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Xi’an

Asia, Destinations

A Chinese Thanksgiving

November 27, 2014 • By

Happy Thanksgiving! In solidarity with my countrymen, I ate the steamed pumpkin dumplings and the pumpkin congee (rice porridge) for breakfast. I also spent the morning at Starbucks and the afternoon breaking with tradition and shopping. I’ve reversed my decision never to marry and I am searching for a Chinese man. With this many Prada, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton stores in one city, I think I can find someone who can actually afford me.

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…..And back to our regularly programming of a tourist’s life in Xi’an.

While I mentioned earlier, there are a great number of factories in Xi’an. Agriculture is an equally important industry. They farm wheat, corn, persimmons (whatever those are) and pomegranates. I happen to love pomegranates so when my guide presented me with a slice, I hesitated at first because she cut it in four squares like an orange. She reassured me this was the way to go and I opened wide and gnawed away until she commented that I’m not supposed to eat the seeds. Who knew? I mean I’m fairly certain I’ve had pomegranate seeds for $10 a carton in NYC but I’m clearly not an expert and typically stick to juice. I’ve now devoured two pomegranates and their seeds in the last 24 hours. Hagan Daz can shove it.

I adored my guide “Phoebe” who spent the day with me in Xi’an. Before I visited China, I had a notion that Chinese women were the equivalent to “China dolls” –very pretty, made up and subservient at least that is the reason I thought so many Caucasian men preferred Asian beauties to Irish/German ones. So far, I found the opposite to be true. I am not saying Phoebe isn’t pretty because she certainly is but she dressed like a lululemon or gap version of me and stressed her independence at work and home. Most of the women don’t even wear make up!

When I told Phoebe about my vision of Chinese women, she thought that represented more her grandparents generation. Phoebe and her husband met at tourism school and work at the same company. They married at age 26 and have a five-year-old daughter who is in kindergarten. The both work full time and Phoebe’s parents seem to do most of the cooking and babysitting. I laughed when I asked Phoebe if she cooks and she giggled before responding that her husband does most of the cooking.   Later she revealed, her mother is an awful cook too and her father is the man in the kitchen.

Pingyao, China, China Tourism, Pingyao Tourism

My last view of the Drum Tower in Xi’an Friday morning.

It is widely reported that Chinese women who date or marry foreigners are frowned upon but Chinese men who marry foreigners are superstars. In this very male dominated society, I am rooting for the Chinese women. Phoebe said there is a genuine shortage of Chinese women due to the government imposed one child rule on the Han people, the ethnic majority in China, in the 1980s. She and her husband are both products of this ban and therefore wish to have only one child (although she is wavering maybe). Phoebe made it clear that she and her husband will need to provide for her parents, his parents and his grandparents and that being an only child is often challenging but at least now everyone is available to help her and spoil her daughter.

On a side note, everyone loves a good wedding. Phoebe’s wedding took place at a restaurant for lunch with 100 of her closest family and friends and no wedding rings are exchanged. This is what normally takes place in China. Can you imagine the savings? Start calculating. Unless the dress is $100k, couples are saving a whole lot of money, which leaves me to believe that is why they are sporting Chanel and LV bags. The average wage in Xi’an is about $6,000-$8,000 a month. That is about $750-$2,000 USD and I can’t fathom that salary warrants the number of shopping stores in this city.

The Chinese, however, do put a great deal of emphasis on dressing well. Even in the countryside, people present themselves in a suitable manner. I look like a schlepper compared to these people. Their clothing definitely does not equate to economic status. From what I have seen, even the less fortunate children and families in China maintain good hygiene and dress. I expected rags to some extent in the villages but even the street kids wear intact clothing.

That’s probably why sales people seemed revolted at my outfit while shopping today. Dressed like I was going hiking, these sales people either wanted nothing to do with me or they stood over my shoulder and made me so uncomfortable I couldn’t even browse. Needless to say, once I discovered the entire floor dedicated to cashmere with the average price listed over $1,000USD, I headed to the food court. I worked out all the stores were celebrating Thanksgiving by giving 30-50 percent off merchandise. I only figured this out after I ended up at the Gap to buy a pair of jeans. Get this…my jeans at the Gap in the States cost $50-$70. This Chinese pair (probably made in China) cost $83 BUT ding ding ding…Thanksgiving sale price of….$60 and back to where I started.

Xian, China, Chinese Tourism, China tourism, Xian Tourism

The Muslim Quarter, the Great Mosque

The Chinese are consumers. It’s hard to imagine this country ever slowing down. I want to take a non-scientific survey and see if Apple or Samsung are winning the cell phone war. It’s impossible to walk more than 10 feet without seeing a Samsung or Apple carrier or independent store. Even though Google, Twitter and Facebook are blocked (thank you Judith for the assist), there are some 500 million Chinese online. making China the largest Internet market in the world. While I thought the Chinese were prohibited from “communicating” per se, I was wrong. They may be restricted but they are finding ways around that daily. Until recently, you couldn’t even practice religion (Communism prohibits worship) but now people practice Buddhism openly. Public life is changing rapidly here. It’s like the song from the movie Hairspray, “You can’t stop the beat.” I think the rest of the world better watch out, the Chinese are a powerful force.

Check out the video of my morning in the park:

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The parks may be small but they are clean and open and locals are always exercising or playing games. This morning some older men caught me spying on their “whipping game” (I really hope this video plays or you will think I found myself in a chapter of Twenty Shades of Gray).

Intrigued mostly by the cracking sound, I watched them for several minutes before they insisted I take a try. I took hold of the leash made a few hula hoop moves along with some strong-arm action and attempted to whip the moving oversized thimble. My moves garnered many laughs until one man stopped me and tried to give me a proper lesson: Less twerking more figure eight motion. Nothing ventured nothing gained. I’m just hoping I’m not sore tomorrow.

Taking the high-speed train to Pingyao tomorrow. May the train be smoke free, the bathroom clean and my seatmate a single, handsome, rich 40-year-old something.

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Asia, Destinations

Terra-Cotta Warriors – my intro to Xi’an

November 27, 2014 • By

People visit China to experience the history of Beijing – to visit the Forbidden City and to step foot on the Great Wall but the real secret to learning about Ancient China begins in present day Xi’an and its surrounding areas. The Capital of Shaanxi province in Northwest China, Xi’an is considered the great ancient capital of China. The Silk Road originated here, as did the dynasties of Zhou, Qin, Han, Sui and Tang. In more recent times, Xi’an celebrated the 40th anniversary of the discovery of the terracotta warriors or the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang and that’s why I am here, to see firsthand the spectacular work of the local Chinese artisans some 2,000 years ago.

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The first emperor of China from 221-206 BC, Qin Si Huang, unified China, standardized weights and measures and developed the character writing system used today. In addition to ordering his people to work as laborers and soldiers to build his many palaces and city buildings, Qin also instructed artisans and local workers to build an army of terracotta warriors to guard his tomb in the afterlife.  He died at age 21 likely from mercury poisoning, which is somewhat ironic because he surrounded himself with Mercury “rivers” as a way of protecting himself in death.

In 1974, farmers digging a water well unearthed the discovery of a lifetime. It’s hard to imagine these men working long days in the field and then tapping into bronze arrowheads and color painted clay soldiers. Before the government learned of their find and archeologist sent to investigate, farmers even sold some of the precious relics to make money.

It must have been quite an undertaking for archeologists to preserve these treasures. There are an estimated 8,000 terracotta soldiers: 6,000 in the first pit; 2,000 in the second pit; and 68 in the third pit. Experts believe there was a fourth pit that probably never came to fruition because of the untimely death of Emperor Qin Si Huang. It is believed it took 700,000 people working together to complete the army.

Resembling a real standing army, these clay soldiers were lined up according to rank. Envision rows of life-like cavalrymen, infantrymen, low ranking to high-ranking hunkered in ditches ready for war. There were archers and horses with carriages, even acrobats and entertainers all found outside the city wall of Qin Si Huang’s tomb. Qin’s tomb sits at the base of the Li Mountains where he built his traveling palace. It was a mountain rich with jade and gold – perfect for an emperor’s resting place.

It must be noted that each clay “soldier” looks significantly different. Prior to being exposed to oxygen during the excavation process, the soldiers were painted a a brownish-orange color with white face and colored armor. The detail in their faces is incredible. One soldier may have a mustache or other facial expression, while the soldier next to him nothing. They are truly exact replicas of human soldiers.

At some point, it’s likely the area was looted shortly after Qin’s death and the area set on fire, which allowed the rafters to essentially bury the soldiers in time. It’s overwhelming to see what these people created in 221 BC and with such unbelievable precision and detail. Many of the pits have been sealed off at this time until scientists can figure out how ways to better preserve the soldiers.

There is a great video if you wish to see what the soldiers may have looked like in ancient times.  http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/11/141114-terra-cotta-warriors-qin-shi-huang-tomb-china-archaeology/

Xi’an’s population is about 8.4 million people. In a country with 1.4 billion, it’s relatively small. HA! Understandably, the terracotta warriors are the big draw in Xi’an but it’s also worth catching a glimpse of the ancient city wall that encloses the city. Constructed by the Ming dynasty in 1370, the current wall remains intact today. It’s about 8 miles around and 40 feet high. In ancient times, a moat and drawbridge warded off invaders. It’s stunningly beautiful and most of the businesses in Xi’an remain located within the walls. A bell tower sits on the east side and the drum tower nearby to the west. The people would ring the bell to announce the sunrise and beat the drum to declare the end of the day and sunset.

The bell tower

The bell tower

Xi’an is also home to one of China’s largest Muslim population. There are an estimated 50,000 Muslims living in Xi’an, which was the first city introduced to Islam. Emperor Gaozong of the Tang Dynasty officially allowed the practice of Islam in 651 AD. I visited the Muslim Quarter at “sunset” (I’ve yet to see the sun) and it’s as if people came out of the woodwork. Food vendors lined street after street of narrow alleyways. I don’t know what I was expecting but the Muslims in China resemble Chinese people not Middle Eastern. The women cover their hair but only with a light scarf. Similarly, the men wear a type of white cap but the rest of their attire is jeans, tops etc. I sampled my way through the Muslim Quarter tasting an ear of corn (a local specialty), a type of banana rice sponge cake dipped in vinegar and lastly a rice dumpling loaded with jelly. My blonde hair is not helping me here with the pictures. I tried to take a selfie in front of the drum tower while eating my sponge caked and it fell off the stick. The eyewitnesses giggled until finally after watching my demise, a local took pity on me and snapped a picture.  Visiting the Muslim quarter is like diving into a shoppers anonymous course. If I slowed to take a peak at any merchandise, an army of shop owners crowded my space yelling, “real pashmina, real jade” and I felt compelled to pay attention to their presentation before declining.

In Xi’an, I also finally found the pollution everyone talks about in China. It’s like an umbrella of haze hovering over the city. I feel trapped in a bubble, as I can’t see above most building tops and it’s as if the sky is one giant continuous cloud of gray. When the sun peaks through, it reminds me a bit of light bright from my childhood days.

Why is the pollution so bad? It’s easy to understand. Here in Xi’an it’s the factories and the coal used for heating. It’s about 40F degrees here and it turns quite cold so it’s necessary to heat the homes and buildings. With automobile, aircraft and textile factories dotting the landscape, it’s obvious it creates poor air quality. I’m surprised most people aren’t wearing masks. It doesn’t bother me at all to breathe. I just wish I could see the skyline but give me a mask for the bathrooms!

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