Monday, April 28, 2008

CD250: Counting Down

 Is there anything better than to be longing for something, when you know it is within reach? - Greta Garbo

Today marks day 250 in China and 69 days until I return to the great US of A. I also have 19 days until my marathon on The Great Wall in Beijing. There is only 1 more working day this week and 2 days until I head to the hot tourist destination of Guilin with Andreana for our "Labor Day" 4-day holiday.

I think first things first and I must make a solid disclaimer about my last blog. I mentioned a boy - Lio. I used the term - boyfriend. Most of you, my dear friends, are thinking like the true Americans I know you are. I can hear you. The wheels are turning something like this: "Rachael mentioned a boy in her blog. She never does that. She called him her bf (boyfriend). This must be a REALLY big deal...I wonder what one wears to a Chinese/American wedding..." You must remember, I have been living in China for the better part of a year and have taken to some Chinese ways of thinking. This is how the Chinese wheels turn: "Rachael referred to a boy in her blog as her boyfriend. She is living in China and he is Chinese. Ah...he's a "Chinese boyfriend". That is just like the boy/girlfriend I had in junior high school. He/she was great! His/her best friend passed my best friend a note from him/her asking me if I'd be his boy/girlfriend. We often talked on the phone on the weekend. It was totally serious - we "dated" for at least a week!" In layman's terms, while Lio is great people, he is Chinese people and our relationship isn't serious. In China, you are "dating" someone if they are of the opposite sex and you hang out with them or talk with them at any time outside of when you have to (such as class). Please forgive me for using this term so casually and not considering the heinous repercussions I'd have to face by doing so. Now, hopefully that issue is cleared up and I can move on.

While life in general is going just fine, I am ready to come home. Outside of school I am keeping busy with planning for my return to the West Coast, planning some last minute travels I want to do before I leave Asia, and training for my marathon. While I feel like my dedication to my training schedule is spotty, I ran 20 miles the weekend before last and made it all the way home. I was absolutely filthy as the route I chose took me to possibly the dirtiest little coal mine city I have seen and quite disgusting in general, but I did it. The feeling of finishing even that far was quite liberating. Too bad there was no fanfare or adoring race supporters at the end - just Andreana asking if I was finished running yet and ready for dinner.  I wasn't sore the next day so that was a good sign as well. I have just about 3 weeks before I head to Beijing for my race  - which is over 6 miles longer - but I am feeling pretty good about it. I just have to get the motivation up for 3 weeks.

I applied to San Diego (of course) and LA (God only knows why). They both got back to me about interviewing but I can't do so until I come back stateside. Right now the plan is to put all my eggs in the San Diego basket as I would really rather live there than LA. Hopefully I can get a job for this fall otherwise the plan is to substitute. The alternative is to work at Vons (the Safeway of Cali) and try to get whatever I can. At any rate, the plan is to be settled into SD in August. I am moving there with my best friend Craig. Yes, he's a boy. No, we are not getting married. No we are not dating nor plan to date at any time in the future. We are both looking forward to the sand, sun, and surf.

Andreana and I are taking advantage of our short work week and going to a city called Guilin on Thursday. It is considered one of the top attractions in all of China for its natural scenery. I will tell you more about that once I return. I usually have to work at the high school on the weekend but she and I are hoping that when I get time off we'll be able to do a little more exploring of the province we live in. We are the china making capital of the world after all!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

CD 230: The Art of the 3 Day Weekend

I am, of course, lucky for many reasons. One such reason is that, as a teacher, I get frequent holidays. This fact is boosted by my current location in China, where they get holidays that are quite simply unheard of. This term I have also been blessed with only 1 class first thing Friday morning and students that are more than willing to have class on another day if need be. My second bit of luck is mixed. While it is unlucky that my boyfriend lives Provinces away, I am lucky in that he likes me enough to travel to see me on the weekend despite his having to travel all week for work. I am also lucky that this man who'd prefer to spend his time in a new city trying local food and beer while watching local people, likes me enough to traipse all over town to see cool stuff - meaning stuff that's cool to me.

All of this luck has been combined into 2 3-day trips I have been able to take in the last couple of months. Some here don't understand why I would only travel somewhere for such a short period of time, but if I have to chose between 3 days somewhere or never seeing it, I chose 3 days.

February had an extra day this year, so why not make it a holiday? Okay, I will. I traveled to WuHan in the Hubei Province - about 6 hours north by train. WuHan is really the conglomeration of three cities that use to be independent. But why be independent when you can conglomerate? WuHan boasts that it's the only city to lie on both sides of the Yangzi. Hooray!! BOTH sides! Take that other lame single-sided cities!!

The area along the river bank isn't too glamorous during the day as they are busy building faux beach areas, riverside apartments and its an active shipping hub. However, at night its amazing. They have a long stretch along the riverbank that is set aside just for flying kites, parks, sitting, dancing under trees, eating noodles...all the fun things to do in China. Kites is a new one...these people LOVE kite flying. Perhaps I will have to give it a go.

We kept the sightseeing to a minimum and just tried to enjoy ourselves, but I did sneak in a few things. We went to Yellow Crane Tower, which claims to be a "Fourty toping  tourist attractions of China" and "the first tower on Earth".. The tower itself was pretty spectacular and gave some great views of the city (despite the smog). Inside the tower there were also some amazing murals both painted and in tiles

The city also takes pride in having the WuHan YangZi River Big Bridge. Its 110m long and 80m high and was "one of Communists China's first great engineering feats". The city was full of Russian, French, British, and German style buildings from the concession era which is kinda fun when they have all been turned into typical Chinese restaurants, houses, and shops.

Trip 2 was slightly more exciting. I managed to talk the BF - Lio, into coming with me to Xi'an. (Keep in mind, he could care less about history....) Xi'an is known in China because it is quite near the very first capital city (which no longer exists) of the Qin Dynasty which was the first to rule over all of Eastern China. Xi'an was itself the ancient capital of both the Ming and Tang dynasties. Most people know Xi'an because that Qin emperor happened to make a GIANT Army of Terracotta Warriors.

Xi'an is one of the few cities in China where city walls are still visible and Xi'an's walls are mostly still intact or have been/are in the process of being repaired. The walls form a rectangle around the center part of the city and the gateways in each direction still stand as well as the watchtowers in each corner and numerous defensive towers. They are still working to reconstruct all parts of the wall so one day soon someone could go all the way around the downtown area from the top of the wall. Sweet.

There is a large Bell Tower just north of the South gate that use to be part of the wall (an emperor moved it) and a Drum Tower just down the street from that.  Both towers look pretty cool stuck in the middle of a busy city and add to the ancient city feel. The Drum Tower marks where a huge Muslim quarter begins. This area was jammed with craftspeople, delicious food, traditional artists, and traders of all sorts.

We visited a fun little pagoda called Little Goose Pagoda that lost its top in an earthquake. It is located with the grounds of the Jianfu Temple and now both have been incorporated into a larger park with a city museum as well. The museum is brand  new and had some cool information about the history of the city - and a lot of it was in English, which is always a bonus.

The big ticket event was of course the Army of Terracotta Warriors. About 40 years ago, a nice little peasant man was digging and well and found an underground vault of earth and timber that eventually yielded thousands of life-sized terracotta soldiers and their horses in battle formation. The soldiers were placed there with the intention of guarding the nearby tomb of Qin Shi Huang (the First Emperor of Eastern China). His tomb and the warriors area is considered to be one of the greatest mausoleums the world would have ever seen. Now his tomb is more just a mound of dirt but it was reported to be filled with riches unimaginable - and the bodies of the people who designed it as he didn't want anyone knowing it's secrets. Qin didn't make many friends so his tomb and warriors were destroyed in part or in totality by his successors.

Two bronze chariots and horses were found close to the tomb and are now on display in the Warrior's complex. They have been repaired as well as they could be and the craftsmanship in wielding and design are evidence of how advanced the society was then. There are 3 pits of warriors you can visit. We started with Pit 2 which had about 1000 warriors but most of what you can see now are just fragments and the remains of the wooden beams from the vaults. Pit 3 had only 68 warriors and a war chariot. That pit was excavated, repaired, and repositioned so you can get a feel of how it would have looked.

Pit 1 is the honeypot for sure - 210 m by 60 m and some 6000 figures of warriors and horses in a huge rectangular battle array. This pit hasn't even been completely excavated! Every figure has a different expression and different facial features. All of the figures use to be painted as well. The bodies of the soldiers strictly follow ancient art of war techniques and many held original weapons of the day. As of now, over 10,000 weapon pieces have been collected and stored, but they can't be seen. Techniques the craftsmen used when making the weapons made them resistant to rush and corrosion so that even after being buried for over 2000 years, they were still sharp. I would say maybe half of the pit has been excavated. There is a section in the rear where workers have been collecting broken pieces and pain-stakingly putting figures back together.

I am not sure if I will be able to get away with any more 3 day-ers before I leave. I am taking some time off in May to go to Beijing to run my marathon and we have a 5 day weekend the first part of May for another holiday. There is less than 90 days between now and my return so my days are limited...I suppose. My friend Heather is coming to meet me in China after I am done with work. I am hoping to squeeze in a short cruise down the Yangtze to see the infamous 3 Gorges Dam before she gets here. Then, we'll tour around the Shanghai area for about 6 days before heading to Japan for a week. I know, I know...rough life.

I put some new pictures up at