Monthly Archives: September 2011

Wo xi huan Xi’an!

Xi’an is an incredible city. With a population of about 6 million people, it is considerably smaller than Beijing, but it more than makes up for that in character.

The connection to the past combined with its modern pulse make it an incredible place to visit. Peking University, where my program is based out of, is far from the center of Beijing. Sometimes, this can make life feel quite isolated. We are surrounded by students and academics 24/7, and I would venture that they are not fully representative of the rest of China’s population.

Last weekend, we took a group trip to Xi’an, a once capital of China. Although now mostly known as the city to stay in if one wishes to see the terra-cotta warriors (often referred to by our tour-guide as the eighth wonder of the world), it is an amazing place within itself. Our hotel was blocks away from the center of the city, and it afforded us some amazing opportunities to explore.

If there was one thing that stuck out about Xi’an, it was the food. While there, we did try the city’s famous yangrou pao mo, which consists of small pieces of heavy bread torn into small pieces with lamb meat and broth ladled on top, but it wasn’t very tasty. The consistency was glue-like and the meat was minimal. What made up for this was the street food: walking along one of the market streets in the Muslim quarter, I was surrounded by amazing different dishes being prepared. From the Chinese sandwich, a piece of heavy pita-like bread split open and filled with cooked beef, to the chinese tostada, fried in a giant pan of oil filled with pork and vegetables, it more than met expectations of how amazing Chinese food can be.

Across the street from our hotel was a small restaurant which was quiet during the day. At night, however, the sidewalk filled up with tables, where one could order a number of different dishes: delicious meat skewers, very spicy noodles, and a type of fried eggplant. The variety and quality (especially for the price) could not be beat.

The rest of our time in the city was spent touring around the famous sites. Our excursion was led by the most tactless tour guide I have ever encountered: although polite at the beginning of the tour, within no time at all she was very disagreeable and just overall seemed to dislike the group. Nevertheless, we saw some pretty amazing things.

The Terra-cotta warriors

I won’t give you the entire history, as wikipedia does a much better job, but these stone guards for the Emperor are a sight. It’s almost eerie as they stand in their rows, life-size, all with different facial expressions. We didn’t spend a ton of time at the site, but enough to see how extensive the set-up is. There are approximately 6,000 terracotta warriors, ready for battle.

We also spent some time checking out the city wall. Built as protection for the city, the wall is about 15 miles long and well-preserved. Within the city, there are many large skyscrapers, shopping malls, and other buildings, most of which light up at night.

Xi’an was a vibrant and exciting place, and definitely my favorite place I’ve visited in China thus far! It was also nice to sleep in a bed with real pillows and just be in the center of things for a change.

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Tomorrow, I’m heading to Shanghai with my friend Mitchell on the high-speed rail, the second-fastest train on earth, for national day. We have a week off from classes, so it’s going to be a nice change. Now, off to prepare an essay and study for a Chinese quiz…

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Coming up next…

Just wanted to drop a quick note on what’s coming up in the next few days!

-The program is flying to Xi’an for the weekend to see the terra-cotta warriors and experience the old city. It should be pretty remarkable. We leave campus in about 45 minutes, and I won’t have any access to internet until I’m back late Sunday. It’s about a two-hour flight, and I’m excited to get out of Beijing for a little bit to experience a different part of China.

-My directed independent study project, China’s Strangers, will be launching next week. And yes, it involves you, dear readers!

-Just made plans for National Day/Week in China. It’s a huge holiday, so we have a whole WEEK off from classes. I’ll be headed to Shanghai, and I’ll tell you more about that trip as the itinerary gets confirmed.

On a personal note, we had our first quiz in Chinese language class today and it was a bloodbath. I was destroyed. Just had to throw that in there.

Now, I’m off to pack, find my passport, and get ready.

As always, thanks for reading! If you have any suggestions, cool blogs/sites for me to check out, questions, or just about anything else, leave a comment!  I’ll talk to you all again on sunday or monday.

To play us out (what does that mean, to play us out!?), here’s a picture of the pagoda and lake on the Beida campus:

A quick note on Troy Davis

As you may or may not know (and if you’ve been following my twitter feed, you certainly do), Troy Davis was executed this evening in Georgia.

Although I am studying abroad in a country that executes more people annually than any other, I am an American, and that is the country that I have power over.

The charade that was Troy Davis’s appeals process and final execution was abhorrent.

From the huge amount of doubt surrounding his conviction, to the circus of a 3 hour delay as the Supreme Court debated granting a stay, to his final end, this case represented everything wrong with the American justice system and our bloodlust.

Collecting my thoughts and emotions about this moment will take a while, and I hope to write a more extensive piece on the death penalty and its effects in the coming weeks. For now, I’ll leave you with a status copied from my facebook.

“Tonight, my country has failed me. Today, I have lost much pride in being an American. Today, the United States justice system has failed. And we could all suffer the same fate as Troy Davis.”

A lesson learned

This picture will make sense in a minute...

I learned a lesson today, not the hard way, but it was nevertheless a reminder. This is China. Even with its often Western trappings, this country and culture can come and metaphorically stab you from behind at any minute.

One of my best memories from when I first started listening to the Harry Potter books on tape (now there’s a dated reference!) was the narration and voice work by Jim Dale. A talented actor, he absolutely spoiled the movies for me, as he made the books come alive in my imagination.

One of his best voices was that of Mad-Eye Moody, the slightly off-kilter auror. The characters most memorable quote, a phrase that the character repeated endlessly and Dale practically screamed, was this:

CONSTANT VIGILANCE.

It’s a very apt mantra to keep in mind while in China. After dinner today, I went to one of the on-campus convenience stores where I regretfully buy my bottled water. After purchasing the bottle, I noticed that it was a bit dusty. Thinking this was not a big deal, as it is an open-air convenience store, I started to open the bottle.

But it was already open.

I said last post that 50% of the bottled water here is contaminated, and here’s a real example. The bottle had been refilled and then sold on campus. I know, this is a long post for such a short anecdote, but it threw me off guard because, well, it was on campus. But you can’t trust any product here. Anything could be fake. It shouldn’t have surprised me, as all of the drink sellers at the Great Wall collected our old bottles, most likely selling them refilled to unsuspecting tourists. I discarded the tainted beverage, not prepared to argue my case to the shopkeeper in Mandarin, and bought a carefully inspected bottle.

Water is the least of China’s counterfeit worries; whenever you spend a bill of large denomination, the cashier puts it through a scanner to make sure its real. There are reports of tourists being served fake alcohol, sometimes including anti-freeze, at some of even the most reputable bars. There are even stories of rat being served on the street, presented as either pork or beef. Those are some of the more unsettling examples, but they serve as a reminder of reality: This is China.

Constant vigilance.

PHOTO: Mao and Me…

Photo by Mitchell Felton

 Does much more need to be said? A landmark location for Beijing, China, and the rest of the world.

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