Chinese reality hit me in Xian. It’s swelteringly hot, dirtier than Beijing and the people are not so excited about the Olympics or particularly helpful to tourists.
Pete had his camera and audio recorder stolen too which really put a dampener on things. Despite this we’ve been doing some really interesting stuff. On our first evening we wandered around the Muslim area, visited a lovely Chinese-style mosque and ate dinner on a busy, pedestrianised street near the mosque. The street had food stalls and restaurants all along, craft shops, crickets in small cages, musicians and all sorts of other characters trying to make a bob or two.
We got to see the Terracotta Warriors which was amazing. They were really impressive with hundreds of life-size soldiers standing to attention in the largest of the three pits open for viewing. Despite the crowds it really is a stunning sight.
The town of Hancheng, a few hours out of Xian, was a welcome relief from the steamy, dusty, noisy city. From Hancheng we visited the fourteenth century village of Dangjiacun which was also very interesting – and quiet.
The hotel we stayed at in Hancheng was a bit strange. It was a very nice hotel with one of those credit-card type keys that you slide into the lock, but we didn’t actually get a card/key for ourselves. Every time we wanted to get back into the room we had to hunt down the fuwuyuan (the attendant in charge of the floor) and she opened the door.
Having been in Xian for a few days I’m remembering what I found difficult about China: the surging crowds at train stations all looking for one of the limited number of tickets (they seem to be even more limited now than they used to be); the noise; the dust; the pollution. It’s easy enough to get discouraged but there’s definitely another side to it. Every now and then you meet some really friendly, gentle people and eat great food and see some amazing things. I’m remembering why I’m so fascinated by the place.
I’ve been finding it hard to be enthusiastic about things over the last while. My camera and audio recorder were stolen from my bag a few days ago. I still don’t know how they managed it. I checked my bag when we left the train station and when I checked it again 10 minutes later the bag was open and my camera and microphone were gone.
I’m usually extremely careful with my bag and my gear. To be fair though, I was a little distracted that day. I was throwing something between a big huff and a small tanty on account of the heat, the noise and the endless games of frogger we have to play every time we cross a road. On top of that we’d just queued (I use the term loosely) twice in a massive, noisy, pushy and selfish throng at the train station only to find out that we couldn’t actually book a ticket anyway.
Over the next day or so I threw a few fairly major tanties I’m afraid to say – there was nothing huff about them. I didn’t really want to do much anymore – mostly I just stayed in our fairly peaceful hostel and tried to relax (i.e. sulked).
Susan, who was pretty upset about it too, was very patient with me. Eventually she talked me into getting out of Xian and going to a small town and a village a few hours away. That was really nice. People were so much more friendly there and we ended up having a really nice time.
I can be a bit more philosophical about things now. I know that it’s really not a big deal. Many people lose so much more and for much worse reasons. Many more people never even have a chance to own such things in the first place. But still…
I think whoever stole my camera might be a little disappointed. I’m not sure it’s worth very much. It’s over four years old and it was never a top of the range model. I really liked it though – it gave me a little more control than most “point and shoot” cameras and it always did what it was told. Anyway, it’s gone now and luckily we have a second camera that we can use – so it’s not too big a deal I guess.
Losing the audio recorder is what upsets me the most. I was really getting a kick out of recording the sounds throughout our travels. I take a lot of notice of the sounds around me most of the time but my memory of them is really poor (I think maybe it is for most people – don’t know). To hear some of those sounds back again is a real treat – it can put me back in a place much better than a photo can. Maybe I’m being a bit of a prat but I don’t reckon that whoever stole the device will get as much enjoyment out of it as I did.
I was cheered up a lot in a temple in Hancheng. We met a group of school kids there – they kind of swarmed in on us. Their teacher told us (told Susan actually – he didn’t speak English) that they don’t get to see foreigners much and so he asked if we’d be in a photo with them. To get everyone ready to smile he said “Yi, Er, San, Qiezi”. I didn’t even need Susan to translate that one for me. I kind of guessed the “one, two, three” bit and “Qiezi” I know very well already because it’s one of my favourite dishes. It’s eggplant! They do absolutely amazing things with eggplant here – we have an eggplant dish pretty much every day. “One, two, three, eggplant!” – kind of strange huh.
“Qiezi” is pronounced something close to “Chi-etz-a”. If you say “qiezi” out loud, your lips will make a pretty similar shape to what they would if you said “cheese”. This came as something of a revelation to me. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this but I kind of assumed that we say cheese for a photo because something about cheese makes us smile – maybe it’s the memory of Tom and Jerry cartoons or something about cheese being yellow and kind of soft but not too soft and sometimes with holes – I don’t know. I’d never stopped to think about the mouth shape before. It seems obvious now I guess.
I wonder what people say for photos in other languages?