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china Travel

THE COLD IS COMING…

In the afternoon I went out with Kang Li to help me buy Flavio’s birthday gift that would be the next month in October, I bought a simple gas heater, tomorrow someone will come to install it. After all the autumn was coming and in the winter it would snow and I would also enjoy the hot water, the shower water was heated by solar energy and during the winter the sunlight was not enough to heat the water. We went shopping in a commercial and busy area, called Xiao Zai, there were stores of everything, from appliances, books, clothes, CDs and DVDs, food, mobile phones, etc.

The next day the guy who would install the gas heater came, as agreed, he had to drill the wall to pass the pipe. The installation came out more expensive than I expected. In the end it didn’t even have to drill the wall and it would have come out cheaper. Now we didn’t have to bathe at friends’ homes anymore.

In the afternoon I had class with Kang Li and met Steven, the Chinese who was going to teach me Cantonese on Sundays. He had a degree in English and worked in an office. Cantonese is the second most spoken Chinese language in China after Mandarin, it is also widely spoken in Chinatowns around the world.

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MR. WANG

In the morning I had class with Kang Li, she brought me the long-awaited Lonely Planet, the backpacker bible! I was getting anxious because I needed to plan my next trips to Southeast Asia.

Flavio and I had lunch with Mr. Wang and his family, his wife had found Flavio’s wallet, and in gratitude he decided to pay a lunch. It was interesting to interact with a family, they were very friendly, and the 10-year-old daughter scratched an English, she was the only daughter and the pride of her parents. They were condominium neighbors. In fact, it was a surprise the day Mr. Wang knocked on the door to return his wallet, Flavio hadn’t even realized the missing wallet, and we didn’t expect any Chinese to return the wallet, much less the money.

In the afternoon I went to watch a movie alone, “The Banquet”, subtitles in Chinese and English, I liked the film despite everyone dying in the end, the good guy, the bad guy, the victim, the innocent, etc. Asian movies tend to be very tragic, with sad endings. In China the chairs are numbered and a employee accompanies you to your row.

I arranged to have dinner with Daniela, since she wanted to go to the Café Alexandre to have Brazilian coffee and it was in the same mall where the cinema was. We had a pasta as wide as the lasagna pasta!

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FOREIGNER MEETING

The weather was fine and at night there was Jade’s birthday party at her apartment, only for non-Chinese. Jade was a Korean-English woman, who had been adopted as a child, she was very chubby. The party was in the American style, that is, each one should bring a dish of food. One of the foreigners had been seen by Flavio at Kashgar’s Sunday market, I didn’t remember him. Near home I went to the Metro, a supermarket like Sam’s Club with some imported things, on the way back Flávio and I took a taxi-bike (rickshaw), three people on the bike.

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THE “ENGLISH CORNER”

The weather was bad and I had no hot water. Flavio and I went to take a shower at Jade’s house. And at night I went to the English Corner with Regiane. The “English Corner” takes place every Thursday night in the square of XISU (Xian International Study University). Hundreds of Chinese students gather there to practice English or simply to have a contact with some foreigner, others wanted to show off before colleagues. I was glad that Regiane was with me, so she attracted a lot of Chinese, although I wanted to practice my Chinese not English, it was fun. It is was possible to contact a Chinese who worked in the auto parts industry and wanted to expand operations to Brazil.

When the Chinese saw Regiane, a foreign women, they soon began to coalesce around her, like moths vying for their space around a lighted lamp. So, Regiane had attracted enough people not to be able to answer the hundreds of questions and they saw that I was next to her not facing her, and every now and then I talked to her in Portuguese. Then they started talking to me, because I also answered the questions addressed to her to realize that I was from the outside. Then another circle was formed around me, which expanded a little more, like cells in division during mitosis, I no longer could see Regiane in the crowd.

The students were mostly girls, students of foreign language or simply people graduated from another course who wanted to learn English. Sometimes even a child would show up to practice or just to see a foreigner. We arrived between seven and eight o’clock at night, Regiane was tired and left before, I stayed until about 11pm. Next Thursday I would go again to have fun!

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NO LIGHT AND NO WATER

Today I had no electricity. Since the water heater was solar, all I had to do was hope for the sun to shine, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to shower or would have to take a cold bath or go to someone’s house with a gas heater.

In the afternoon I went to the post office downtown to send some postcards.

Since it was dark, we suspended the private class at night and went for a walk on Kang’s campus, I hitchhiked on her bike. Kang and I always had good conversations about religion and politics, but because my Chinese vocabulary was limited, we always talked in English. I loved provoking her by criticizing communism, Chinese habits and the controversial issue of Taiwan. She had a friend who wanted to play soccer with me, just because I was Brazilian, but I didn’t play football. The Chinese think that all Brazilians play soccer, just as Brazilians think all Chinese practice kung-fu. I didn’t practice either, much to everyone’s frustration.

The next day it had no water! So in the morning I went to the KFC’s toilet, about fifteen minutes walk from home, it was very clean but it had to squat. I took the opportunity to study right there, at the KFC table (not in the toilet). In the afternoon I slept at home and then studied, now I knew a hundred Chinese ideograms. I had class last night. I remember when I was a child and in São Paulo sometimes lacked either water or electricity.

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THE IMMORTALS

I went to Ba Xian An Si or Taoist Temple of the Eight Immortals, by the way they were all dead, it was at east of the East Gate (of the City Wall). Being the only Taoist temple of Xian, it was built in the Song dynasty (960AD–1279AD), but restored several times in successive subsequent dynasties, the main structures today were built in the Qing dynasty (1644AD–1911AD). There was no attraction in this temple, I’d say the visit was a waste of time. Outside there was a market with shops and stalls selling antiques or common objects in ancient eras, such as fans, bronze mirrors, porcelain, coins, brushes for Chinese calligraphy. I also passed through a park, the Yingqing Park, equally monotonous.

I had dinner with Linda and Susan (English), Regiane and Flavio, at Susan’s house, the owner of the pizzeria where we ate on August 2. Linda’s food was good, pasta in funghi sauce, but the English don’t seem to have the habit of repeating the dish.

The next day I took a Mandarin conversation class for the first time with Kang Li. I asked her to buy Lonely Planet from Southeast Asia over the Internet because I couldn’t find it in major import bookstores and it was getting worried about my next part of the trip.

The dinner was at a Japanese restaurant with Alexandre in a mall in Xian, who wanted to import Brazilian coffee. It also dined with us Daniela, the girlfriend of the soccer player Vicente (I can not remember which Brazilian team) and Flávio. Alexandre was annoyed when the waitresses held the beer bottle by the body, instead of holding it by the neck of the bottle, and I got angry when there was no cold soda. The Chinese didn’t mind drinking hot beer or soda.

The next day was beautiful, I took more pictures of Tang Paradise Park where I went to study. In relation to my studies I used the Flavio’s books, I was self-taught. I went to the TV tower near Flavio’s house but unfortunately it was not open to visitation.

I slept late every day. I kept updating my late blog day and night. On Vicente’s birthday, the Brazilians went to his flat. There was coxinha, pastel, chicken and meat pie, “brigadeiros” and “beijinhos”, all made by Daniela. Among the guests, in addition to the Brazilians, the were a Croatian blond soccer player and his family, and another black player from some country in Africa, all of them playing in teams from China.

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THE PAGODAS

Today I have updated my blog, it was another beautiful day. I met Kang Li, a graduate student in automation engineering, she was 26 years old and smart, a bit plump and wore glasses. She was going to give me some private Chinese lessons, just conversational. It was Flavio who introduced me, she taught him too. I was looking forward to starting studying right away.

I had lunch at the cafeteria of the college where Flavio was studying with him and Aaron, an Australian guy. I found it a little messy, like any cafeteria of any college, there was only Chinese food as expected and had to eat with chopsticks, the food was good as well as Flavio’s dinner, the fried noodles.

The next day would be the independence holiday in Brazil (September 7th). I had lunch with Flavio, Regiane, Jade (the chubby Korean-English), Jeff (the obese American) and Caroline (the beautiful Sino-Filipino-Canadian), all of which were studying Chinese here.

I went to visit the Dayan Ta (the Great Wild Goose Pagoda), the area was very beautiful and well maintained, I almost felt in Japan. The pagoda was built in 652 AD, in the Tang dynasty, no one knows why it has that name. Pagoda is a type of Buddhist or Taoist tower, and this was 64m high, you could get a good view of the city from the top.

In the huge block north of the pagoda there was the show at the water fountain, the largest in the world, which took place every day, day and night and it was crowded with many local Chinese. The show synchronized music and splashes of water, while some people had fun running and trying to escape the water jets, it was occupying a block divided into four or five blocks. Next to the Dayan Ta, there were two well-wooded parks, the eastern one attracting attention for being themed, possessing giant theater masks, sculptures and artistic statues.

Xiaoyan Ta (the Little Wild Goose Pagoda) was built in 709 AD, with 45m high, it was 2km from the big pagoda, also south of the city wall south gate, but I was not interested in visiting this one.

Later in the afternoon I went to Tang Paradise Park, a theme park and very beautiful. Opened in April 2005, the park was intended to showcase culture during the Tang dynasty (617 AD to 907 AD). It has several pavilions and buildings in the style of that time and a large lake with thousands of colorful and hungry carps, as well as statues, music, dance, souvenirs, food and smell of incense, all to convey to our five senses the essence of the grandeur and prosperity of the Tang dynasty.

I bought the annual pass for 150yuan (USD 20), since the entry was 50Y (very expensive!). I stayed until the evening, at 20:30 there was the exhibition of the water film, but before it began with a parade, a staging with the costumes dressed the old-fashioned way. The aquatic film was fantastic, it was projected in the waters of the fountain, giving the impression of holographic or three-dimensional projection. It was a story with the legendary monkey Sun Wu Kong as a hero, there was the dance of the waters, laser beams, fireworks and music.

Here in Xian the student card is well accepted, unlike other cities, I used my graduate student card to get into the pagoda and the wall with discount.

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THE HISTORIC CENTER OF XIAN

Xian (Shaanxi Province) is a very old and planned city with more than 3,100 years of history and culture. It is also one of the ancient capitals of China.

The center is surrounded by a huge wall, forming a rectangle of 12km of perimeter surrounded by a moat, is the most preserved wall in China, with its proper repairs. In the center is located the “Bell Tower” and the “Drum Tower”. The city wall separating the center of the suburb was originally built in 1370 in the Ming Dynasty, but only took the current form with bricks in 1568. It has 12m high and its base 18m wide, as well as several watchtowers.

The “Bell Tower” is the heart of the city although it is not at the epicenter of the wall, it was built in 1384, rebuilt in 1582 and restored in 1739, obviously has a large bell, made of bronze. The architecture is typical Chinese and its green roof forms the largest and best preserved “Bell Tower” of all China.

The “Drum Tower”, a few meters from the Bell Tower, is a larger building and contains dozens of huge drums. Behind the Drum Tower was the famous Muslim Quarter of Hui minority. They are said to be descendants of 8th-century Arab soldiers. The streets were narrow and the grocery stores, restaurants and stalls sold typical Muslim things, such as sheep’s head to eat the brain.

I walked from the south gate of the wall (it is the main entrance) to the west gate and then to the north gate. The day was cloudy, better than fog, because visibility is better without that opaque sky that was bad for photos.

Xian also have its department stores with the famous brands in the center.

The next day, despite being Tuesday, I went to do a biking, for me it was a “Sunday”. And the day was sunny and clear skies, good for photos! The biking was on the top of the city wall, from the south gate I followed clockwise to the west and then to the north, where the railway is, passing through several watchtowers. I paid an expensive bike renting, considering local standards, $2.50 for a hundred minutes. From the north gate I walked to the “Bell Tower”, I would still pass dozens of times through the center.

Biking on the wall.

Xian soldiers in the city center. Bell Tower in the background.

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BACK TO XIAN

My trip from Lanzhou to Xian was a string of delays, the bus delayed an hour, stopped to be repaired for another hour, had a detour on the way and a lot of traffic, and the road was stopped because of works, there were many trucks on the single narrow lane between the mountains. In the middle of the road appeared a lady selling food in styrofoam marmites brought in an aluminum tray, I do not know where it came from, but I ended up buying one and it was warm.

The forecast to arrive at 7pm was totally wrong and I arrived at 1:30 am at Flávio’s house, without remembering which condominium or floor it was. I was lucky to find a resident coming in and borrowed his cell phone to call. I was obviously fooled as to the length of the route, Chinese likes to cheat!

In the next two months I would devote myself to the studies of Mandarin and Cantonese in Xian. It was September 1st. 2006, my day of gravy, rest day and lots of rain. At least it was fresh, Xian is usually very hot, but the season was over. It was also the day to do my accounting, edit photos and update my blog.

The next day I met Regiane, a Brazilian from Ceará who was studying Chinese in Xian, she lived in the same condominium as Flávio. We had lunch all together.

The dinner was with American students at a supposed to be a Brazilian steakhouse. I was anxious, but it was a mistake, only the way of preparation was Brazilian, but the meats and other things had nothing to do with it. No picanha, fraldinha, contrafilé or filet mignon. I’d have to wait until the next year to kill the longing.

On Sunday I went to a Sunday service with the foreigners at Anita’s house, an American who grew up in Brazil, she loved Brazil and had a northeastern accent. The whole day was “smog”, glad it does not exist in Brazil, it was a sunny day but the sky was covered by a fog, taking all the liveliness of a clear sky.

I noticed that in China there is no squeegee and it is difficult to find beverage machines as in Japan or Taiwan.

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china Travel

CLIMBING TO LANSHAN

Today the weather was good and I have walked a lot! I hiked from the hotel to the top of Lan Shan mountain here in Lanzhou, at an altitude of 500m, the mountain was behind the train station as in Xining. I was going to take the cable car to the top but it was packed and the hike didn’t seem to difficult so I have decided to climb the mountain – it must have taken about 2 hs. I expected it to be more difficul, but it was a lot easier than Grouse Mountain in Canada or Villarrica Volcano in Chile, perhaps because I was already in better physical shape compared to my first few weeks of travel. From below, the mountain looked very high, and from the top it looked even higher! The buildings seemed low and small, the city looked like a mock-up and the tiny cars and trains seemed like toys.

At the top there was an amusement playground and restaurants, all empty. It also had a nine-hole golf course and a drive range to practice the shots, where I played fifty balls.