I’m on the train. It just now is leaving the station. We are in a hard sleeper. It does not mean the beds are hard, although the mattresses are somewhat thin. The bunks go three high and two wide, meaning six people in a compartment. The soft sleepers hold four people. I can seee two of my comrades wrting in their journals.
We are leaving Xi’an, home of the Terracotta Warriors and 12 million people. It was the first capital of China when Emperor “Chin” united China for the first time from 29 fiefdoms. It was Emperor Qui Shi Huangdu (259-210B.C.) that built the warriors and the Great Wall. He also standardized written Chinese calligraphics. Xi’an served as the imperial seat for 12 dynasties over 2,000 years.
Today Xi’an is abuzz with construction of large buildings. Five Starbucks are being opened. Western fashion jeans and T-shirts with silly English phrases are in abundance.
A wall around the city protects the inner city, the Forbidden City. The wall has a flat surface on the top that is easily wide enough for six horse riders. We spent a pleasant time walking around and stopped for a rest and a soft drink. A family was also sitting there. They were quite curious about us and we began to talk. Well, I should not say talk. But we did attempt to communicate. The man and his son were quite determined and asked us questions. We pulled out a Mandarin phrase book and started to work on phrases. We would prounounce the phonetic version and then show them the book for them to repeat the words in Chinese.
It was tedious for both sides. But we established that they were from somewhere else, a place with an unpronouncable name. They were indeed grandma, son, father. We were writing postcards showing the warriors. The family also visited the warriors. We explained that two of the postcards were for birthday greetings. I sang “Happy Birthday” and they knew the song and sang it in Chinese. We looked up the words for Happy Birthday which really turns out to be Birthday Happy. Then we had him write the Chinese characters for birthday happy on the post cards. In the end we gave them our extra postcards and said good-bye.
Then the lights came on at an enormous stage on top of the wall. It was the dress rehearsal for some forum of friendship between Xi’an and Hong Kong. The chorous had 200 people, the orchestra 100. Then about 80 little girls dressed in yellow silk dresses did a dance and recited from books. Another 200 people were waiting to perform. The sound was awesome.
We went to dinner in the Muslim quarter. Xi’an is at the eastern end of the historical Silk Road. Traders from Muslim countries came and settled in Xi’an and are now known as Hui. We had three large kettles boiling away on propane tanks. We selected skewers with vegetables, tofu and a specialty bread. One side of the kettle was tasty; the other was spicy. The kettle sits down in the table with a propane burner at your feet. The beef comes in skewers, lamb on a bone and the fish on a metal plate. We also had a thin bread, nan, with various herbs. The spicy side was very spicy. A piece of lettuce or bok choy that is dripping with boiling sauce is difficult to eat when it is skewered on a stick. It’s almost impossible to cut lamb with chop sticks. Some of the mushrooms were unusual: one had slender mid-sections stretching about 8 inches. On one end was a bulb; on the other something that looked like a flower. It was white. It had an unusual taste, not bad.
The two noodle shops we tried were very tasty with good servie. It’s after 11 now on the train; they wuill turn off the lights soon. They awake us at 7 a.m. We will be in Xiahe. From there we take a six hour ride by bus to Labrang. The monastery there is regarded by Buddhists as the most important outside of Tibet proper (it’s on the Tibetan Plain). Good night.
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