月曜日, 8月 09, 2004

Dichotomies in Xi'an

    Rich and poor; dirty and sparkling clean; beautiful and ugly; ancient and...well, pretty old--that's Xi'an. The ugly, dirty, poor side of Xi'an that you see if you walk the streets is nauseating. There are poor beggar children, hardly more than toddlers, who chase us on some of the streets holding out their hands for money; Melanie started carrying a bag of fruit to give them.

Dirty Street, Xi'an
Originally uploaded by moglet.
There is another street we always have to walk by to get to our hotel where they keep chickens and other animals; it reeks of slaughter and offal. That street is wet and slippery, with such a nauseating smell that Mel and I were genuinely afraid of it at first. A moment's inattention in that street could result in being hit by a car or bike or slipping and falling into the disgusting mess.
    On the other hand, there are upper and middle class people in Xi'an also. We walked into one of the big department stores and we could have been back in Japan; immaculate, pricy, with all the latest fashions. The guys we met at a nightclub last night were middle-class. The street poor, although few in number, command our attention the most at first, but they are by no means the only people living in the once-great western capital.
    My favorite thing to do here is simply to talk to people in my limited Chinese. This morning I went down to get breakfast from one of the street stalls. I had hot soy milk in a plastic bag with a straw, and a thing like a tortilla roll-up with shredded carrots, fried egg, and spicy vegetables inside. I talked with a man we bought a dirty, travel-sized Chinese checkers set from yesterday and his wife came out and talked to me also. That was probably the highlight of my day because they were really nice to me. We talked for maybe 45 minutes, in Chinese because they don't know any English except for a few words.

On the Xi'an City Wall
Originally uploaded by moglet.
Afterwards, Mel and Roman and I rented bikes on the city wall and rode on top of the wall itself. It's a really cool wall. It's from 700 AD or so and still sturdy enough to ride a bike on. But we couldn't go all the way around the whole city, because part of it was torn down and we had to turn back.
   At the bottom of the south gate of the wall Mel and Roman bought ocarinas from a souvenir vendor. I didn't buy one, but I was impressed with the plaintive sound of the ocarina as he played it to demonstrate. One thing I like about China is the diversity of the music. I wish I brought a tape recorder with me to record the interesting Chinese music I hear. It's strange because lately I've been completely bored by Japanese music and music in general. I rarely even buy or rent CDs. So Chinese music is great for me. On our first night in Xi'an I heard a street performer I really liked. I would have stopped to listen to him longer, but Mel had just had her first encounter with the aggressive beggar children and she burst out crying and went into culture shock. So I felt like I'd better just go back to the hotel with her and the others to make sure she was okay.
    On our first full day in Xi'an, yesterday, I started to feel a lot better. Until then I'd had a constant headache from the smog. I was enjoying the trip, but I didn't feel my best in Beijing or on the Great Wall. Then, apparently my body finally acclimated, because my headache cleared up and since then I've felt fine. Now I can really enjoy the rest of the trip. It was yesterday, the day we went to see the Terracotta Warriors.

Terracotta Warriors
Originally uploaded by moglet.
We went in the morning. We watched an exciting surround-screen movie which explained the significance of their discovery, and then we saw the actual terracotta warriors, which were discovered in 1974. There are thousands of them, and they are not all excavated yet. The coolest thing about them is that they all look different, with different facial features, hairstyles,etc., and in fact they were modeled on real people. We see a lot of modern historical simulations these days in movies and video games. Seeing the terracotta warriors was like seeing how ancient people simulated themselves. Military formations, hairstyles, armor, weapons, all reproduced down to the last detail in clay by their contemporaries. Their expressions when you look in their faces are so poignant. Some are smiling haughtily, but others merely look resigned to their fate. Some are sad. Some are limbless, lying in crumbled bits. Those soldiers really did lose a battle, but the battle was against time.
    In the evening we went to dinner at a Chinese-Brazilian restaurant and then to nightclubs where Mel and I were hit on by Chinese men. It was so great. As I said, the touristy stuff isn't so great here because it's so dirty and tiring, but it is fun to just talk to people. So at the disco we got to talk to these guys who wanted to dance with us and give us drinks and cigarettes. The guy I danced with was such a crazy dancer. I've never seen anyone dance like that in Japan. He asked me how long I'd be in Xi'an and seemed disappointed that I was leaving tomorrow. Will I ever be back? Probably not. It's sad. But it was so much fun. We also talked with some drunk French girls traveling through China. We stayed out till 2. I'm also enjoying watching a bit of Chinese TV. The food is pretty different from what we're used to, but I'm starting to like it too, especially the breakfast food at the street stalls. So let me leave you with that, my positive impressions of China. I have to go soon to take a quick shower and get on the train to Shanghai.



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