Tuesday, November 27, 2007

China Odyssey, Day 13 - Xian

Day 13 – Xian
Tuesday November 27
City Wall, Jade Factory, Farmer’s Village, School Visit, and Overnight Home Stay

Our first stop this morning was the city wall of Xian. Unlike most Chinese cities, the original Xian city wall remains intact and surrounds the ancient city for 8 miles. Most city walls, including Beijing, were demolished either during the cultural revolution or the subsequent redevelopment era. The Xian is 600 years old, and in remarkable condition. There are 12 gates, and each is protected by one of the signs of the Chinese Zodiac. We entered by the Gate of the Tiger, which is the western gate. The encryption over the gate reads “Eternal Life”. As you head out of the gate, you are embarking on the beginning of the Silk Road. The silk Road is an ancient trade corridor, which winds from Xian to eastern Europe. We hope someday to tour the this corridor. However, we are concerned regarding the political stability of some of the states which it traverses, such as Afghanistan.

Western Gate of the Xian City Wall

Intrepid City Wall Defenders

Our next stop was the jade Factory. Here we learned about 3 types of jade and jadeite. Jadeite is monoclinic sodium aluminum silicate (NaAlSi2O6), often with some calcium and iron (from the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Rocks and Minerals – isn’t it wonderful traveling with a Materials Engineer!). Jadeite is the hardest mineral in the jade family. It comes in 4 colors - white, green, lavender and black. Local jade is softer comes in a variety of colors. The prices here were very high. Kathy is glad she purchased her jade at the museum shop.

Monoclinic Sodium Aluminum Silicate Craftsman

After lunch at the hotel, we set out for the farmer’s village, where we will stay overnight in the home of a local family. The village is named Dong Ha, and is about 1 hour from Xian. Dong Ha is larger than we expected for a “village”. Recall that in China, a village is any political subdivision of up to 50,000 people. Westerners would call it a large town, or a small a city.

Our first stop was a local school, which receives subsidies from out tour company, Overseas Adventure Travel. School starts at 8:00 am and goes to 11:25am. After a lunch break, school starts again at 2pm and ends at 5pm. In the morning students study Chinese literature, math and English; in the afternoon there are science, music, art and physical education classes. We arrived during afternoon recess and observed happy children playing tag, skipping rope and just running around. Many were very interested in us and came up to say ne-how (hi) and shake our hands.

We visited two classes. The first was an art class of 5th graders who were practicing paper cutting. The second class was a music class of 8 year olds who were singing and dancing. This school is a standard stop on the OAT tour circuit, and the children seemed well adapted to and well rehearsed for western visitors.

A Happy Chinese Schoolroom

Student Artist

It was a very pleasant experience but it was also very disturbing. There is no heat in the school, so students remain bundled up all day. The rooms are dark, the lighting poor, and many children were coughing. Keith used the teacher’s sanitary facility, and found it disgusting.

Teacher’s Sanitary Facility

Next we walked through the old village, which is being gradually redeveloped by the government. It is very hard to describe the abject poverty that we witnessed in the old village. We visited a household which consisted of an enclosed bedroom/living room, with attached open air sheds containing food preparation facilities. There is no indoor heating or plumbing, but there is a television. The bed is very hard, and the pillows are bricks (literally). These dwellings often house multiple generations in the single living/sleeping accommodation. It must be emphasized that these are not slums. They are traditional Chinese peasant accommodations housing respectable, hard working, but poor villagers.

The Old Village

Hand Made Coal Briquettes, Used for Cooking

Questionable Electrical Wiring Seen in the Old Village

Family Residence in the Old Village

Traditional Chinese Pillow

Outdoor Food Preparation Shed

George Demonstrates His Childhood
Early Morning Cook Stove Lighting Responsibilities

The Kitchen Sink

The adjacent new redevelopment village is much nicer, and eventually the 20 families that remain in the old village will be relocated to the new village. Despite the quantum improvements, some of the older residents cling to the traditional accommodations, and are reluctant to move.

New Village

The location of our overnight stay was a new two story home. The owner was some sort of official (we think it was Director of Tourism or some such) in the village government. The guest rooms where we slept were heated. The rest of the house, including the bathroom, was not. Bathroom facilities were Western style, including paper, which was to be deposited in an adjacent basket after use.

Food was simple, but tasty. The fried bread was excellent. The entire operation was very much like a Western bed-and-breakfast. It was not a bad experience, but we were uncomfortable, and felt it was something we could have done without. Too much cultural immersion!

Venue of Our Home Stay in the New Village

The Living Room

Our Host’s Mother Prepares Dinner

Our Home Stay Sleeping Quarters

In the morning after breakfast we went to a local painter’s studio. He was one of the men responsible for starting the peasant painter’s movement in the 1970’s. Kathy bought a painting of ducks swimming under mushrooms, which she thinks will look well in our Massachusetts Condominium.

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