Summer in China 2013

Small girl, big China, one summer.

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Day 13: First day in 西安 6/8 - Saturday

Yesterday, I was worried over nothing. This morning, I was woken up by 徐阿姨 with a call from the (tour guide) saying that they still had room on the tour and I had to get ready by 7:40 am.

For breakfast, I ate a 馒头 (Chinese steamed bread) with a (salted duck egg) in the middle.  I ate it along the way to the meeting point in front of a middle school where I was getting on the tour van. It just so happened that my time in 西安 coincided with the second day of 大考 testing. 大考is the big college entrance exam for seniors in high school. Unlike the SAT, it is given only once per year and your score on the exam basically decides what college you will be going to. If you do poorly, you have to wait a whole year to retake the exam. 大考 is serious business. Even though there was still an hour and a half to go before the exam started, there were already lots of parents lined up outside the school, with their children who were each carrying a clear plastic pouch holding pens, pencils, and their student IDs only.

There were 7 of us in total in the group and we had four main stops planned for the day:

  1. 西安半坡博物archaeological site of the Neolithic Banpo settlement
  2. – Terracotta Warriors
  3.   – Li Mountains
  4. 清池 – Huaqing Hot Springs

Sitting in the front were the driver and (tour guide). She seemed pretty young, maybe late 20’s?, and spoke into this very static-y speaker system. In the second row were the dads of the two young boys who were sitting in the back. I shared the third row with an older sister who’s mother was in the back with the boys. Packed into a barely air-conditioned van, we drove off listening to the muddled explanations of that day’s route by the tour guide. 

First stop of the day was 半坡 (Banpo). We followed one of the specialty tour guides around, listening to the history behind the Banpo settlement as well as a description of the different artifacts we were looking at. There were a Neolithic settlement, very matriarchal (hell yes), and buried their dead in a number of ways. It was interesting, but also kind of dull. Probably the most exciting part of the visit was after the guided tour had ended. I was exploring the rest of Banpo exhibits when wandered into a building that housed China’s 100 most popular last names. (Wang) is number 2 behind (Li) and before (Zhang). Each of the hundred last names had a statue dedicated to it, and in from of the statues hung trinkets signed by other visitors who also shared the same last name. I whispered my hellos to my fellow brethren wherever they were and made my way back out to the front gate.

Our second stop was the one I was most looking forward to. Anyone and everyone who has a chance to go to 西安 should go see the . There is nothing quite like seeing hundreds of Terracotta soldiers lined up below you in a space bigger than a football stadium. This time, our guided tour was led by our tour guide. I silently wondered if this was so that the company could save money or if she actually knew what she was talking about. I decided that it didn’t really matter to me either way. She made quick work of the three main buildings that housed the uncovered soldiers. There were barely any pauses between her explanations at each stopping point so it was difficult to take the time to really take in and enjoy the view, nevertheless take some photos. At the end of her tour, we were given another hour around the exhibits and I took my time with those.

I had quite a mix of emotions when looking at the exhibits. On one hand, it was really quite amazing what was accomplished by the artisans of China passed. Each of the Terracotta Warriors has a different character: a different outfit, face, expression, and other details that make it unique. The intricacy and detail that went into the making of each one is quite astounding as well from the braided hair to the ornamentation on the clothes and even tiny grooves on the bottom of the shoes. It was also quite sad to see the exhibits of broken warriors, whether they were destroyed by fires or rummaged through and wrecked by enemies. Chinese history is full of glory and amazing technological and cultural feats, but on the other hand, there were also moments of turmoil and power struggle.

On the way back, we passed by a sign for Biang (a type of wide noodle that is a famous local dish of the 西安 region). The word is super difficult to write and does not show up on any Chinese input program. There is also a little rhyme to go with the song for people to remember how to write it. Go check it out in the photoset! The actual noodle is made by stretching this long strip of dough so it is roughly an inch wide and several feet long. The bowl of “noodles” that you consume when you order this dish is actually just one single long noodle. Some say that you are supposed to squat on the bench you are sitting on so that you are hovered over the bowl. This allows you to continually slur up the noodle and eat it until it is all gone. 

For the third stop, it was off to (Li Mountain) which is the mountain right above the Hot Springs. It was nothing special. Because it was supposedly “too difficult” to climb up and back down the mountain (Chinese people are so out of shape…), we took a gondola up and walked back down. Along the way we passed by a few temple structures that depicted the four seasons and the two prized fruit of the area, pomegranates and persimmons. We also passed by a fun raised walkway of 铜钱. It was quite difficult to stay on top because the metal was rubbed very slick from all of the others who walked the “walk the road to wealth” before us. Besides some foggy views and some semblance of a brief history of the mountain, I didn’t think the trip was very worth while.  

Lastly, we visited the 清池. Here we also got a tour guide to show us around the hot springs where the emperors used to come in the cold winter months to stay warm and bath in the natural hot springs. Because the water that seeped out of the ground was well over 35˚C, there were troughs dug all around the grounds of the springs so when the warm water flowed through, the water heated the ground and the air close to the ground. Another specially of the springs was the natural jade in the water. There were four major colors of jade, which each had their own special properties that were supposed to be geared towards different groups. The pink were for young ladies, white for children and the elderly, black for men, and green was universal. We were led to a fountain that sprouted natural spring water and rubbed the jade(s) that were our colors. Let’s see if it improved any of my luck and good fortune. I found the tour guide at this attraction especially funny. The tour guide talked really slowly and always looked each of us in the eye fore exactly two seconds before moving on to the next person. It was rather strange and uncomfortable. I guess because they have to repeat the same spiel over so many times a day that it’s really just like listening to a talking robot.

What really irked me was at the end of the tour, the tour guide deliberately took us to their jade shop, made us sit down, and started advertising their products. The moment I walked in, I knew we were being scammed. I looked around with pity at the people who were arguing prices and different marbled markings on the jade because I knew the price they were going to be paying for the quality (real or fake) of jade would be far less than ideal. I booked it out of there as fast as possible when they started grinding the jade together to show that the quality was “superior”. Instead, I walked around some more, taking pictures of things along the tour that I did not have a chance to capture before.

I had been perfecting my one-man photo taking skills all day, either with my one-handed selfies or asking someone else to take a photo for me. My boyfriend taught me how to pick out people with the big fancy cameras around their necks because they would probably know how to set up a proper shot. (A skill he learned last summer in London.) An especially embarrassing moment was when I wanted a picture with the large statue in the middle of the fountain. Because there was a tour group that was hogging the lime light, I patiently waited for them to do their stuff and then snuck on when I saw no one else in line, I set down my bag and I gave my camera to a boy and his father who were standing nearby and got my two pictures, one portrait style and one landscape. As I was heading back to retrieve my belongings, I stepped on a slick spot on the marble damp with water and did this half-split which turning in mid-air falling on my butt and hands kind of trip. And of course, I shrieked. (How embarrassing!) That was probably the most exciting and terrifying parts of my entire trip, and after those shenanigans I was about ready head home.

Unfortunately, the fun does end there. The ride home was horrendous. Just minutes after we got on the car, the sky opened up and out fell a torrential downpour. A river was literally flowing down the street we were driving on. More accurately it was the river we were floating in because we only moved one block in 90 minutes as the rush of water flowed past us like a bubbling brook. What little I could make out past my blurred windows was a scene out of a story book. There little cars and people on bicycles and mopeds that looked like they had water wings, flying on top of the river. I was amazed they could even move in so much water; how did the engines not shut down?

When I finally made it home 3 hours later, I was exhausted and not ready to face the cheeky uncle just yet. However, he seemed to have noticed my frustration yesterday and apologized for upsetting me. That was just the way he is, and he meant no ill will. I felt quite a bit better after accepting his apology and because I had my wits about me today and poked a couple of jabs back at him 

The entire experience of going with the tour group was not as bad as I had initially imagined. It was a good experience to have once, but I would prefer not to have to take this route again in the future. While I spent last night regretting coming to Xi An in the first place, I am now completely grateful for my new experiences, especially seeing the Terracotta Warriors. Tomorrow will be more if a city day where auntie and I will climb the city walls and explore the market streets to taste the famous 小吃 (street foods) of 西安.

Filed under light blog xi'an 西安 tour groups suck terracotta warriors

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Sorry I fell off the edge of the Earth, but I’m back!

To all of you who are following my blog (or just tuning in) I send you my deepest apologies. The only excuses I can come up with are:

  1. I have very limited access to internet in China and even when I do, it is very limited and slow
  2. IUP is a very rigorous program, which keeps me pretty busy most of the time
  3. Light told me that I should enjoy what limited time I have in China and not worry about all the petty little things (such as keeping a timely blog..)

All of the above are true and you may choose which if any you choose to accept as a valid excuse. But with the summer semester of IUP winding down (only two more weeks left) I thought I should spend some time catching up on what the other two months of my summer was like :P

Thanks for sticking it out with me!

Filed under light blog return from the dead apologies china is better than blogging

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Day 12: Shanghai to Xi’an

After getting to bed late last night, I woke up around 9 am, which is quite late for me. 大伯 was in the living room getting some work done, so I showered and took some time to pack my bags. I’ve ben getting pretty good at this lately. Packing my bags that is, so much traveling!

大伯was supposed to spend the morning with me and then we would meet with later on in the afternoon for lunch and then it was off to the airport. However, 大伯 had to run into the office to take care of an emergency that came up and was also swamped at work. In the end, the revised plan was to have uncle drop me off at a restaurant down the street so he could go to work and I would walk home afterwards. Then, he would come back a little before 3 pm to take me to the airport for my 5 pm flight to 西安.

With the new plan put into action, I wound up having brunch at a Korean restaurant all by myself. Nevertheless, it was quite the experience. Before I had even entered the restaurant, they asked me to take my shoes off and either wear the slippers they provided or go barefoot. I chose the latter. The set up of the restaurant was split between Korean and western style. Some of the tables in the main dining room were set up in the western style while others were in the Korean style with low tables and cushions on the ground. I was put in a room with a big window. The table was set up in such a way that it was low to the ground, but the space under the table was hollowed out. They way, you could either kneel or sit normally, but be close to the ground either way.

Scrutinizing at the menu, I really couldn’t decide what to get. Equipped with 150 yuan and a growling stomach, I was choosing between a mushroom medley, bibimbap (stone rice bowl), kimchee stew, and kimbap (Korean version of sushi). My final decision was the mushrooms and bibimbap, which were both delicious. I was hungry so I finished both plates spotless.

After the meal, it was time for me to make my way back home. I only had a swipe card, a key, and an umbrella, and the rain was relentless. Already aware of the fact that the entire bottom half of my body was probably going to be soaked by the time I get home, I started off on the 15 or so minute walk back to the apartment. The entire way back, I wary about how I would get back inside. The swipe card was for the door into the apartment complex and it was a little tricky. This morning as I was waiting for 大伯 to get the car, I tried to the open the main door by swiping the card across the interface in various ways. It was no use. The door refused to open. 大伯 informed me that I had to swipe the card over the specified area to unlock the door. If that didn’t work, he also gave me a numerical code. I was nervous. Thankfully the outer door was already open when I got there. By the time I dried off and got all my stuff together by the front door, 大伯 had come back and we were off to the airport.

The flight to 西安 was smooth. I was picked up at the airport by 徐刃阿姨 and her friend because 徐阿姨 doesn’t know how to drive. Neither of them had a very good sense of direction outside of the city so the hour and a half drive back was filled with their bickering about which exits to take and whether or not to listen to the GPS that seemed to be giving them false directions. From what I saw of Xi’an this first night, it seems to be to be a very busy city with wide streets and lots of flashing lights. Around the area where they live, there is a very big night scene with lots of bars and college aged people walking about in the dark. 徐阿姨’s apartment is a 5 minute walk away from the大雁塔 (Big Wild Goose Pagoda) so there were also lots of tourists and other foreigners milling about.

The climb up to the apartment was a daunting 6 stories. This would later prove a daunting task after an entire day of walking and hiking. I walked into an empty apartment with a spacious living room and three bedroom, one of which would soon be occupied my me. Auntie Xu’s husband, 叔叔, was flying in from Beijing tonight, so he wasn’t due back until 11pm. It was only around 9 pm so we decided to walk around the大雁塔 square. Moments after we got back, 叔叔 also arrive. He is a history teacher at a middle school. He is a very knowledgeable man who has a solid command of the Chinese language, but the way he talks is very sarcastic and joking. He likes to poke fun, but in an innocent I-don’t-mean-any-harm manner. However, I took it the wrong way. 

I didn’t like 叔叔 very much at first. I thought her were inhospitable and mean. I was frantically typing away on my laptop to try to catch up on my blogging because I was getting quite behind at this point, but he kept going on and on about kids these days and how they always just sit there on their laptops all day everyday. I told him about I am studying Chinese at Tsinghua under the generous scholarship of the Light Fellowship. And, as part of the deal, I was supposed to blog about my experiences. He seemed to understand this, but wouldn’t stop bothering me about it. I was getting pretty worked up at this point.

To make things worse, my itinerary for 西安 was not yet set so 阿姨 was trying to set me up with a tour group that one of her friends was connected with. I had been under the impression that they were going to be the ones to show me around, so the thought of going around with one of those pesky tour groups was not very appealing to me: the tour guide with their loud speaker and raised flag, the hoards of people congesting the walkways, and the time limits at all of the attractions. I rather despised tour groups. I tried calling my mom to see what the deal was, but 阿姨 needed a yes/no to the tour group within 10 minutes. My mom was pretty ticked that they had not scheduled my visit better and she going to see if another friend could take me around instead. However, I didn’t hear back from my mom for a while and I couldn’t decide if I wanted to go with the tour group or not. I ended up telling her no just before I called my mom and found out that she couldn’t get into contact with friend and I should actually go with the tour. Then 叔叔叔and 阿姨 started saying how I would half to travel around by myself because they had to go to work, but it wouldn’t be easy because I didn’t know the way and everything was in Chinese and I wasn’t very good at reading Chinese, and on and on and on. I was ticked. 

I realized I never really went out adventuring on my own. Aside from that one time I took a taxi by myself, I usually had someone else with me as support. After all of this talk about how much I love adventuring, I guess I felt kind of defeated. I was tired from these long, strenuous days and the constant interaction with new people who peppered me with questions and judgments about growing up in America. I can’t really remember the reason why not, but all I know is that I felt very much alone and angry. I was probably homesick as well. It was only after much talk therapy with the boyfriend did I calm down and realize I was very much over reacting. Did it really matter how is saw 西安 as long as I saw it? Anyways, there was not much I could do about it at that point and I might as well get in a good nights sleep for the next day. Heeding his advice, I went to sleep much too late being much too worried about how the next day would unfold.

Filed under light blog shanghai xi'an 上海 西安 tour groups homesick korean food