Thursday, July 12, 2007

Dongbei ("The Northeast") part I: Xi'an

Following the 3.5 weeks I spent in Lanping, Liuku, and their environs, I hightailed it back to Kunming for a week of unwinding/marathon paper writing/eating lots of Western breakfast food (one of my favorite coffee shops, Salvadore's, sells a dynamite "American Breakfast" that actually tastes American for Y20, about $3.) Some of the guys in the program went to Tibet for the last week of ISP, which cost them a huge amount of money. I was really jealous of them (still am), but then they had to pull several consecutive all-nighters to get their papers done, not something I would have been keen to do. In the end, as suggested by the fake birth announcement I posted awhile ago, my paper (which was about the stories Nujiang people tell, the attitudes they have about those stories, and the factors that affect those attitudes) was a massive 36 pages long--the longest thing I've ever written. And I gotta say, it's pretty good. I got my grades back last week, in America, and apparently my teacher agrees (sly grin.) Well, where else but in your own travel blog can you indulge in blatant back-pattage/horn-tootage? So I say: good on me.
Moving on.

Anyway, besides writing we also indulged in DVD watching, scooter riding, and club/bar hopping(the only time I really went out in Kunming, it was actually a lot of fun, the clubs in Kunming are sort of hilariously garish with backup dancers and Karaoke and way to much in the way of lightshows. There was also, inexplicably, a clown walking around one of them.) We had a series of days where people gave 20-minute powerpoint presentations about their topics, which were alternately interesting and kill-me-now boring. Could have been planned better (do you really need to cram 7 hours of presentation into one day? Seems unneccessary...) On the last night, Justin had a huge 21st birthday party for him and two other of our tripmates at this cafe/bar called Halfway House, and everyone drank and schmoozed and danced and listened to terrible rap (Justin had brought this terrible white expat rapper to perform at his party, basically just for the entertainment value.) It was a good way to rap up our Kunming time...

...Because the next day we got up at 4:30 AM to take a 2.5 hour plane to Xi'an, almost smack in the middle of the country, south of Beijing by about an 11 hour train ride. Xi'an was the geographical center of China for a long time, when China was on a smaller scale, and it's been continuously inhabited for something like 11,000 years. It's a huge city, with a very different feel than Kunming, and much more polluted, very "Eastern China," but we saw some pretty sweet things there. The first afternoon, John, Tania, Sophie, Mike and I indulged in some MacDonald's (I had a small fry and it was AMAZING) and then explored the Muslim quarter, which is very atmospheric. We bought several presents in the souk (marketplace) and sampled some local cuisine, including a kind of nougat with raisins and nuts inside and a weird fried sweet thing rolled in sugar and nuts.

The market in the Muslim Quarter of Xi'an

The Xi'an Drum Tower, right outside the Muslim Quarter

After several hours of exploring we were hot and tired, so we went to Starbucks (hooray!) I'm not a huge fan of Starbucks generally, I like to frequent little local-owned places. But just walking into the lovely, airconditioned building was like walking into a little piece of America. Every Starbucks ever is decorated the same way, bless them. And so we spent a few hours drinking coolattas, fooling around, and enjoying ourselves.

Tania and Sophie at Starbucks, a little bit of America in the middle of Xi'an

Spotted just outside of Starbucks: Oh my God! It's Xue, in Xi'an! But wait, Xue is in the US this summer! It's Xue's evil twin!

The five of us started spending a lot of time together on this last trip. We explored, got meals, got bubble tea, watched movies, played stupid games (one of them involving sips of bizarre pineapple beer in a twist on a "Mulan" drinking game.) As we were walking back to our hotel from one jaunt out, I stopped at a magazine stand to buy some water. The man who helped me actually spoke the best, most fluent, and most accentless English I have encountered in a Chinese person here. He told us to call him "Mr. Johnston" and then pondered "that last name's possibly Scandanavian descent." We nodded mutely and I wondered when the last time was that I used the word "Scandanavian." He told us he's been studying English on his own for more than 20 years and practicing with the foreigners that come to his stand. I guess it goes to show that you never know where you'll find a scholar.

The next morning we got up impossibly early to drive to see the Terracotta Warriors. I'd been to see them once already with my parents, but they were worth going again, especially when someone else was paying my entry fee. The Terracotta Warriors are part of the 4-square-mile tomb of the first Emperor of the United China (as opposed to before, when the Dynasties just ruled little bits). He had a full-size to-scale army made for him out of clay, to ensure his continued rule in the afterlife. Every face of every archer, every horseman is different. They all have individually detailed hair. They were even painted, although you can't see the colors now. And that's just the part that's been dug up-- apparently a sizeable part of the Emperor's tomb has yet to be unearthed, including what sonar has identified as the Emperor's coffin resting in a pool of mercury (you heard me.) Pretty intense stuff.

The Teracotta Soldiers

Next time: Beijing adventures, SIT says goodbye

1 comment:

Marianna said...

POOL OF MERCURY!? AMAZING! When are you going home? I'm curious if you, too, are going to beat me home.