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Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Great Wall (Part 3)

Sunday, December 9, 2012


The weekend before last my friends and I took a trip to Xi'An for a couple days. Xi'An is a urban city located to the west of Beijing, and was once the home of royalty. The name Xi'An means "west security" and since the turn of the new era has become an economic work horse and at the same time a home for many of China's Muslims. The "Muslim Quarter" is a large community of businesses and homes owned and occupied by a concentration of people of several nationalities, but for the most part all share the Muslim faith. They come together in the area for the same reason China towns spring up in the United States, to find a sense of community and familiarity in what is usually a foreign living place.

The Muslim Quarter is a good place to spend a weekend. Their food is phenomenal and the owners of the shops and restaurants are usually not only very friendly but also carry a festive vibe. They have specialty food at every turn like lamb skewers. They usually don't allow the drinking of any alcohol in their restaurants, staying true to the beliefs their community was founded on.  Below are some pictures of the trip.

The streets of the Muslim Quarter

Cooking food

Water fountain show near the Big Goose Pagoda, or  DaYanTa

View of Xi'An from the top of DaYanTa. Those visibility conditions
are not natural weather phenomenon, its smog. A good example of
why China, amongst double digit GDP growth, is still considered a developing country.

The major tourist pull of the region is the Terra-Cotta Warriors. Built in the Qin Dynasty to serve as the guardians for the first emperor of China in afterlife, it was buried with him around 210 BC. At a later date, revolutionaries stormed the tomb and largely destroyed the tomb and the warriors within it. They were discovered in 1974 by a group of farmers digging a well, and since then an extensive rebuilding archeology project has been undertaken at the site.

At the site I saw one of the men who originally discovered the warriors. Mr. Yang, after discovering the head of a warrior in the ground, reported it to his brigade leader and was rewarded the equivalent of about a dollar. While visiting the newly renovated site,  Bill Clinton asked to get the autograph of the man who discovered the 8th Wonder of the World. However Mr. Yang was discovered to be illiterate, and could only sign his name as three circles. Embarrassed by the exchange, the PRC sent Mr. Yang to an intensive calligraphy study which lasted several months and then made him work at the visitor center doing just what he'd been schooled to do, sign his name on the inside cover of books for tourists around the world. It's a strange story, but it reminds me that even though myself and many of my well off classmates enjoy freedoms that on the surface looks comparable to ones we have in the U.S., this society is still ruled by an authoritarian government. It is still within their power to change an individual life into a political or economic tool in a very direct way.

Riding bikes atop the city wall, which wraps around
the perimeter of the metropolis.

Section of the Terra-cotta Warriors. Here they are informally
facing each other, indicating they are off duty.

The Terra-Cotta Warriors, "8th Wonder of the World"

Pig feet with your chicken wings.

Squid skewers