinner.  We had so many delicacies.  He is one of 4 brothers who have started schools in the area—each with a different focus.  One brother has volunteers come into the local schools to teach, another has a school where they trained teachers to teach English.  I had been looking for a simple silk blouse to buy, and they took me to a place that had a perfect one without a lot of bling and color.  The nightlife in the West Street area of Yangshuo was bustling with loud bars, lit up cafes and crowded dancing places.  Yawza!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sue - could that picture with the drapy objects be noodles? I've seen that noodles need to be hung for a bit before cooking; not sure what the science behind it is though. Maybe to let it dry a bit so it doesn't clump up too much when boiling...