Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Carden Teachers Watch a Training DVDWhile not entirely unaware of hurricane Katrina, my coworkers (Americans from California, Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas) haven't had much of a chance to follow the events in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. I'm sure they would all feel as terrible as I do about the disaster there.

My coworkers, pictured here, moved to Beijing a few weeks ago, started training recently, and haven't fully outfitted their apartments with internet connections yet and haven't completely located other English resources from which to keep informed. When they have had a chance to use the computer, it has been predominantly to contact their friends and family. Some of them have mentioned suffering from news deprivation. The demands of relocating to a new country, developing new friendships, learning to navigate a city the size of Beijing and adjusting to a new job are quite enough to make anyone temporarily distracted.

I couldn't help thinking of the Superdome last night, where so many thousands of people were trying to live, as my silly e-mail fantasy football draft comes to a close and how the events there would affect the start of football season. Our minds lead us to strange things in unusual situations. This morning, Angela asked me how many people had died and waited while I loaded CNN.com. I had read an unrealistically small number and didn't tell her. I read a number of e-mails, a growing list actually, about poets who were looking for other poets from those devastated areas, and a wonderful (that's not quite the right word) message from Camille Martin about her escape to safer climes and the continuing chaos around her. Things are getting worse there and I will be thinking about all the people suffering tonight as I head out to host another edition of The Bookworm's open mic...

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Poetic Community, pt. 3: Discovering the Online Writing Community

After moving to Japan three years ago, I found myself without any of the nearby social circles that I had while living in San Francisco. Some of them were still available to me via the computer but, as I soon discovered, the computer could only bring my loved ones so close, and then some of those people, in fact, drifted away altogether. I'm not sad about it. It's just part of the evolution of one's friendships, I suppose. It could very well be that I'm just not as well liked as I imagine myself.

Anyway, as a result of my relocation, which obviously altered my lifestyle and habits considerably, I was forced to develop new habits. I made conscious decisions about how to reallocate my time. Moving to Japan was a great opportunity to resume writing as my senses were being bombarded by new things, which was exciting, and it was easy to resume my old habits in that spectrum.

Survival was my first concern as I was in a strange country and needed to earn money. So many things about my life had changed and satisfying my writing desires were the least of those concerns, but I nonetheless made more time to write and read. One day, I stumbled across a person at my office who shared similar interests in writing, and we were soon meeting each week to discuss our personal projects and motivate one another. Soon, I had resumed churning out work at a steady rate. I had also started doing more research on the internet and began to really pay attention to e-zines and online writing communities, which I had largely avoided in the past.

Things were good and I was approaching this activity with renewed energy and a more focused plan. As I explored the internet, I discovered that the online community of writers had grown much larger than I had imagined. I remember understanding that the internet could actually sustain my writing. I thought it was a legitimate place in which to work and publish. In reality, I was living hand-to-mouth and couldn't afford to spend money on postage for submissions. I didn't have a printer and couldn't afford to buy one so I wouldn't be sending heaps of work the old-fashioned way. No more blindly stuffing envelopes. If I was going to do this, everything had to happen through e-mail. Eventually, I began to submit my writing electronically.

At the time, I didn't realize what I was looking for. I was just operating on an instinctual level and one thing lead to another. The failures of my first attempts at publishing guided me, and I made more informed decisions and maintained a greater level of patience. By the end of this first year, I had an acceptance rate of about 25%, walked around my bedroom with a swagger, and felt completely comfortable in my new life. This was the beginnings of my online community.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Taking a break from the Poetic Community posts to add something a little less esoteric, although, this is also related...

It's unfortunate that general internet users in China cannot view my blog (due to the restrictions here on domains that host blogs) unless they know the proxy circumventions. It's not only that my blog is so wonderfully entertaining, but just that I simply live in China. I am located here in the capital city, Beijing. I work and write and wander around here and I would like to be able to share those things more easily with folks who are doing the same things, especially as I continue to engage with the locals. This blog is really my electronic calling card and it's frustrating when I can't share it easily with the people I encounter every day.

The open mic at The Bookworm came off quite well last night. As has been happening, the crowd has been completely different each night, which is great. There have been about 15-20 folks in the audience (not including the people who are usually dining in the restaurant), with about one-third of those participating. I hope to start seeing some return visits from those folks, but we'll see. I'm new to this activity, as far as hosting it goes, so it's difficult to really have any expectations.

The audience always seems to contain an eclectic set of folks from diverse backgrounds (The Bookworm, being centered in the middle of the Embassy District doesn't hurt), and we had our first readings in a language other than English yesterday. Jorge, a very animated reader from Colombia, read a poem in Spanish, Federico, from Italy, read poems in both English and French, and Amy J. read a poem in Chinese. Those of us watching, couldn't have been more enrapt, even though none of us could understand all of the works presented. It was just great to listen and share those things with each other.

The Bookworm is a beautiful location and I targeted the shop for its ambiance as well as for its clientele. It's a library attached to a restaurant, and we do our thing in the library section in front of the book-lined walls. At the end of the event yesterday, one gentleman, Josh, as he was mentioning his enjoyment of the event suggested that I should get a book and start reading. "These people came to see this, man!" I said, "I think you're getting the idea, now." I have found a place where it would be difficult for people to avoid participating, even if they didn't bring their own poems. There are simply too many great books from which to choose and I'm hoping people will, eventually, do just that. Pick up their favorite books and jump into the mix with us.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Poetic Community, pt. 2: Education

I hype that I have been writing and publishing poetry for nearly 20 years when I submit my poems for the kind consideration of editors at the various publications I frequent. At nearly 35 tender years, that would have me publishing poetry since about the age of 15, even if you don't consider junior high school publications, and that's entirely true. I began to submit my writing early, with relatively little success, despite my poor efforts to research many of those wonderful publications to which I was unwittingly submitting. Without any sort of cover letter, I was stuffing envelopes with typed copies of my poems, a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) and sending them to addresses I picked out of Poet's Market. I can't remember my very first publication, but I can remember clearly the first money ($2.50) I received when I was a freshman in college for a poem of mine. I thought I was on the road to riches then and danced around my dormitory room as dreamy poetry groupies swooned at my feet.

I continued submitting work through 10 years of college, earning BA, MA & MFA degrees from San Francisco State University (SFSU), adding readings and open mic appearances to my repertoire. Unfortunately, my success rate in the publishing world had not increased any. Following my third and final graduation, I stopped submitting work, writing and performing altogether for nearly 5 years. I had become disillusioned with the poetry world and frustrated about my continuing lack of acceptance, even though, in my mind, my stature had risen intellectually via my education. Although my intellectual value had risen, my value as a poet seemed to be standing still. My classmates were winning awards that I thought I deserved. I expected more than encouragement from my teachers, and some of them made me feel particularly lucky to be in my position, but none of them ever did much for me, if anything, outside the classroom. I wasn't much of a teacher's pet student and, in some ways, we were potential competitors. I could eventually be pursuing their jobs, publishing in their magazines and taking away their own opportunities, but that's perhaps a paranoid view. It's more likely that they just didn't really care about my work. That or I was blind to my own inadequacies as a poet and wasn't listening to anyone. I guess I expected to be asked to join in or become a part of something, some movement and, looking back, I suppose I wasn't offering much in return.

This was my first community, the writers and students at SFSU, which arose out of my randomness at having attended school there. I simple chose that school because my friend had gone. Little did I know what kind of history that fine school had going for it. I made some nice acquaintances and studied under some fine teachers: Frances Mayes, Phyllis Burke, Charlene Bluehorse, Daniel Langton, Aaron Shurin, Bob Glück, Myung Mi Kim, Maxine Chernoff and many others. I have fond memories of my time there and the hours I spent at The Horseshoe Café and other places scratching out my poems in my workbook, but I never felt completely accepted or embraced. I also never felt inspired by the community there, which I had come to call home after thirteen years.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Poetic Community, pt. 1: Introduction

Since my last post, I've drafted two new posts which still remain incomplete. They continue to grow, and already appear lengthy in their prenatal state, as I work through some of the things that have crossed my path in recent days. As they develop and reach completion, I'll post them here over the next few weeks as part of a series, I guess. That's a great idea and now I'll stop and add a title to this which will bring some formality to the process... Not quite the alluring title I wanted, but sufficient enough to convey the theme, which some may choose to avoid altogether, and continue without being bothered.

I'm talking about writing more critically about writing or, at least, observing my own writing life and my living of it in a more critical way. This is what I've been battering around in my mind, particularly because I have lived abroad for the past three years and have come to realize a different sort of community than the one that normally develops around a person. If anything, it's just good practice. It's fun to write about the weather and my adventures, and my friends, parents and grandparents enjoy reading my rabble and will hopefully continue doing so, but as my audience expands, and it is expanding (I'll spare you statistical details until my blog's birthday in October), I want to provide wider-ranging content. I'm multi-dimensional!

As you can tell from my windy preface, I've been grappling with my poetic career recently–I like it and wouldn't change anything, except to add an increased level of book publications to the mix, like one *wink*–but some things I've read or done have brought me into closer and closer context with other writers, writing communities and writerly fashions. Contact rather than context would be a more natural or cliché choice in the previous sentence, but I think this suggests something else, which is not physical, not simply touching, but also interrelated. I am going to examine the different ways that the community around me has developed. For those of you who are unfamiliar with my day-to-day writerly machinations, this will be, no doubt, an invaluable touchstone or insight into the myth of me.

Friday, August 19, 2005

For the past three days, the weather has been wonderfully clear with picturesque blue skies and glorious sunsets, climaxing in a full moon this evening which has never seemed so round or clear to me. Beijing hasn't had such optimal weather conditions all Summer long. The evenings have cooled off a little, further hinting that our Summer is coming to a close. I won't miss the humidity and look forward to the milder Autumn weather. Unfortunately, the change in the weather also signals the fast approach of another school year for all of us teachers here and, undoubtedly, in many other places around the globe.

I like my job, as I've mentioned on numerous occasions, but it's just the return to active duty that has me quaking a little after seven-ish weeks of vacation. Not quite as generous as the Summer vacations in America, but welcome all the same. I suspect the new school year won't be much different from the previous one, although I have a new position as the Director of our program and hope things will run more smoothly under my steady guidance. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

tsingtao_bottleI spent the past few days in Qingdao with Angela, Silvia (Angela's former schoolmate from Italy) and Lisa (one of my new coworkers). You may know the city by its old name, Tsingtao, where the famous Chinese beer is made. Tsingtao is the former spelling of the city and was changed when the English representation of Chinese language was standardized and finally adopted in 1979. We had gone to Qingdao to spend a few days relaxing at the seaside. Qingdao, obviously famous for the beer, is also well-known for its beautiful European feel and mellow seaside atmosphere and we weren't disappointed.

Sleeper Bus to QingdaoWe left in the evening, the only foreigners on the trip, catching an overnight sleeper bus, which would have us arriving in Qingdao at about 5:30 AM the next morning. None of us had ever taken a bus of this kind and we were excited to travel in such a way. There were three rows of beds inside, two along each wall of the bus and one in the center, with four bunk beds in each row. It was quite cozy as you can see here. There was a bathroom in the back of the bus, but I was afraid to use it as the floor was quite dirty.

We arrived on time, and were tired but happy to be off the bus, which was a rough night of interrupted sleep at the mercy of an overzealous driver, honking and applying the brakes incessantly while we jostled in our beds. We found a hotel easily, dropped off our things, and went in search of coffee. Almost nothing was open so early in the morning and we weren't that confident about finding a coffee shop, so we went to one of the best hotels in town, The Shangri-La, and sat down to enjoy their breakfast buffet. We'd eaten a late lunch before we left, but didn't really have any dinner before boarding our bus, and were quite hungry.

beer_roosterAfter nearly three hours at the Shangri-La slurping coffee and waking up, we went back to our hotel to rest a bit and clean up. We reconvened in the lobby in the afternoon, took a walk along the beach, and eventually made our way to The 15th Annual Qingdao International Beer Festival, which was unimpressive. After paying our 25 RMB entrance fees and receiving nothing for it besides admittance to the festival, we looked for a place to sit down and drink a beer. Everything was expensive and there was lots of loud music blaring everywhere we went. There was also a carnival inside the festival grounds with rides to ride and games to play, but it wasn't exactly the kind of entertainment we desired. After drinking a few warm beers and riding the "Ranger," a ride in which we made a number of high-speed loops, we exited the festival and went back into the city center. We took a nice walk along the water in the evening, relaxing on the grass in a nice park to watch the lights of the city across the water before stopping to eat some seafood and finally returning to our rooms for the night.

The next day, we strolled along the beach and took in too much sun, all four of us red with the effects of the day. Despite the sun, we had a pleasant time walking around and admiring the beautiful city, stopping often in shady places to enjoy the cool sea breeze and cold beer. We finished the day by bowling a couple games together before retiring for the evening.

Qingdao PosseOn my final day, we did more of the same, walking along the beach and through the nice parks of Qingdao. We visited a European-style villa near the beach, which has become a typical Chinese tourist trap complete with surprise vendors on the top floor of the villa, and slowly made our way back to our hotel. Lisa had taken sick, unfortunately, and needed to rest. After only a few weeks in China, Chinese food may have finally caught up with her. She returned to the hotel room while Angela, Silvia and me went out to look for something to eat. We lucked into a great seafood restaurant with tables on the sidewalk and ravaged a fine meal of fresh crab and mussels, easily our best meal of the trip.

Angela and Silvia were staying an extra day, and so Lisa and I would ride the bus back together without them. The ride home was relatively gentle and I made it back to my apartment by about 6:00 AM this morning with the whole day ahead of me. As always, check out additional pictures from this trip by clicking the My Photos link in the menu at your left.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Last night, I hosted a poetry open mic at The Bookworm here in Beijing. I had pitched the idea to the owner a few weeks ago and she was thrilled about it so now we're going full steam. By all accounts, it was a hit and I'm looking forward to continuing the effort. Quite a few people turned out for the event and, although it wasn't a packed house, it looks to improve over the coming weeks. Initially, there were only about twelve of us when we got started, but by the end, many other folks had arrived or had stopped to watch.

Met a diplomat from Bangladesh and his wife and a guy from Nigeria, among many other folks, all of them excited about the event, and all of them looking forward to its continued success. There were also people from China, Colombia, France, England and Italy in the audience, which was cool. It really gave the event an international feel, even though the only participants read poetry in English. Many promised to return next week to read in their native languages, which should be great. Wish me luck!

Well, on to more mundane matters. It's back to work today for at least an hour, as I expect my private student, Susan, just back from a trip to Korea with her mother, to arrive for a lesson at 5:00 PM.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Drip, drip, drop...

It has been raining steadily, but not too hard, all day here. It's a little unusual as it generally rains quite strongly for a few hours, at the most, and then quits. I didn't have anything better to do, so I just stayed inside and did inside stuff around the apartment. I wanted to go to the store to get a few sundry items, but it was raining just enough to keep me from going beyond the front door.

Plink, plunk, plunk...

Unless you look outside, you wouldn't even know it was raining as there's no sound of the rain falling. It doesn't make that sound and, really, it's just a quiet, thin rain that falls. Every now and then when a car passes, I can hear the water under its wheels, sssssshhhhhh, which is a dead giveaway. It's a nice peaceful sound.

It's still hot, though not uncomfortably so, and every so often a car horn breaks the mood. I'm just sitting here pressing these keys and listening to my neighbor's television as the fan whirrs at me.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

China Tour - Part VI (Hangzhou & Zhouzhang)

Hangzhou - AngelaOver the next two days, we traveled outside of Shanghai to visit nearby attractions, the first of which was the city of Hangzhou. The main attraction was the beautiful lake area surrounded by a large park. After a long bus ride, in which we stopped a few times to pick up additional passengers, as seems to be the Chinese way, we arrived in Hangzhou and hired a taxi to take us to a temple surrounded by a park. I can't recall the name of the temple and, although it was still quite hot, there were plenty of shady places to rest. Near the entrance, there was a giant rock mountain which had many statues carved into it and numerous caves and passages running through it.

After a few hours there, we hired another taxi and relocated to Xi Hu (West Lake) and found a place to eat. The food was good and we were happy to be out of the heat. Following lunch, we made our way around the lake and hired a boat to take us across it. There were also a few small islands in the middle of the lake to explore. Wrapping up our adventure, we returned to the city center, purchased train tickets, and waited for our train to depart. Hangzhou was my least favorite place among the places we had been to so far but, all things considered, it was a relatively nice and relaxing day.

Zhouzhang - MeThe next morning, as we had had some difficulty procuring timely transportation on the previous day and ended up waiting around too much, we decided to hire a car for the whole day to take us to Zhouzhang and back. It proved to be one of our best decisions as the driver was simply at our mercy to wait for us and drive us around.

All of us were immediately impressed with the city, which had been restored in many places and was still being restored in other places. Built around and along a number of canals and waterways, Zhouzhang could be called the Venice of China, although it's certainly not as big as the one in Italy. The old part of the city had many narrow walkways, restored residences and shops to explore, and we had fun walking around and looking at everything. While we were eating lunch, it started to rain quite heavily, but by the time we had finished, the rain had stopped and it was much cooler. It was quite a long trip back, so we decided to return to Shanghai and get a good night's rest as we had to catch an early morning flight back to Beijing the next day.

We still had to eat dinner that night and, after resting for a few hours, we were ready to go out again for our final night in Shanghai. Angela wanted to eat pizza so our driver took us downtown. We hadn't really seen Shanghai at night and the driver took us to the center of the city, which was really spectacular. The streets were crowded with people and bright with neon light and it was exciting to walk around and look at all the marvelous color and life of the city. It nice cap on our stay in Shanghai.

RickshawWe returned to spectacular weather in Beijing the next morning and, after taking a ride in a rickshaw (I guess the rickshaw driver didn't understand that I wanted all four of us in the photo) around some of the Hutongs (narrow alleyways lined with old-style residences), spent the rest of the day shopping at some of Beijing's many markets. We had a late dinner with Angela's friend Sylvia, went to bed tired, and woke up early the next morning to escort my parents to the airport. We all had a great time in China and I invite you all to come and check it out, if you get a chance. There are many other pictures than the ones I've posted here. Click the My Photos link in the menu at the left and take a look.

Friday, August 05, 2005

China Tour - Part V (Shanghai)

We didn't have hotel reservations in Shanghai, but we had reserved an apartment on the recommendation of my boss. We arrived at the address, after about an hour-long cab ride, were buzzed into the building and escorted to the apartment, which was quite nice. We were impressed with the elegance and spaciousness of these accommodations. We retired to our rooms and went to sleep quickly, as it was well after midnight and we had had a long day. We were going to be in Shanghai for the next four nights.

Shanghai - The BundIn the morning, we went to reserve tickets to see an acrobatic show in the evening. Shanghai is supposedly famous for such entertainment. We did that without incident and made our way to the building wherein the Communist Party in China was first founded in 1921. It has since been turned into a museum which included a wax recreation of a discussion between all of the founding members seated around a table. This place was fascinating for all of us as there were many old artifacts to examine. We then made our way to The Bund, which is the waterfront in Shanghai, to take a walk along the water. Shanghai is considered China's most modern city and we were stunned at how modern the it looked with its skyscrapers and massive concrete highways swirling about the city, especially compared with Beijing. The architecture in Shanghai is also quite different, exhibiting a more European look outside of the touristic areas than all of the other cities we had visited.

Shanghai - Central District - Famous TeahouseWe continued on to the Central District (pictured on the left) which has been beautifully renovated, to walk around and enjoy the sights there, and afterwards, visited a temple to see the Jade Buddha, made of white jade, which is the largest jade Buddha in China. Then we went to eat before going to the theater to see the acrobatics show, which was awesome. The performance showcased what you might expect (spinning plates, feats of balance and strength), the highlight of the evening, although not exactly acrobatic, was an act which included four motorcyclists riding at a high speed and performing maneuvers inside of a giant round steel cage. It looked extremely dangerous and was exciting to witness. Unless you've seen it, it's very difficult to explain well.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

China Tour - Part IV (Yangshuo)

Li River - Landscape IThe next morning, we were picked up from our hotel by a bus which took us to the port from which we would embark on our cruise down the Li River. We had our luggage with us as we were going to stay overnight in Yangshuo. Most of the visitors were only taking day-trips and we were the only foreigners in our group. The bus ride lasted about one hour, but we finally arrived, boarded and set sail for Yangshuo sometime after 10AM. We left our luggage on the bus, which we would later pick up once we had arrived in Yangshuo.

As Guilin is famous for its beautiful natural scenery, we were excited to take a cruise through the gorgeous Li River valley to the small tourist town of Yangshuo, which largely shared the same exotic surroundings. My dad was quite excited about the trip, in fact he said it was his favorite part of our vacation, and stayed on deck and snapped photos for almost the entire length of the journey, really only returning to eat lunch, which was provided as part of our ticket.

Li River - Fisherman Selling His WaresThe cruise was very entertaining and there were many things to attract our attention. As we departed, we could see both ahead and behind that we were part of a giant flotilla making its way to Yangshuo. It was really impressive to see so many boats heading down river. At the beginning of the trip, Fisherman, in their small boats, would pull up alongside of the larger boats, and sell their fresh catch to the kitchens which were located at the rear of each boat. All along the journey, we could see small villages in the trees and people working or walking among the trees.

We finally arrived, left the boat behind and went to find the bus with our luggage. It was quite a long walk down a hill in the heat to reach our bus, but we found it and were taken to our hotel. The hotel was nice enough, not the 5-Star accommodations we had grown used to, but good enough. I thought we had great views from our hotel room. After resting for a few hours, we went out to explore our immediate surroundings, haggle with shopkeepers and get something to eat. It was still quite crowded everywhere and murderously hot, so we retired in a bar to drink a beer and rest. Our aspirations for this day were not very high, and we were just happy to relax. We left, walked around briefly, found a nice small restaurant and enjoyed hamburgers together before retiring to bed for the night.

Yangshuo - Moon Hill - Me & My ParentsWe woke up the next day feeling refreshed and followed Angela to a cafe. We had most of the day to wander around, but we had to get to the airport in the early evening to catch our flight to Shanghai. We didn't really want to do too much and wear ourselves our before our flight but we drove around the countryside in a little electric car. Angela and me climbed to the top of Moon Hill, pictured here, and went to a butterfly sanctuary which actually involved climbing a small mountain and touring another cave. Our third cave in two days, and this one, man-made, didn't meet our expectations.

We made our way back to town, ate a terrible lunch in a tourist-trap of a restaurant, gathered our things, and took a two-hour ride in a taxi to the airport only to find out that our flight had been rescheduled and would leave three hours later than we planned.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

China Tour - Part III (Guilin)

Guilin - LandscapeOur flight was delayed about 90 minutes, but we finally boarded and got off the ground sometime after 9PM. We arrived in Guilin after a nearly two-hour flight and then took a one-hour taxi ride into the city, in a pouring rain, to our hotel. If I remember correctly, we checked into our hotel well after midnight, quite exhausted.

Guilin is a beautiful place. The main attractions are the unusual shape of the surrounding mountains and countryside. There are also many luscious natural parks to explore so we had a long day of walking ahead of us. It wasn't raining and that was enough to be happy about. The woman who had driven us to our hotel the night before was waiting outside of our hotel when we left, and she agreed to drive us around all day for 100 RMB! Happy and healthy, we hopped into the cab and got started.Guilin - Boat Ride

We began the day by walking through a cave, one of five attractions we planned to see by the end of the day, which was a cool escape from the already humid weather, although crowded and loud. The Chinese tour guides like to use electronic bullhorns while leading tourists around. We next stopped at a travel agency in town to make arrangements and purchase tickets for a five-hour ride on a river boat to Yangshuo for the next day, and then went down to the river, walking through a small farming village, and took a short ride on a bamboo boat past Elephant Hill, so called because it looks like an elephant drinking water, pictured here.

Guilin - Elephant HillWe spent the rest of the day wandering around many of the other parks in Guilin, and finally walking through one other cave, which nearly killed all of us due to the large number of stairs we had to climb in the oppressive humidity to reach the entrance. Our final destination for the day was the largest park in Guilin, located in the center of the city, and we really only entered to see the Panda they had in a small zoo inside the park. Unfortunately, the panda had died a few months prior. On the way out, we had some fun with some monkeys which roamed about the park freely. By the time we left, it had started raining heavily. We returned to our hotel, refreshed briefly, and then went out to find some dinner.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

China Tour - Part II (Xian)

On the fourth day, we gathered our things together in the evening and headed for the Beijing West Railway Station. We had tickets to catch a 12-hour overnight train to Xian, our next stop. Angela's coworker, Jorge, a Colombian, joined our party as he wanted to see Xian with us, couldn't speak Chinese well and needed some help getting there and back. The more the merrier.

The train was excellent, 1st-Class, and quite different from my previous train experiences in China. Each cabin had two beds, a small table and a small lounge chair. There were also clean private bathrooms in our cabins, which was fantastic. My mother had taken sick in Beijing, needed to sleep-off her malady, and this arrangement suited her perfectly. Needless to say, my mother went to sleep almost immediately. Angela, Jorge and me went to the dining-car to swill a few beers. My father joined us for a couple and then returned to his cabin. We stayed in the dining-car for another two hours or so and rapped with each other and some of the other foreigners there.

We arrived in Xian and checked into another fine hotel. My mother wanted to continue to rest so she spent the rest of the day in bed along with my father who kept her company. Angela, Jorge and me left them and went to explore the city. We visited a temple, climbed a pagoda and walked around Angela's former university campus. She had lived for one year in Xian when she was a student and was enjoying reminiscing about her college days.

Three Men TalkingPast cricket merchants, bird cages and butcher shops, we looked for a small locally famous restaurant which had been recommended to us and eventually found it at the end of a long street market. After eating lunch there, in which we enjoyed a kind of sheep soup with bread and noodles, we walked through the street market crammed with vendors who sold typical Chinese souvenirs and trinkets.

Xian claims to have China's oldest Mosque and we were on our way there as we wanted to see it. There weren't the crowds there that we had been encountering in most of the other places we had visited, and the mosque and surrounding garden were quite beautiful and peaceful. In one of the buildings, a kind of room for entertaining important visitors, there was a picture of Muhammad Ali hanging on the wall. Here's a nice picture of three men talking. I later bought a hat like this from the man in the middle.

Tang Dynasty Dinner ShowOn the way back to the hotel, we stopped at The Drum Tower and watched a brief drumming performance. We didn't stay long and we were tired as it had been quite clear and hot in Xian. We went back to the hotel and rested for about an hour. In the evening, after collecting my parents, we attended a dinner show featuring music from the Tang Dynasty. A small group of musicians played music on stage for about an hour while we ate. Then the musicians left and, after some brief time to prepare the stage, the show began, lasting for about 90 more minutes, showcasing six or seven different acts. The highlight was a pipe-flute player who played his instrument in such a way that it actually sounded like the chirping of birds.

The food wasn't incredible, but the music and dancing were wonderful, and we all enjoyed it tremendously, even though my mother still couldn't stomach anything. Once the show had ended we followed everyone else out of the theater. It had started raining suddenly and we had some trouble hailing a cab, but we eventually got one and simply went back to our apartments and went to sleep.

Terracotta Warriors IThe next day, early in the morning, after eating breakfast in the hotel, we hired a taxi to take us to the Terracotta Warrior Museum, which was about 40 minutes outside of town. My mother was feeling much better and we were all in good spirits. The site was impressive and archaeologists are still uncovering new relics and restoring the ones that they have already found. We spent a few hours walking around. Once we had seen the majority of the site, and there were a number of buildings and relics to look at, not just the warriors, we stopped for something cool to drink. A woman asked us to sit down and then began to perform a Chinese tea ceremony for us. We all sat enrapt as she made three or four different varieties of tea, which we all sampled. We were surprised because we hadn't planned to do this and it turned out to be quite entertaining. Also, none of us had ever seen anything like it before.

We eventually left and went back to the city to have lunch. Following lunch we were going to part company with Jorge and then head to the airport to catch a flight to Guilin, our next destination. Considering the short time we had stayed in Xian, we actually saw many things.

Monday, August 01, 2005

China Tour - Part I (Beijing)

Spent almost two weeks seeing the sights around China with my parents and Angela. We basically took a classic tour of China, visiting the most well-known attractions. It's a big country and almost impossible to cover much ground quickly, but we seemed to do fairly well and everyone survived.

Spirit Way - Mom, Dad & MeMy parents arrived in Beijing on Saturday, July 16th. I found an impressive 5-Star hotel near our apartment and my parents were more than satisfied with their lodgings. After a good night of sleep, we spent the next four days wandering around Beijing, the center of the world. We visited The Spirit Way (pictured on the right), The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, The Temple of Heaven and The Lama Temple and The Summer Palace, among other places. We tried to visit Mao Zedong's Mausoleum but it was closed both times we tried to enter.

The Great Wall - BadalinThe weather was horrible while we were in Beijing, as you can see in this picture of The Great Wall. Beijing whiteout mixed with maddening humidity. Not the best weather in which to go touring. There was just lots of fog everywhere and we did the best we could under the circumstances. As usual, though, these details make a trip more memorable as we had to overcome our adversities or do nothing. Fortunately, if it had been clear, it would have been even hotter so we didn't complain too much.

Obviously, these aren't my only pictures and if you want to see more, click here. I will be adding more posts and pictures throughout the week so come back when you have a few minutes to spare.