There are few thing you pick up quickly when you're confronted with a new language, but those you do usually include "cold beer please" "hello" and "thank you". I think the first thing we mastered in china was not how to ask for a beer (bing-da pi-jo) or say thank you (she-she) or hello (ni-hao). It was how to try to not look absolutely terrified in crowds.
When we arrived in china the first thing we learned to do was fill out forms. In truth, they actually give you the forms on the plane when you depart in Vancouver - so you have oh...12 or so hours to fill them out - but who wants to fill out forms when they are bringing around the drink cart and putting on movies? That's right...not us!
After we were done acquiring a hefty dose of writers cramp we learned how to push and shove our way through airplane cabins (pushing and shoving is a necessary chinese evil - you *must* join in). And then, we learned how to wait in line. LONG lines. But despite our last minute fears of not.making.it.into the country we had just flown oh, about 20 hours to get into, we made it. Passports stamped, initialed, visas frowned at, we were good to go.
The flight was excruciatingly long. Thank goodness for emergency exit rows (best seats EVER if you're stuck in economy) and free drinks. And ipods. I don't know what I would have done without mine.
The crowd, as soon as we meandered through customs (green gate! nothing to declare!), was intense, but we found who we were looking for almost right away. Brett's parents (who I was instructed to look for but who I wouldn't have recognized if they stood right in front of me since I had never met them) seemed to materialize out of thin air. We were whisked into a cab and thus began our death-defying adventure with China.
I wish I had taken photos from the cab but I couldn't - I was just too frightened to try to focus on something stationary. Cabs in china are like nothing you've ever experienced. There are no longer any sedate canadian polite road rules. The drivers will tell you they know where they're going when they have *no* idea, and they will yell at you in tongues that you can't even begin to comprehend. And when all else fails they will shake their fist at you and ask for your cell phone. Cars and drivers are everywhere, in every lane, in non-lanes, in the middle of intersections where they don't belong. Where there are three lanes there will be four or five or more drivers. Lights are mere "guidelines" and the rules of the road seem to work like this:
1. biggest. 2. second biggest. 3. best honker. 4. person who cuts you off. 5. everybody else. 6. more traffic. 7. then *maybe* pedestrians. *maybe*.
Once we arriveed at the hotel it was time for some blissful sleep. Thankfully our Shanghai Hotel (crowne plaza shanghai NOT downtown? ROCKS.) was dreamy and comfortable. We could have slept forever. Or at a minimum, I could have sat in the hallway and listened to the piped in bird-sounds. Nice and relaxing. Either one was a good plan, since we were schedule to hop on a plane the net day to head to Xi'an - home of the Terra Cotta Warriors. We were in for a tiring 10 days of group-travel ahead of us.
On Monday, which happened to be the first day of Golden Week in China (a week where all of the plants get shut down and everyone gets holidays), we headed back to Shanghai airport after a great night's sleep to hop on our first internal flight. China Eastern. And this is what China Eastern serves you for lunch:
"Celery salad with something fish-like mixed in - yum!"
Xi'an is a lovely city (in and around the city walls) despite the dirt. The dirt, for me, was the hardest thing to come to terms with. It's just like nothing you've ever experienced. There is grime everywhere. After a few days you sort of adjust. And by adjust I mean try really hard to tune it out though you're not successful. Dirt was the thing that plagued us for the entire trip. *Everything* was dirty. How they kept hotel rooms clean I will never know.
The other thing you must adjust to is the constant haze. When we first arrived I didn't see a cloud for almost a week. And that was *with* the factories shut down. The sky was a constant picture of this:
Look like an ordinary cloudy Canadian day, doesn't it? HA. Fooled you. This is plain old chinese non-sky. It's unbelievable how much we take having clouds for granted. What you have at home does not necessarily exist on the other side of the world. And rest assured - when you see clouds again you will very nearly cry.
The terra cotta warriors were buried with the Emperor of Qin somewhere around 209 - 210 BC. They were discovered by farmers digging a well in the countryside in 1974 and have been a tourist attraction for many years since. Exposure to the open air and to the sunlight has caused the formerly clay-orange (and often, other colours) to fade over time, leaving them a rusty faded grey.
These warriors were something I had only ever seen on television as a child - I never imagined that I would be seeing them up close. Each warrior is different - and was likely carved by a different "artist". Many are missing their heads, arms, and feet due to pillaging that happened in between their burial and their discovery. Most of the weapons and chariots they were buried with have been destroyed or have gone missing. It's really quite astonishingly sad.
This is a tourist site (complete with on-site museum and 360-degree cinema depicting the history of the army) but the history that exists within the halls (there are three) is difficult to truly understand. Stunningly beautiful and intricately carved, these speak of a different life than we will ever know - a different way of living and creating. And of a history we can only really guess at.
It's about time I told you about china, isn't it? More tomorrow, too. We're only three days in!