Xi’an (she-ahn) was the next – and a special – stop on our China journey.  Last summer, we had some students from Guangzhou, China, stay with us.  One of the girls, Anita, and her family (Tim and Cathy) were going to meet us in Xi’an.  Instead of the upscale Western-style hotel, we went for a youth hostel this time.  Yes, that’s right.  Youth hostel.  My sister wouldn’t be allowed in the door, but I can still manage these things…  Our rooms did have their own bathrooms and shower, although there was no separate shower.  Just a showerhead mounted on the wall in the bathroom.  The hostel itself was very nice.  The place was quiet, the people running the place were welcoming, good food in the restaurant downstairs, and their beer was cold.  After that, the rest is gravy…

Pollution permeates the air across China.  It wasn’t too bad in Shanghai for most of my stay, we dodged a bullet in Beijing, but not initially so lucky in Xi’an.  When the train pulled in, visibility was maybe a quarter mile.  We had brought masks with us in the event that pollution was too much to bear, but we didn’t notice that anyone was wearing them.  Lots of people in Japan wear masks, but that’s mostly because they are hypochondriacs and they wear them to prevent the spread of germs & viruses.  I guess ‘lots’ might be a bit steep of a word, but there are enough that it is very noticeable.  So, we kept the masks in the room.  During that first night, it started to rain and kept raining for the next two days.  Not enough to give us blue skies when it finished, but it was enough to get visibility back up to a bad Shanghai day of 2 miles because the rain pulled the pollution out of the air.

Of every place we went to, the Terracotta Warriors completed my China bucket list.  Petra (a trip here would also have to include biblically significant sites), Luxor (and yes, this would also include the rest of Egypt’s treasures), Machu Picchu, and Angkor Wat round out the rest of my top 5.  But this is about China…  One of the things that having Anita’s family with us was the extra blurbs we would get from them that colored our experience from their perspective.  Take the air pollution, for example.  It’s something that actually gives them hope.  Yes, hope.  For so long those that have been in power in China and those that had money could always buy better food, have clean water delivered.  But the air is an equalizer – it doesn’t matter how much money you personally have, you can’t really buy better air for just yourself.  If those in power want better air, they’re going to have to fix it for everyone.

The bit of Chinese that I have learned while in China has been very useful, although at times it sets an expectation that I understand more than I really do.  When I would say “liang mi ling ba” for 2 meters 8 to answer the looks of “How tall are you?” I would usually get a landslide of Chinese that would follow and I had absolutely no idea what was said.  That would typically be followed with laughs and a presentation of a camera with either a shrug of the shoulders or raised eyebrows – international sign language for “Can I have a picture?”  Ketti and Noah both tried to pick up on some Chinese, saying Xie Xie (SHE-ah SHE-ah) for “thank you” and they both remembered how to order a bottle of water – Wo you yi ping bing shwei, xie xie.  Water had to be ordered “bing”, or cold.  Otherwise it would come out hot.  Chinese medicine teaches that cold is not good for the body, which is why the preference to hot…

Culture, of course, remained front and center during our stay in Xi’an.  Anita’s family viewed themselves as our hosts, and as the hosts it was their responsibility to pay for everything.  We wanted to split as much as we could, so it was a constant race to try and get to a waiter before Tim did, but since his Mandarin was a shade better than mine, he had usually taken care of it before I had a chance to even try.  In addition to finding the hotel and making those arrangements, they also made arrangements for a car and driver for the duration during Xi’an – there really was no other way.  For some of the places we went, cabs wouldn’t really get us there and one-off arrangements would have ended up being too expensive and complicated to manage.  I think I let them win enough to feel like they were good hosts, but we won enough to not feel like complete mooches.

With my now shorter bucket list in tow, it was time to head back to Shanghai for the last few days.  We were also going to have a dinner with the primary folks I have been working with and to also put in front of Noah and Ketti some of the more interesting foods that China has to offer.  But I’ll save that for the next one.  I think I’m going to write two more now that I can see the end.  One to cover the last few days and the trip home, then I have been taking a series of themed pictures that haven’t been posted yet (well, one did leak) and that will be the grand finale.

So, being as we’re at the end of the text portion of this post, click the first picture to start the gallery.  Zai jian!