Friday, July 3, 2009

Across China - Part I

When I first arrived in Xi'an, near midnight and bleary-eyed from travel, I noticed this quote, attributed to Confucius, written across our dorm building.

Xi'an is a sprawling, dusty city. The capital of China during the prosperous Tang dynasty (618-907) today Xi'an is in a constant state of construction and flux. Plans to build a subway cause debris to ripple down the center of many major roads and driving takes on a new kind of chaos.

I strolled down the ancient city wall, erected during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), and peered across the city. The virtues and pitfalls of a rapidly growing economy could be seen here. Every direction saw buildings being rapidly constructed - and just as common were giant office buildings being torn down, those left half-built and vacant, or newly built and clearly abandoned.

Despite being enveloped in a city, there are always spots to linger. In fact, on the XISU (Xi'an International Studies University) campus there was a large park where students gather Thursday nights to practice their languages. There I noticed that Kazakhs were an important ethnic minority at the school. One could hear Russian, Spanish, French, German, Thai, Japanese and various dialects of Chinese coming from clumps of chatting students. Though they never hesitate to involve you in conversation, it certainly made me wish I had a knack for languages.

Men crowd around an intense game of Chinese chess.

Survival Chinese scrawled across a chalk board.

Hasty brush strokes during an introduction to calligraphy.

One bright and blue-sky (for China) day our class was challenged to a basketball game by local students.

The game began to draw quite a crowd from passersby. It was the week for sitting exams; there was already a certain tension in the air.

Very close - in the end we managed to pull it off.

Of course, one can not visit Xi'an without visiting the legendary Terracotta army.

I was particularly struck by the fact that the horses were as individual as the warriors.

One note: I knew China was taking the H1N1/Swine flu seriously, but hadn't anticipated men in a sort of Biohazard suit filing into our plane upon landing. We were told to remain still while they pointed 'temperature guns' at our foreheads in order to detect fever. If anyone was deemed ill – that person and everyone three rows ahead and three rows back was to be carted away to quarantine. There was one older man who evidently had a fever and they spent a further ten minutes running some on-the-spot tests on. When one of the suited men flashed the thumbs-up, declaring the passenger OK for entry, there was a collective sigh of relief and enthused applause. A strange experience to be sure.


Matt Mullenix said...

Awseome! Glad to see you back!

Andrew Campbell said...

Great pictures and captions, Lauren! We had a similar experience 4yrs ago going from Mongolia to Kazakhstan when SARS was still in full bloom. Actually, I realise that you'll know the departure lounge at the Olgii airport -- but imagine a 70yr old Mongol woman pointing something similar at your forehead to see if you could board the plane. And after you'd paid 1000 tugrik for the privilege.

all best

Lauren said...

Thanks, Matt!

Andrew, that is too funny and very interesting re: your SARS experience. I can only imagine the scene! You'll have to tell me about your trek to Kazakhstan one day.

Isaac said...

Hi Lauren,

I spent a week or so in Xi'an a couple years ago, it's a pretty cool place. The terracotta warriors are pretty amazing. I was amazed at how HUGE the whole complex was. That's a heck of a lot of soldiers in there! Crazy to think how much time and dedication it took to create and place them all! Anyway, you're pictures brought back some good memories. Looks like you had a blast!