Farewells and Father Christmases
Sun 17 Dec 2006 - Wed 20 Dec 2006 1 °C
All right, I'm going to do this before it all falls out of my head (as these things are wont to do), AND I'm even being smart and writing it out in Text Edit before I put onto Travellerspoint - somehow, every single time I manage to write out a big long involved post about something, TP stops saving it after I've been at it for maybe twenty minutes, and then it stalls my computer an hour after that. Last time it took me two hours to talk down Firefox from its ledge and salvage my entry, and that isn't even an overstatement!
So, let's start with the beginning, shall we?
THE BELL & DRUM TOWER TOUR
One of my good friends here, Ardan (who features in many party photos and was known to me, before I knew his name, as "the German looking for a party"), recently left Xi'an, and so this tour of the Bell and Drum Towers was to officially complete his sight-seeing tour of Xi'an, and clamber around the most prominent image of the city of Xi'an (the Bell Tower) and it's lesser-known cousin (the Drum Tower). To tell the truth, this wasn't anything very interesting. I have been to both before (I wonder if there's anywhere in Xi'an I won't go for the second time), and they are really both excuses to charge Y20 entrance fee and have a look around at the city from a different (and, admittedly, better) vantage point. They're nice buildings, old dynasty-style stuff, and they have moved some interesting artifacts into the buildings from the museum; when I went there five years ago they were just empty halls, as they must have once been, but they now house performance areas and are jam-packed with your average Chinese artifacts and relics.
The great part about this trip was, of course, the company. I went with Ardan, and the other German I know who isn't studying Chinese, Andreas. We had a good lunch before we left, at the street across from the South gate of the university, some delicious noodle soup, and we discussed Germany for a while. I had no idea, before talking to them, that Andreas was born in East Germany and Ardan in West Germany, so when I innocently asked the question about the Berlin Wall coming down, I didn't really expect a rather balanced debate. It didn't get nasty, of course, they're both level-headed guys and took the whole thing philosophically, but it was interesting to hear all about the different perceptions of the unification. We then, later, discussed 9/11 and the aftermath of all that, and it was interesting that we talked about the stories of Where We Were When... for the World Trade Center bombings, but not for the demolition of the Berlin Wall (which they both must remember; Ardan was 10, and Andreas was 9 at the time).
We also saw lots of the Christmas decorations and promotions that were going on around the city. There are two major shopping centers in the middle of the city - Ginwa (expensive), and Kaiyuan (still expensive by Chinese standards, but not as high-profile/designer as Ginwa) - and they both had huge Christmas trees on display at their centers. Most places here in Xi'an also have decorated up their windows, and put their staff in Santa hats, but it all still feels different. Not as serious, I suppose. Which is strange, because for the most part I don't really enjoy the earnestness that some people seem to have about Christmas - the seriousness of the religious holiday or the activist mentality railing against consumerism, or even the increased charity awareness - I just like my Christmas to be fun, silly, and full of happiness. But Christmas here in China seems to be just about decorating things for the sake of it. Another cultural cross-dressing that... you know, it looks okay from the outside, but when you look closer, there's something not quite right about it.
ARDAN'S FAREWELL PARTY
About a month ago, I introduced Ardan to a Korean restaurant just outside of the university's South-east gate. Before then, he had mainly been eating at the university cafeteria which, while it isn't terrible food, isn't the best around, either. After taking him there for the first time, he said he dreamed about it and often waxed poetic about the food, especially the sushi, even when we weren't there. So it was fitting that we started off our farewell celebrations at the Korean place. Attending dinner was Ardan, Niki, Sarah, Luca, Andreas, Malcolm, and myself, and we were probably the largest party to go to the Korean place since we took Sam there. It was loads of fun, Andreas and I kept a whole plate of pork chop to ourselves, we teased each other, and took photos on Ardan's camera with his little tripod. Mum also texted during the meal, once or twice and finally to say goodnight and she hoped that Ardan had a safe flight home. Andreas pointed out that it was possibly the most international message you could ever get: here he was, in a Korean restaurant in China, getting a text message from Australia wishing him a good flight home to Germany.
From the Korean restaurant we lost Niki (she was tired and needed to sleep after her weekend of teaching), but she pointed us in the direction of a bowling hall. The VERY general direction of a bowling hall, and the taxis we took had no clue, we had no clue, and the whole escapade resulted in us walking around very confused, Andreas asking random people where the bowling hall was (once he asked a girl our age, but her boyfriend snatched her away before she could answer, looking very angry. Andreas isn't that scary!), and we had almost given up hope and gone to a karaoke bar when the guard downstairs at the KTV told us where to go. We finally found the place, put our bowling shoes on, and played two games! We were split up into two teams on two lanes: me, Malcolm, and Andreas; and Ardan, Sarah, and Luca. On the second round we gave ourselves funny names - I was Miss Marple, Malcolm was Hercules Poirot, and Andreas was Sherlock Holmes. The lanes were a bit screwy though, and kept stealing balls or knocking over pins or turning off altogether, and at the end of our second set, the lane I was playing on didn't wait for play, but just kept resetting as though the player hadn't scored at all. By the end of it, we were fed up with the lanes, and everyone seemed to be gone (it was about 10:30 or so by this point, I guess), so we headed out back to the karaoke bar.
The karaoke bar wasn't actually a bar, it was a KTV, which is like the MTV I described back in the Taiwan entries. You get a room, a TV, and a machine for your karaoke purposes, and you belt it out in the privacy of your own friends and acquaintances, which means no nasty public embarrassment. Just semi-private embarrassment. It was great, although the room was ridiculously hot and we couldn't seem to get the thermostat to turn down, so all the photos of me are awful, I look like a tomato (it doesn't help we had been drinking beer since the bowling - this probably explained my 39/44 score, but I doubt it); but it was still loads of fun. I managed to figure out the machine and worked it the whole time, picking out some good songs and some not-so good ones, but most of them were so popular I was safe: some ABBA, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Simon & Garfunkel... it was good. But I don't think we can go back, because I think I picked out all the good ones, haha.
After that, it was about midnight, and we weren't really tired and couldn't really call it a night, so we made our way to 1+1 and recreated the end of Jon's farewell party. We hung out at 1+1 for a few hours (the first of which was practically taken up by trying to figure out the drinks orders), dancing and having fun and talking over the speakers we were sitting under, and there was an ice fight, and drinking with some Chinese men (not too much - they were pretty crazy and moved on from us when we showed ourselves to be wimps), and fun was had by, I believe, all of us. Conversation is difficult at a club, and I didn't dance much, but it was fun just to watch and hang out - I like to people watch at 1+1 as much as I like to dance; probably more.
From there, we made our way outside, to be harassed by flower vendors, get our photos taken by the security outside the club, and walked all the way from 1+1 to the Muslim quarter, which we knew had places open 24-hours. It was about 4AM and we ordered 100 sticks of 烤肉, which are meat sticks (we got lamb but you can also get cow's stomach and other such delicacies), three spicy fried rices, and two large fried bread rounds. If you can think of a more awesome after-drinking meal than that (and yes, the six of us did finish all 100 sticks of meat), I will be surprised!
It was strange, though, because Ardan didn't really leave the dorm until Tuesday evening, when we (me, Andreas, and Malcolm) hung around in his room looking at his photos, talking about leaving and other interesting things, and eating pfeffernüssen. Then we walked him to a taxi, officially said goodbye, and that was it. Though... he had to hang around the airport overnight, because his plane didn't leave until 6AM. So a little more than 24 hours after we got home from the going-away party, Ardan was finally gone.
(Yes, he returned safely, though he had to relocate to a hotel because the Xi'an airport closes overnight.)
乾县 QIANXIAN COUNTY VISIT
Qianxian is a county two hours northwest of Xi'an, and my visit there was two-fold. First of all, the school that I work for invited me out to visit the tomb of Wu Zetian, the first empress of China. Secondly, they had organized a Christmas party which would be like a larger version of the Christmas event I did at the regular school here.
The first point was easy enough. Touring is something I do well and, like everything else in Xi'an, I had been to the tomb of Wu Zetian as well. Unfortunately with Chinese tombs, they don't seem to be open. You hear about the opened tombs in Egypt, all the artifacts they got and the history they gleaned from the pyramids and all, but the Chinese have been very hesitant to open their great emperors' tombs, and I have to say that's the way I like it. I'm sure I've said it before, about the First Emperor Qin's tomb, but I continue to believe that it's a smart decision on the Chinese government's part to keep these tombs closed until science has a way of preserving everything within it as it is excavated. Of course, that might just leave everything closed for years and years, people being scared of ruining things, but I still think it's best to leave things were they are. I only say that it's unfortunate they haven't opened it because when you visit, it's not really that interesting. You go to this site, see a mountain, see some statues all around them, and that's about it. Wu Zetian had some foreign envoys guarding her, a path over 2km long leading up to the mountain, two rows of guards - one representing military and the other culture - horses and their groomsmen, and two other hills about a kilometer away representing her breasts. There was a wordless epitaph stone, lions guarding the gates, and big stone constructs leading up to the tomb itself. So, it was interesting, and a spectacular view in the bright, blue skies and sunny day in the countryside, but there wasn't really much to see.
The second part of the visit was much more amusing. Basically what we were doing was helping to promote the Qianxian county branch of the school that I work for. There was another foreigner, a man of nearly seventy from Texas who is in Xi'an pursuing a relationship with a 45 year-old Chinese woman (I would make some awfully stereotypical comments, but Bill doesn't really seem that bad, or lonely, or anything you think of in the case of the older man/younger woman dynamic, and neither does she seem like a gold-digger or visa-hunter. But I digress), and we were both there to help give an air of authenticity, I think, to the organization. The Wednesday before, we had all put together a party, playing games and singing songs, teaching words and being silly having fun, and then this Wednesday, we put it on as a party for the children who attended.
Now, in reality, the party went well, though my performance was about as good as during the last Christmas event; it was more structured and was more interesting, involved the kids better and taught them the words in a fun and engaging way. It was better that they had a translation after we talked about Christmas, and that was fantastic. There was only one problem.
In a room less than the size of a basketball court, we had crammed 300 children, their parents, and we still had to make room for ten teachers and the activities we had planned. It worked out all right, though it was definitely more than a fire hazard as everyone welled up near the only entrance/exit to the building. The kids were deafeningly loud (they were having fun, I guess, and it would have been worse to get silence from a room of 300 kids), I couldn't scream over the top of them to save my life, and at the end of the party when we wound down into a game of London Bridge, everyone started to surge forward and the space in the middle was dangerously pinched. Once the festivities were over, the children sprayed two of the Chinese teachers with fake snow and silly string, mobbing them in the middle of the room and, once all the freon had been released into the room (with closed windows because it was too cold), they surged on Bill and me, trying to shake our hands and say Merry Christmas. That was all well and good, until Bill mistook one of the teachers' motions for the children to move as a sign to bring out the plastic bag of candy. All I have to say is I'm glad I have a little sister, because I would never have been able to wrestle away and hide the big plastic bag from the ravenous crowd otherwise.
Dazed and shaken, everyone took about an hour to wind down from the activities, drank some tea, cooled off (it was freezing before the children came in, but the activity and 300 little mouths breathing helped that), and packed up. We had dinner in the city, I was driven home with two of the teachers (Zhang Jing and Miss Hu) by the very abiding bus driver, and by the time I got back to my room, I had been out for a grand total of 13 hours. What a day!
I won't link pictures (I don't have any from the Christmas party yet, though I hope to get some from the headmaster next week), but they're all up over at Flickr, so take a look!
Next up on the social calendar: Christmas Eve party at Niki's! Which, I must say, promises to be eventful.