Saturday, March 29, 2014

We went to the zoo!

Last weekend Paul and I and another couple went to the zoo just south of Xi’an.  For as close as it is to us (right on the way to our new campus) and the number of times we have seen the sign on the way to school we have never visited it. It was a lot of fun! Now you have to understand that the term “zoo” as used here is a bit different than the attractions of the same name in America.  While much is the same there is much that is different –and we loved it!

To begin with we saw many animals that I don’t think I have ever seen in American zoos. Many of the animals come from Asia and many from Africa.  The variety was impressive and the quantity of animals of any given kind was quite large. A large part of the zoo was simply a drive through road where you watched the animals wander around in the wide open.  Since there were so many it was never hard to find them. Chinese density standards are way beyond American ones.

Admission included a very fast drive through the park in a coach bus. For a price you could tour in a large truck with a stand up area in the back, in the open air with only some bars separating you from the animals. It looked like a cage for humans.We decided to spend a little more money and ride in a "VIP" bus where we could sit down. The Chinese like the "VIP" concept and almost everything everywhere has a "VIP" option. 

Many of the animals could be fed and we were able to get quite “up close and personal” to them, unlike the zoos we are used to.  None of the safety issues dealt with in the U.S. hampered us here!  While the truly dangerous animals were properly confined it was possible to get quite close to some others.

On our way to get on our bus

Three cougars! This is Jordan who teaches with his wife in Xi'an.

For those who like the open air

Our "VIP" bus...

Cinderella likes it so much here that she leaves a spare coach.

There are no barriades between us and the animals. Well, there is some glass.

You could buy a chicken to feed to the big cats - notice it's head sticking out of the tiger's mouth. No KFC for this chicken...

It was slow going because the animals owned the road.

Some detangler needed here.

An Asian bear handling the stress pretty well.

He was our favorite. He literally ran to our food, everyting jiggled and it was hilarious!

Nothing but health food for him! (Paul had me wash all his clothes when we got home...)

We are quite used to humans.

No  telephoto lens here - he was just this close.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Mountain Hike and Dinner

Last fall we were invited to a mountain hike and dinner with an NPU Law professor. We got into Professor Zhang Min’s car around 1:30pm. We got dropped off back at our apartment about 8:30pm. It was a very full and fascinating experience. We spent the intervening time with her, her 13 year old son, a recent female law graduate, and 4 of her current law students (if I understand there are only a dozen law students total in their BA, MA, and Dr program at the university – this is a whole different story).

We drove toward the new campus except at the last major intersection, instead of going right we went left for exactly one mile to the “restaurant village.” Amazing place. Every house is a restaurant!  There were maybe 40 but perhaps way more. All the homes on any street (one main, and 3 side) were connected and in the same style with a large outdoor courtyard with dinner tables and small semi-indoor seating areas as well. A second story was housing. Because everything looked so new, nice, and modern, I asked if it was a recent government project. Min said no, that it was an old village and had been the “restaurant village” for Xi'an for a very long time.

“It is where everyone in Xi'an drives out to eat in the summer.” As we drove in, all the restaurants had people in the streets trying to get us to choose them. Min chose one, parked her car there, and told them to prepare dinner for the 9 of us for 6 pm.

Then we headed up into the mountains for a hike. At the upper edge of the village there was a ton of new construction of what appeared to be perhaps a hotel, many large luxury homes, and a half dozen or so large log cabins. Totally out of place and not the least Chinese from our experience.  A resort? 2nd homes? Primary homes? Who knows – this is China and we never know anything!

The mountain trail started as the housing ended and basically followed a stream up to a dam and a reservoir and on up the creek. It was pretty much too narrow, too steep, too slippery, and too dangerous for America to allow it. All the stream crossings were on slippery, tilted, loose big rocks – not so much what we usually do. We could not have made it without the generous law students pushing, pulling, balancing us, etc. Fortunately l was the only one who slipped off the rocks and into the stream. How it only happened once and how no one fell off the edge of the trail is beyond us. We can hardly imagine how it would be on a beautiful summer day full of people moving in both directions. Impossible! No room to pass – hardly enough room for just one person. Ann says her  praying the entire time is the only reason it worked.

After we hiked back down, our meal was the standard 18 Chinese dishes – except we had never eaten any of them before. The food was hot but the air was cold and even in parkas and sweaters we were cold – several of the others even more so since they were not as warmly dressed.

Quite an experience. We need to go exploring there again sometime.  A totally different Chinese experience.

Zhang Min and her son Steven

Just getting ready to begin the hike.

Interesting support system here..

The whole group on the dam.

The scenery was beautiful. Notice the trail behind us.

We may be smiling but we are really sweating and trembling.

No railing and lots of rocks

One of the restaurants in town.

Here is the restaurant we ate in. We actually ate inside.

Lunch! And it was delicious!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

In Case You Don't Have Time to Visit the Real Thing....

Our days in China are numbered and we know that the time when we come home for good is fast approaching so we decided to visit a city we have not been to yet.  We chose Shenzhen which is located just north of Hong Kong. It is really right next door..

Being  south meant that it should have been warmer than Xi'an but it was cool and overcast. Perfect weather to walk around outside.  The highlight of our trip was "Splendid China" and "China Folk Cultural Villages". They are part of the same attraction and were so much fun.  Splendid China is an outdoor display of many of both the major natural attractions and man-made historic sights in China. "Epcotish" except all outdoor displays and no food. Every display is built to scale (typically 1-8) and a lot of them include small, ceramic people, animals, and equipment  to make each one just that much more lifelike. It was fun to recognize some of the sights since we had already visited them. The detail was amazing, like 1,000 meters of the Great Wall built of tiny individual bricks and took 2 years to complete.

The other half of the attraction was composed of replicas of many Chinese minority villages.   Each village included young people dressed in the native costumes. It really reminded us of the Polynesian Cultural Center which is logical since the PCC helped the Chinese in the planning. The Chinese took the idea and really ran with it making the whole area larger, and including at least three large productions in huge theaters and stadiums.China is 90-95% "Han" Chinese with the rest of the population divided among 55 minority groups so only a few were highlighted.

The entrance was so impressive and fun! I love Chinese dragons. Here are two!

No man-purse. When Ann has the camera, Paul is the sherpa.

Miniature Dragon boats

The Great Wall went on and on and was beautiful.

The Forbidden City

We attended a real Chinese warrior battle.  Much like the cowboy or medieval shows in the U.S.

The costumes in the minority production were beautiful.

This really does speak for itself.

The birds on the girls' hats are real!! There were about 15 live peacocks in this number.

Some of these felt like they were straight from Polynesia.

Waiting to do their next demonstration.

These are replica "living caves." About 30 million Chinese still live in them. Compared to the actual, non- tourist, still lived in ones we have visited in the mountains, these are like 5 star hotel rooms. If you missed it you might want to look at our earlier post on the topic with their photos.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Chinese kindness

We are constantly amazed at the kindness shown to us every day by the people of China. Some examples:

Paul was looking for an Ace Bandage for me since I might have broken my toe on a chair the other day.  He was looking up one isle and down the other when 2 clerks walked up and asked (in Chinese only) if they could help him. Through some elaborate pantomiming on Paul’s part (there usually is no English spoken during these little displays. I would have loved to observe this as these are usually quite funny,) he was able to communicate that he needed the bandage. Immediately one of the clerks said they did not have any but then walked Paul to a store across the mall where there might be one. She did not have to do that but she did that because she felt is was something she could do to help us. Anyone ever walk you from Radio Shack to Sears in Ridgedale?

Paul and I were standing in the middle of the road – I had two bags of groceries and he had a large printer in a box and we were trying to catch a cab for a ride home to no avail. Suddenly a tall young Chinese man asked me if we were English teachers at the university and I replied yes.  As we talked for a moment he told us that he was completing his Master’s at Columbia University and was here for a couple of weeks. He then insisted that he drive us to our apartment. He would have carried our printer up to the 5th floor if we would have allowed it. What a needed tender mercy! 

The other day Ann was on the new campus alone and her "multi" card did not work so she could not buy any lunch. As she stood debating on what she should do she spied a couple of smiling students walking her way. She asked if they spoke English and they replied that yes they did - they were English majors. (But were juniors which is the one group of students we do not teach and so she did not know them.) She asked them to help her with her card and they soon realized it was out of money. Since it was lunch and the appropriate office was closed they insisted she eat lunch with them. They bought her lunch and ate with her. And would not let her pay for anything!  What a nice thing to do - and not uncommon at all.

This happens to us regularly and we so appreciate it!  This country is full of kind, helpful people!

The Plateau and Hills Near Xi'an

One Saturday this past fall we hired a jeep and guide to take us up on the plateau, foothills, and low mountains surrounding Xi'an. Very enjoyable and absolutely fascinating. The "real" China, the "hidden" China, the non-500 million urban China - is amazing. We have relished every opportunity to see how the other 800 million live who are not urbanized, many of whom are subsistence.

China has its major cities and attractions that tourist come to see: Beijing, The Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Shanghai, The Bund, Guilin and the Li River with its magical mountains, Terracotta Warriors here in Xi'an, the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. In 2005 we toured China and had a fabulous experience on that particularly itinerary. Now we take what opportunities we can to see the rest.

Corn was being dried everywhere. Lots of families had just harvested their own plots and others were having gunny sacks of corn delivered. They were pealing it and setting it out to dry

Cave Living
This entry is about some of "the rest" that we saw this past Fall. This LA Times article talks about the 30 million Chinese still living in caves - some caves continuously lived in for the last 2000 years.

Can you wrap your head around that number? 30,000,000. That is a population greater than the cumulative populations of Montana, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois all living in caves. How can it be? We wandered through several abandoned cave homes. Our guide pointed out that they were the typical "double 2-story" caves. One was used for livestock and the other was the family dwelling. The dimensions looked like they were 20 feet wide, 50 -60 feet deep, and 15 feet high. The ceiling black with soot. Paul just had an essay turned in talking about a students parents growing up with their animals living in the house. Not pleasant according to the student.

This friendly cave dweller lived here with his wife. They raised their family here and the family lived in traditional housing down in the valley. It was very much subsistence living with a tiny government pension. But he did have a cell phone to call friends and family and tell them he had visitors.

Unoccupied caves

The living area in one of the occupied caves

This is where the livestock would be kept

Our group with the "man of the house" .

He was more than happy to have us visit.

We visited some temples with rather large statues in front of them. Many things here are created on a much larger scale...Based on more intense stares than usual, this very out of the mainstream location does not get many western visitors.

While we were touring the country side we stopped for a coutry lunch at a farmhouse way off the beaten path.  In fact, while we were waiting for our meal we saw one of the "chefs' run down a pheasant that ended up being the main course.  We all gathered around the table and shared the meal together.

If I had wanted to I could have eaten the head of the bird.....

I am sure he is meant for someone's lunch....

We passed through several small villages. some a little larger than others but all in all very small and basic.  Not a lot of frills here.

This group of boys were loud, friendly and very enteratining.

The people were friendly and really enjoyed watching us as we walked around.