A Travellerspoint blog

Two Days: Two Parties!

Jon's Farewell Party & Advent Crêpe Party

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JON'S FAREWELL PARTY: Sunday 10 December 2006

I'm not sure how much I've mentioned Jon. In this blog, probably not very much, and I believe I've been calling him John with an h, because I didn't know until he gave me his email address that it lacked an h, so I suppose he needs a bit of an introduction before we say goodbye to him.

Jon's an American guy from Brooklyn, a philosophy major at American University. He's studied Chinese for two years at college and before he left he had been here for coming up on a year. He is a phenomenal Chinese speaker. He's just one of those people that's really outgoing, has no fears about saying the wrong thing, and I don't know how but he has an amazing vocabulary recall and seems to learn even the most obscure vocabulary words. He's in my class at school and, obviously, he's a pretty popular kid; he's just got one of those laid-back personalities and even a laid-back sense of humor, a sort of "whatever goes" attitude but not in that annoying "I don't know what I want" sort of way.

So, when we'd gathered together everyone he knew from the dorms and a few Chinese kids he's really good friends with, there were nearly thirty people in attendance. It was incredible, and lots of all sorts of people. I knew most of them, being in my class or having been at Niki's Halloween party, or having gone on the school trip to Henan.

It did, however, create problems when it came time to find somewhere to eat. The place we originally wanted to go to couldn't find room for us, so we wandered to South Street and went to a buffet. That was okay, I hadn't eaten all day (and had frozen my toes solid watching a football/soccer match the French guys are in) and I managed to scarf down a whole lot, but the food wasn't really that great and we all got split up between tables, so it was less of a Jon-oriented meal than one where we just sort of divided into our little cliques and ate some food.

Then we went to the world-renowned 1 + 1 club on East Street. (I only say it's world-renowned because kids in my Chinese class in Australia who had visited Xi'an knew about it, and I'd always heard about it.) I had yet to go to 1 + 1, either this time or the last, and it's a really nice place. I've only been to one nightclub before, and a jazz bar, in Xi'an, so it's not like I'm versed in nightlife, but it was definitely a really nice atmosphere. People there are used to foreigners being there, they probably expect it (though, I didn't see any other foreigners while we were there), and it's got good music and it's really clean. It feels a little bit like a maze to walk through, which is not really that fun when you're drunk, but I definitely liked the clean feel to it, mostly because it's so different to everything else you experience in Xi'an.

It was really much like your average night at a nightclub: drinking, dancing, and general frivolity. There are some highlights, though, and for brevity's sake I'll list them (but you all know how my lists go):
1. The drinks: Budweiser beer, which were Y25 each! This is absolutely exorbitant given you can get a 500ml bottle of Chinese beer right outside for Y3. We also got some Chivas whisky (which I think sponsors the club, given the amount of advertising), which they mixed with 冰红茶, which is just about the most common iced (red) tea drink you can get here. And before you start thinking that sounds gross, it's actually great. The iced tea is really sweet and somehow goes really nicely with the whisky. First of all we ordered a big combo deal, a beer each and a big bottle of whisky with mixers, and some small food (fruit, lollipops, chicken feet, you know...) which was Y50 each and, I think, an awesome deal.
2. However, as I mentioned the prices after you finish all that are ridiculous, and it drives most people outside the club and to a little stall for a Y3 beer so that you can get a cheap drunk and come back in. There's no cover charge at the place, so you just walk straight back in no worries. I hung out with the Western boys for most of the night, Ian a Canadian, Felix a German, and Jim a Briton, and of course boys being boys they went out at some point in the night. Which I followed along with, and it was actually quite fun. Not only was it fun to see Jim talking loudly in Chinese to the shop owner, we also stumbled across a Korean hairdressers that was quite interesting. We got there and they seemed to be practicing dance moves, supposedly for use as they cut hair. We thought this was hilarious, so we went inside and watched for a while. They sort of danced around à la Backstreet Boys to loud pop music and would swing scissors around their fingers and then do haircutting motions and... it was very strange indeed.
3. They played two Australian songs while we were there: one Rogue Traders song, and the really quite bad remix of Evermore's really popular song. I got really psyched for both of these, danced like a crazy woman, and had loads of fun telling people in shouted Chinese that these were Australian songs so I was very, very happy about it!
4. Briefly: chatted to Jim about Australia, as he's British and stayed for a while in New Zealand. One of those drunk conversations about politics and the state of the media, those sorts of things. Later: another German, David, drank too much too fast and passed out, then when we woke him as we were leaving, he threw up on the steps to the bathrooms, which I managed to step in without realizing (but realized before I slipped).

Then we headed out to get 烤肉 (kaorou), which are basically meat skewers. We took a fleet of taxis (we had to catch TEN on the way in but we were now about 23 people instead of 30) to the Islamic quarter, headed into one of the open restaurants, and ordered way more kaorou than we ever could have wanted. It was all spicy meat, liver and stomach and stuff and it was delicious but it was so spicy and seemed to upset my already beer-bubbly stomach, but it was all right in the end. I ate as much as I could fit in, tempered the spice with some bread, and drank some more beer. Talked to Felix a whole lot and I cannot for the life of me remember what we talked about (why he's in China, I think, but I can't really remember except that he's in the same, I study languages and what do I do with that? sort of boat), had to float Felix and Jim the money for the kaorou because they only had Y5 leftover from the club, and by the time we made our way out of the restaurant it was nearly 5AM.

The Koreans made fun of me for my accent and really, just tried to get a rise out of me because I'm such a quiet mouse in class and they want me to talk to them more. Then we took another fleet of taxis back to the university, collectively woke up the gateman (who wasn't the usual nasty-faced one, it was one of the women), and said a rather loud goodbye to Jon in the lobby. I guess from my perspective it sounds like I didn't have anything to do with Jon at all during the evening, but that's not true. We talked, told bad jokes at dinner, danced at 1 + 1, he taught me a Chinese kids' game that uses Rock Paper Scissors, and we talked about other random things during the night. So it was sad to see him go, but I'm the one who has to provide him with everyone's email address (Niki is collecting them for Secret Santa purposes), so I'm sure I'll talk to him again, and we're looking to be in China at the same time again anyway, so who knows. The world is small.

THE ADVENT CREPE PARTY: Monday 11 December 2006

Niki had been sent a few packets of crêpe mix in the mail a few weeks ago, so she'd been dying to have some sort of soiree where we'd all make crêpes together. She'd put it off, though, and so today it coincided with her desire to get a Christmas tree, and so (today being the second-to-last advent of the year) we turned it into an advent crêpe party. On the invite list: Niki, me, Malcolm, Ardan, and Andreas (another German).

This afternoon (after having slept off a hangover and had lunch with other hungover Koreans), we headed out to Metro, the big supermarket in the middle of nowhere, where you can find lots of Western food (real cheese and bread and wine and imported chocolates and biscuits and just wow), and also proper Christmas trees and decorations and things. Niki found her Christmas tree, and Andreas and I purchased little ones for Y20 to have in our room. I bought baubles, bells, tinsel, and lights for my tree, and so all up I spent about Y80/AU$13 on my Christmas stuff. Which sounds cheap, but then I also blew Y70/AU$11 on Twining's English Breakfast tea (100-bag pack). Those dollar values might sound like a lot, but consider I spent Y150, which is three weeks' worth of phone money.

We had to wait a ridiculously long time for a taxi, because at 4:30 taxis all change drivers (I have no idea why they don't stagger the change-over, but they don't), which means that from 4-5pm, it's virtually impossible to find a taxi that'll take you where you want to go. It took half an hour of us trying to find a taxi that would take us to the university (they all stopped to see if they could pick up a fare on the way to where they were going), , and of course we were still five people so Niki and Malcolm (who went to Niki's place first to get the crêpe mix) had to stay behind even longer.

Just after 6pm we started getting ready for the crêpe party! We held the party at the dorms, in the kitchen/laundry room on thr fourth floor (where all of us but Niki live). It took us an age to find the utensils we needed: we borrowed a bowl and frying pan from a classmate, a spatula and spoon from the kitchen that makes us lunch, and we just used the hotplate that's in our kitchen. We all also brought every piece of cutlery and crockery we have just so we could have something to eat off of, we used Malcolm's water bottle as a measuring cup for milk, and it was all very makeshift, but it worked out well anyway. Andreas and I put together his little Christmas tree, which we put on the fridge to be festive, I brought my computer as a musical aid, and we got cooking!

It was a nice sort of get-together, we chatted and cooked and wore our Santa hats and everything. The crêpes were really good, slathered in butter and brown sugar, or strawberry jam, or Nutella. At one point there broke out a war between Niki and Andreas as to which was the better chocolate spread: Nutella or Nussplimma, the latter of which is the German equivalent. You can guess who was rooting for what. We put this to the test, however: Niki took a blindfolded taste test, vodka in between to cleanse her palate, and she picked the Nutella. Of course, Andreas just told her she had picked the Nussplimma but I don't think she bought it in the end.

I ended up the evening getting photos from Ardan and taking some of my own Christmas tree, which I had put together as soon as we got back from Metro, and now I'm here writing about it all! Photos of the Advent Crêpe Party can be found at my Flickr account page, but there are no photos of Jon's farewell party because my camera is bad at taking night photos and anyway they wouldn't let you take photos at the club (I don't really know why).

Hopefully that's all for this week! Crazy start to it, hey? Ardan is leaving next week, so I think next Monday is also going to be a crazy night out, probably back to 1 + 1, and then the Sunday following that is our Christmas Eve party at Niki's house, complete with Secret Santas and loads of people! Then there's New Years, which I haven't heard of any plans for, but it all seems to wind up so quickly, I don't know how it all happens.

For now, it's 2AM and I need to be awake in far too few hours for class (one person turned up to our class this morning, apparently, and then another for the second hour, but neither of them had gone out the night before), so I think I'll call it a night and crash out.

Remind me to track down my Y20 from Felix and Jim...

Posted by alexifer 09:14 Archived in China Comments (0)

Alex & Sam Do Xi'an!

Five tourist attractions, three parties, ten packets of Tim Tams: ONE BUSY WEEK!

semi-overcast 6 °C


Our story begins on Tuesday 28 November, when I set out to get my boyfriend from the airport. I had planned to get the airport shuttle, but unfortunately the last one left at 6pm, so I had no choice but to get a taxi. I count insert a rant about bartering here, because a friend told me not to pay more than Y40 for a shared trip to the airport, but in the end I paid Y200 for a round trip and the guy had to wait for at least half an hour with me for Sam to get through customs. It sounds excessive when you compare it to the Y40 "suggestion" and okay we shared the taxi in the end, both ways, so the guy made more money than just my Y200, but the way I see it, he waited with me and I didn't really mind the sharing, and while the meter was running it was Y80 one way, so... I don't know. I am going to not rant because this entry is already going to be tl;dr so I'll try to minimize the tangents as much as possible!

There's not much I can say about Tuesday. I got Sam home all in one piece, weirded him out by speaking Chinese to the taxi man, and we uncovered the mounds of Tim Tams he brought as payment for staying at Niki's house for free (ten packets! Dude! And she has one left, haha), and that was about it! The flight got in at about 8:30, so we got home by 10:30 with all the fussing, and then went to sleep.


Wednesday was sort of laid back. We went into class in the morning, just for an hour, because on Monday I'd gone to a performance one of the Korean girls was involved in, and talking to all my classmates they seemed enthusiastic to meet Sam! But then, they didn't come to class even though I'd said I'd bring him in; oh well! I got an hour's worth of class, Sam read a Nick Hornby book of mine, and then we met Niki later for lunch at our regular haunt across from the south gate of the university.

Then I had to go to my regular Wednesday teacher's meeting, which was somewhere unusual (Gao Xin area, where I used to live last time I was in Xi'an), so I took the bus with Sam and another teacher who knew where it was (right near the fitness centre we filmed the video at, in fact!) and hung around there. It was a regular teacher's meeting (ie, boring) until we all started to make Christmas decorations for the Christmas lesson I was to do on the weekend. Everyone got involved and it was loads of fun seeing what the teachers actually knew about Christmas (though I'm beginning to wonder where these traditions come from - I am the only one of the foreigners to put a wreath on my door at Christmas!), drawing Santa Claus figures with little Asian-style expressions, it was lots of fun.

Then there wasn't a lot of time left in the day, and we met up with Niki for dinner after a brief respite in my dorm room, and we caught up with Ardan and Malcolm and all went to the Korean restaurant just outside of the university's southeast gate. Ardan recently fell in love with the Korean restaurant (most notably, with the Korean sushi) and so he was not hard to convince on the idea. The Korean restaurant is great because they serve you this nice broth (just chicken stock with scallions, but somehow delicious!) instead of the regular tea to warm you up, and the menu is all pictures. I hadn't eaten a lot of Korean food before, and I really enjoy it; it's spicy, but it's a little sweeter than some concepts of 'spicy'. Kim Chi isn't something I'm going to get used to in a hurry, but apparently Koreans eat it with EVERY meal, and that isn't an overstatement. Most of the Koreans have talked about food in class, and they all agree everyone eats it all the time, and that seems a little bizarre - I can't think of an equivalent for any culture off the top of my head!

After Korean food was enjoyed, we adjourned back to Niki's and did something or other, maybe watched the new Superman movie. (We did that at some point, but I can't remember when it was, so let's say it was Wednesday night, just because we can.)


Thursday we woke up ridiculously late, something near noon, and before we did anything I insisted on going back to my dorm room so I could change my clothes, get new ones (I don't know why I hadn't organized to leave clothes at Niki's before Sam even got there), and take a shower at the dorms because though my shower has its frustrations, I like it better than Niki's by far. We managed to sit around watching Strong Bad Emails for a while, checking email and things, and set out again after 3pm and headed to the Big Goose Pagoda. We paid our Y25 to get into the complex, Y20 to get up to the top, and I enjoyed it immensely. I've been there so much, been into the complex once as well, but it was really fun to go to the top, even though my legs cramped up on the way down. Seriously, I made it back down all seven flights, and then when it came time to get down another set of stairs to get back to the main complex, I couldn't take a single step down. It would have been all right after a while, but there was nowhere to sit, so I actually had to get Sam to CARRY me down the steps, which was incredibly embarrassing but there weren't too many people, so I didn't mind too much.

After wandering around and getting our Y20 worth inside the pagoda complex, we took a turn around the gardens, sat down under a little gazebo and talked until it got dark and we started to get frozen. We had dinner at the Yangrou Paomo place I'd already been to twice (here is a picture of the mutton soup; not my photo though!), and that is one of the best meals I have found to warm you up after being outside for ages, freezing your ass off. I definitely got as close as I ever have to finishing one of their huge bowls of soup (Y15/AU$2.45, a good deal though that's definitely tourist price), just because it was so nice to warm up with.

Niki called at some point, and we waited for her and for the light show to start in the safe and warm confines of a coffee shop, drank GIANT cappuccinos (they really were GIANT) to further warm ourselves up, but in the end we waited for half an hour in the cold for the light show to start. The light and water show was really spectacular. I'd seen the water show at its noon time slot before, but the night one was definitely better. Some crazy bastards, though, got between the spray to take photos and watch, it was insane! I didn't even bother standing up for the whole thing, it was way too cold as it was, I couldn't imagine standing closer to the water.

After that, we went home, warmed up while watching Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and went to sleep.


(To preceed the following section: if you haven't read or need a refresher on my previous thoughts about most of Xi'an's Eastern Tour attractions, here they are!)

Friday was probably one of the longest days I've had here in China (outside of tour-related days). It started at 9AM, when we met up with our English-speaking tour guide David at the south gate of the university. I'd arranged a trip for the two of us to go around to some of the sites on the Eastern Tour of Xi'an environs, and it was a pretty good deal. Just the three of us (me, Sam, and David), he spoke very good English, we saw three tourist sites, and a really great lunch was included, for Y520/AU$84.50 per person. First up were the Terracotta Warriors, and it was the third time I've seen them and I don't know... they sort of get more impressive every time I see them, but when you see it there, it's just sort of like a bit hole in the ground. I find that thinking about it is much more powerful, somehow: the concept that 70,000 people worked on it, many died, and it took 35 years to complete, each face individually madeby a team of artists... just for this one dude to be taken care of in the afterlife! That's incredible. The actual warriors themselves don't look like much, especially once you've seen them on postcards and television so often. You don't get anything more out of being in the big hangar-type building of Pit #1.

Next up was the First Qin Emperor's tomb, which we actually walked up this time, and we watched the little performance where they do a mock tributary ceremony. We got the downlow as to why they hadn't excavated the tomb, and apparently they've x-rayed it and everything and there are mercurial booby traps set up inside, and because they don't want to ruin the artefacts inside or poison the air around the place, they've decided to wait until the technology is around to solve both of these problems. As, for example, they are doing with the Terracotta Warriors - they're not excavating any more until they work out how to preserve the colors. They're dug up and there's these amazing bright colors on them, but they fade within half an hour. So, I think that's a good idea, and they can take however long they want to open up the emperor's tomb, which apparently contains lots of treasures, and he was buried with lots of workers and his concubines and stuff... it'll be interesting when it does get opened, because it was hidden and kept secret back in the day, so the tomb hasn't been raided or pillaged or anything, which will be really awesome to see.

We took a detour at another little museumy-type thing called the Underground Tomb or something, I don't really remember, but it was basically a mock up of the tomb. It wasn't really that great, I mean it was all fake and just guessing at the contents of the tomb, little models of the outside and lights and... yeah, the actual place wasn't that great, but it was then that we learned a lot about the tomb from David and got to talk about it a bit more in-depth.

After that was the aforementioned very tasty lunch (though the sweet & sour chicken is definitely better at our local place) and we got to visit a silk factory. Which was also a silk shop, of course, but it was still really interesting to see the way they made the silk, the machines and the way they stretched it, and the other tour guide that took us through was really cute and enthusiastic about speaking English. The quilts did look amazing and comfortable and I'd love to have one, but they were so damned expensive that I just couldn't justify it. Sigh!

Then we did the Huaqing Hot Springs, which was all right but David seemed to cut it short. I probably should have said something, but I really would have liked to go see the Chiang Kai-Shek stuff. It wasn't really late, but we were getting a little tired, so I sort of left it there and we took the trip home after that. There wasn't anything new or interesting learned there, so all I can say is: Huaqing Hot Springs STATUS - Still awesome!

We were planning to meet up with Niki at the Hyatt in the city for one of their famed Y170/AU$27.65 buffets. (As an aside, you have to know that this is an exorbitant price for dinner. EXAMPLE: tonight I had dinner with Niki at our regular haunt, got four dishes and three bottles of fizzy drink, and it was Y30/AU$5. That was a feast, too!) So we had to wander around the city for a while, along East Street which is the big shopping district, and we made it to the Bell Tower but were so tuckered out by touristing all day that we just had a long coffee at the King Coffee and waited until it was about time to walk back, detouring through some back streets as we went. Dinner was great, at advertised, and in the end we only paid Y100/AU$16.25 because they thought we were guests there, haha!

Then we made our way back to Jiaotong University for a party which we had only just found out about, being held at the other foreign scholarship building, affectionartely termed "Building 7" (all the dormitories have numbers and theirs is number 7; ours is 25, but we just call it the foreign students' dorm). So we changed at Niki's, washed our faces, and headed over to the party. We had heard about it from the French guys, but everyone was there! Sam, Niki and I made it in from outside, we caught up with Ardan the party animal and took him over, the Koreans were there, John made his way in later, we met up with Ian (who seemed upset but only when he spilt his alcohol and we demanded photos), and a bunch of people from Building 7 we'd never really met before. It was loads of fun, Sam took plenty of photos of me and then I commandeered the camera and took videos, which might get to YouTube later this week. Then we went over to a bar that's on the seventeenth floor (it has a name, but we just call it Floor 17) of a building right outside the southeast gate, where we danced the night away.


Understandably, we woke up late the next day, but it couldn't be too late, as I still had to teach, and teach the Christmas lesson at that.

The Christmas lesson was an interesting experience. It... well, it didn't go well, let's just say that. They had explained the excercise to me as the foreigner telling the students about Christmas, a sort of cultural exchange and I should teach the kids some words along the way. This was all right, and so I went up there and started explaining Christmas in a very secular way, just explaining what people did, how they celebrated, and how things were different in Australia, lalala, but I could see that there was NO way these kids were understanding a word of what I was saying. Which was discouraging to say the least. There were a few really bright kids in the room (which was about thirty kids strong, so you can understand the sort of intimidation I'm talking about), and some of them understood when I asked them questions about things I had just explained, but that's really quite a rosy picture of what happened. So, I had to time-stretch, which had been made almost entirely impossible with them having told me that making wreaths was a waste of time. All I could think was, thanks for telling me ten minutes before the thing is supposed to start! The teacher eventually came up and told me to play some games, and after some unsuccessful games of Hangman (which I was informed was an activity for practice, not fun), she instructed everyone in Chinese to play Simon Says with me, and some vocabulary guessing game. The class went fifteen minutes late (and ten minutes into my other class), but I was ridiculously relieved once it was all over. So it didn't go badly, per se, but it didn't go wonderfully and I'm just keeping my fingers crossed they won't ask me to do it again at the Gao Xin branch.

Regular classes were good despite missing one student, and then we had dinner with Niki at our regular place again after a rest at the dorms.

Then there was a Foreigner's Party at Floor 17 which we turned up to with Niki, Ardan, and Andreas at about 10pm, but nobody really started showing up until midnight. Which was a little disappointing for Ardan, who just loves to dance, but eventually the French cavalry turned up and everything was much more rockin' than just watching the Turkish and Russian guys who had turned up groove by themselves. The night wore on, there were more beers, Ardan procured a Black Russian in a tiny martini glass for Y25/AU$4, and we got two bags of popcorn through the night, which in the Chinese tradition was sweetened rather than salted.


Saturday over and Sunday was another day of city exploration. Sam and I went out with Ardan and Andreas (two very tall German guys) to the Islamic quarter to check out tourist alley for bargain Christmas presents, and the Great Mosque, which I had only vague recollections of from last time. (In fact, I only really know that I've been to the Great Mosque before because I remember tourist alley so well!) Sam and I bought bing to eat along the way, but otherwise salivated once we walked through the food markets, which were mostly filled with preserved fruit and nuts. We stayed there until nightfall (which is about 5pm these days), and checked out the restaurants in the area until settling on one where we were definitely the only foreigners. We did, however, get a seat by the radiators - nice!

That night we hung out at Niki's house with Malcolm, Sarah and Luca, and just had a good gab fest. I can't really remember what we talked about, but we had a few beers and Tim Tams and it was generally a nice night, despite the fact I'm amazed we made it to 2 in the morning without really talking about anything I can remember the week after. There were puzzles and talking about stupid laws, and Tim Tam slams, but that's all I can really dredge up about the, what, five hours we must have spent talking?


Anyway, that was a good night, and then the next day (after another necessary stop in at my dorm room) Sam and I accompanied Ardan on a bike trip around the city wall. He'd heard about it from Andreas a while ago, but he had never gotten around to actually doing it; and so with Sam as a handy excuse to go out, we all trundled out and got on the bikes for a 14km bike ride! We walked along the inside of the south wall for a while on the inside, checking out another touristy area (but we had maxed out our purchases during the trek to the Islamic quarter previously so didn't buy anything), and then hopped up for our long ride. It was actually really fun, and 14km sounds like a long way, but it was flat for the most part (if bumpy as all hell, the bricks were all potholes!), and the view was really nice the whole way along. There was a lot of construction going on at the gates, both on the ground and up on the top. The renovations they were doing on the buildings along the north wall was really annoying, because the scaffolding reached all the way around and we had to carry/pull our bikes through. However, I did see some people with a tandem bike, so I think they definitely got the worse deal. ;) One of the coolest views, though, was the view of the Xi'an train stationfrom the north wall. It was more bustling (or felt like it) when we went to Henan, but it's always cool to get a different (ie, removed) perspective on the crowds at places like that.

We went back to the university soon after that, looked for a dumplings shop but we couldn't find the one Ardan had said he'd been to before. Sam and I hadn't eaten, so we were getting more than a little desperate, so we stopped at the noodle shop instead and got big bowls of red-braised beef noodles and it was absolutely delicious and absolutely filling. Still, an hour or so later, we grabbed Malcolm and went out for dinner again. I couldn't let Sam come to China without trying Hot Pot, so we went to a restaurant near Niki's place (after much contention as to whether the place we were hovering in front of was, in fact, the place we were thinking of) and it was fantastic. I love hot pot and don't know why I haven't been more often.

After that we tried to find another night market, but the only one we got directions to was the Islamic quarter again so we sort of bypassed it, wandered a bit, found a market on East Street selling ladies' underwear and fake Gucci handbags, and then headed back for a long, well-deserved sleep.

Sam left in the afternoon, we caught the airport shuttle bus, and I feel like I've needed the entire week to recover from the whole ordeal! I have barely been out for dinner once, such was my energy sapped! Tomorrow night, however, is John's farewell party. He's leaving on Monday, to do some stuff in Beijing before he gets back to America to finish up his degree, so we're going to dinner, eat our fill, and then party the night away, and not go to class on Monday. Yes, not going to class was part of the deal, John said so.

In any case, I have spent way too long writing this entry, and I seriously doubt anyone actually reads them all the way through, but it always feels good to get them all out!

Posted by alexifer 08:25 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

河南 Henan video update!

So I've arrived on Youtube...

overcast 5 °C

Since unfortunately I can't embed Youtube videos on this blog...

Click here to get a selection of videos from my trip!

Posted by alexifer 04:40 Archived in China Tagged photography Comments (0)

河南 Henan Province

The Shaolin Monestary and other adventures...

overcast 15 °C


This day mainly consisted of waking up, packing, getting on a bus, getting on a train, meeting our tour guide, getting on another bus, having dinner, and then sleeping in our hotel room.

Some interesting but not very long-winded points of interest from this day:
1) The train trip was 8.3 hours long! I spent most of it reading a philosophy book the American guy in my class recommended to me called 生活的艺术 or, The Importance of Living, which I am not afraid to pass on the recommendation, even though I'm only about a fifth of the way through. And don't worry, I'm reading it in English. ;)
2) One of the Korean students spent most of his time playing with his 气 qi, but before you think that sounds dirty I'll remind you all jovially that it's the internal energy all of us has. You can mold it into a ball and feel it if you're well-practiced enough, and the feeling is definitely real and you can even impose it on other people (I put my hand between the imaginary ball his was making and there was definitely a moment when I felt something!)
3) On the way out of the train station you have to present your tickets, but one of the Korean guys lost his! So he had to pay Y70 for the equivalent of a ticket back to Xi'an just to get out of the train station!
4) Spent most of the night sitting up with Niki and Malcolm (the Belgian guy, who had cut his hair the night before leaving - he used to have a ponytail and he shaved it all right down!) playing them music from my iPod and talking about other music with them. Malcolm has some really interesting tastes, he's into a lot of new-wave folk, alternative folk and antifolk... which you'd think would make him into the regular kind too, but apparently not! Though he does like 12th century French folk music....

Okay, so I try not to be long-winded, and look what happens.


We set out at 8AM from our hotel to see the Henan Museum. Mostly when you go to museums in Australia there are lots of different sections of historical artifacts: there's the Egyptian room, the Pacific Islanders room, the Chinese room... not much from Australia but plenty from all over. Chinese museums, though, just have Chinese stuff, which is cool because there's plenty of history and it's all interesting, but after a while, every pot starts looking the same. There are always interesting objects you can't quite figure out, and I always like the pottery scenes of everyday life, but after a while even the signs start to look more interesting than pots. Some highlights were: the world's first seismograph, and a burial shroud made entirely out of jade.

Then it was time for lunch, and we set off again, this time to the Yellow River, one of the two most important rivers in China (the other being the Yangtse River, or 长江 Changjiang which is much more boring as "Long River").

The Yellow river is said to be the mother of China, but not, as you'd imagine, because it feeds the people of China. It's really a rather dirty river, so you wouldn't want to swim in it or drink from it (even though it is nice to look at), but it's the mother of China because about thirteen dynasties have had their capitals and/or other important cities along its banks.

The most interesting thing about the Yellow River, though, that we found was the elastic quality of its mud. After a protracted period of decision about who was coming along, we all trundled onto a hoverboat and made our way out to an island in the middle of the river. The island was basically a patch of mud that had been dried out, but as we found out, it was really quite malleable if you pounded hard enough on it. Apparently, the water and mud underneath bubbles up to the surface and you're able to walk on ground that isn't particularly steady - I've only been able to describe it as walking on a pool when a tarp has been pulled over the surface. Your footsteps make waves in the mud and you feel as though the ground beneath you isn't steady, but it's a lot of fun once you get used to the feeling.

Then we went to the top of a mountain that overlooked the Yellow River for a nice view, but the climb was very steep so by the time we got there we were utterly exhausted. On the whole, though, it was nice to be at such a picturesque peak when it was just about dusk, 4-5pm.


The only thing we did on this day was go to see the famed 少林寺 Shaolin Monestary. During the course of a phone call to my parents, though, it seems that the Shaolin Monestary isn't really that famed after all. The basic run-down is, though, that back in the day, the dude who brought the Buddhist scriptures from India to China lived here. Somewhere along the way, or maybe before that, it was a place to learn martial arts, and the combination of Buddhist teachings and martial arts have strengthened his place's history and it's now considered probably the best school of martial arts in the world. You can most definitely get a better description over at Wikipedia (and it probably won't include the word "dude", either).

The first thing we did was catch the 10AM demonstration of some of the various types of martial arts taught at the Shaolin school. The most memorable of which was the animal gongfu (gongfu = kung fu, just as Beijing = Peking), where the fighting styles took on the various fighting behaviors of different animals. They demonstrated the scorpian, tiger, and praying mantis, but apparently there are many others, such as bulls and rabbits as well.... There were also people using their gathered strength to do incredible things: one guy had two steel spears sticking into his throat and he bent the wooden poles, another threw a pin through a sheet of glass to pop a balloon without breaking the glass, yet another broke iron sticks over his head.

Then we went on to the actual Shaolin Monestary, which was funny for Niki and I because we had just accidentally watched a TV show the night before, a period piece, that featured a big crowd of people storming the Shaolin monestary for one reason or another. Within the Shaolin monestary, our tour guide told us lots of stories, some of which I understood and some of which went over my head. It was a little tiring to hear so many stories in Chinese, but he was very patient with us and didn't fuss about repeating things, but he sometimes found it difficult to find simpler ways to say things.

One memorable myth was about a turtle-like creature, a descendant of the dragon, who was said to bring good luck. There were a few statues of these, and the story goes that if you touch its head, your life would know no worries, if you touch its neck, you'll never be sick, and if you touch its teeth, you'll be prosperous in the future. So of course, everyone went and touched each of these places, and they have done for so many years the stone is smooth. There was also the thousand year-old tree with no gender, the smallest cooking pot for Tang dynasty Shaolin students, and carvings of the Shaolin morning exercises.

But my favorite story explains the reason why Shaolin monks only bow with one hand beneath their chin instead of two pressed together. The story goes that Batuo (the dude with the Buddhist scriptures) came over from India will all this Buddhist knowledge to teach and help translate. When he arrived during the Northern Wei dynasty, he first had some questions and felt he wasn't entirely right in his understanding, so he went to the mountains for nine years (there's another story about leaving his impression on a rock that he sat against for nine years - if you're able to see his outline in the rock, you're more Buddhist than anyone else), while everyone started work on the translations. When he came back, there was another young man who wanted to become his apprentice. During the winter, when the grounds were covered with snow, this young man went to Batuo and said, "Will you teach me the way of the Buddha?" Batuo replied, "Only when the snow falls red will I teach you the way of the Buddha." So, the young man thought about it for a while. After a few days, he found the solution: he cut off his right arm and sprayed the snow of the ground with his blood, so that the entire courtyard of snow in front of Batuo's lodgings was red. Only then did Batuo consent to have the young man as his apprentice. So now, all the Shaolin monks bow with just one hand under their chin, signifying that their right arm has figuratively been cut off to learn the way of the Buddha.

Then there was the Pagoda Forest, which is the burial site of Shaolin's most famous monks. The levels of the pagoda indicate the ranking of the individual, and the highest pagoda was seven levels tall, reserved for a man who helped stem off a coup (or something - that story got a little lost in translation). The pagodas have little doors in them, where the ashes of the dead are put, and if the door is open, then it's a public grave (there was only one that we saw there). The children's grave was also public, there was only one of them, and it was very small and much less valued than the others, even the public grave. The oldest pagoda still standing was one from the Tang dynasty, and was built in 781AD. There was a new one, with interesting inscriptions and engravings on it - there were engravings of a television, computer, video camera, aeroplane, train, and a car on it. All the things needed for an enjoyable afterlife!

Then it was off to lunch, which was interesting because the place we had lunch was right next door to one of the other martial arts schools in the area, and the children were practicing just outside. After lunch we shopped a little with mean shop assistants who wouldn't let us haggle them down too much, and I was very frugal and only bought myself a t-shirt. Which, incidentally, I'm wearing right now! It's grey and has a picture of the Shaolin temple on the front, with the back describing all the different types of gongfu they teach at Shaolin. After lunch we attended one of those sales pitches for some Shaolin medicinal products, mostly hand creams and muscle ache remedies, all of which smelled like Tiger Balm, but the sales guy was pretty crazy! There was this one hand cream that helped with burns, so the guy got this red-hot metal chain, shoved his hand on it, showed us the burns, and then slathered his hand with the cream! I mean, talk about insane! About ten minutes later he washed it off and you couldn't see even a mark of the burn, which was pretty cool, but man. Talk about believing in the products you're hawking.


We woke up at 6:30AM on the last morning of our trip, in order to get in enough time at 龙门 Longmen before our train departed. The drive there was long, and mostly boring because we had to cut through a big industrial area, which all seemed to be deserted, even early in the morning, and by the time we got there we had napped off most of our early-morning blues. We were woken up even more by the freezing cold temperatures outside (it was 9C when we arrived and only 13C when we left), but it was all right once we started walking around.

Longmen is the site of many Buddhist carvings in little grottoes in the side of a mountain, along the banks of the 伊江 Yi River, dating back to the fifth century AD. There are nearly three thousand niches and caves, big and small, and nearly eleven thousand individually-carved Buddhist figures. Some of them are big, carved for people in particular, but there are lots and lots of smaller ones, no bigger than dolls, but the most impressive one was the Cave of Ten Thousand Buddhas. Here, the wall of the cave looks to be covered with little dots, but in fact they're all little Buddhas, no bigger than a couple of inches tall, and it was really impressive. Almost as impressive as the twenty-metre tall Buddha, the main attraction. We spent a happy fifteen minutes arranging (almost) everyone for a big group photo in front of the big Buddha.

After that, we just went to a jade shop, where half of the group stood around looking bored and the other half bought things, and I got in my obligatory fire hydrant photo (it seems that almost everyone has one of those "must-take" photos - Niki's is a photo of her with her foot sticking out, because her father can't seem to take a photo without doing that, sort of like Asian students can't help making the peace sign).

Then after lunch we took the train home, fought for a taxi that wouldn't charge us Y5 more than it was worth to get back to the university, and collapsed in our beds at around 10PM. Overall, an outstanding trip!

Posted by alexifer 21:27 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Travel Photo Update

河南 Henan Province up at Flickr!

semi-overcast 16 °C

Check back here later for an actual update. This is just to let everyone know that I've updated my photos at Flickr! So click here to get your fill, and I'll soon be updated with something real here!

Posted by alexifer 09:08 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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