Saturday, October 16, 2010

How Many People Can Say They've Climbed a Pagoda?

Many, I'm sure. But I don't know anyone who can (at least, I don't think so!). Day 2 in Xi'an....

We started out the day with a trip to the Small Goose Pagoda and museum, which were both delightful. Xi'an used to have a ton of pagodas, but since they were big on using wood to build, only two have survived, and even these two are ones that have been rebuilt. Pagoda architecture was actually 'imported' from India during the Tang (?) dynasty, when Buddhism began to be prevalent in China. Xi'an (or Chang'an, as it was called then), as the capitol of China back then, was on the Silk road and consequently was exposed to many international influences - something they're still proud of today.

We didn't climb the Small Goose Pagoda, but we did go to a museum also on the grounds, which where absolutely beautiful. As expected, we saw lots of different artifacts and old pots, and a lot of really cool stuff - figurines depicting the 'barbarians', ancient coins that show the influence of the Roman Empire on China. For some reason I find museums absolutely fascinating, and it struck me how much history China actually has. I mean, everyone realizes China's been around 3000+ years, but there's just so much! Xi'an has a rather thick city wall, a kind of daily reminder of all the history contained in Xi'an, and it's crazy to think of people just going about their daily lives with reminders of all the history that came before them. I dunno, maybe this is a bit too dramatic, but I don't know if I would like living in a place where I was constantly reminded that my city used to be the capitol of China, used to be the center of the Silk Road, used to be the favored burial place of emperors. It just seems rather heavy to have all that history around.

Anyway, after the museum we went to lunch, which was a fairly unremarkable event, replete with delicious qie zi (eggplant) and a really good chicken dish. From there, we went to Xi'an's most notable museum, which I think is considered to be one of the best in China. The quality of the artifacts was really top notch (I'm taking my professor's word for it, as I'm not sure I could tell the difference!). Again, there were a lot of old pots and whatnot, some really cool figurines and metalwork. I took a lot of pictures, but I'm not planning on uploading them to Facebook - more for my own interest, as I think they'd be rather boring to look at if you weren't familiar with them (but if you want to see them, let me know). One notable display was of 40-proof alcohol, that had been excavated completely intact inside of a large vase. I haven't the foggiest idea how it survived that long, but it was pretty cool. Another one of my favorite things about Chinese artifacts/art is that it often features the phoenix quite prominently. UChicago's mascot is the phoenix, and I've always like the story of it, so I'm amassing quite the collection of phoenix emblems on bowls/silks/tablets/other artifacts.

From that museum, we ended up walking to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, which is, shockingly enough, bigger than the Small Goose Pagoda! This one we climbed to the top, only seven stories, and were rewarded with a fairly good view - the problem is, with so much pollution, anything more than a 1/2 a mile away is completely immersed in smog. Around the pagoda is a public park with fountains, and it was interesting to note the contrast between this public space and the one in Beijing: while Tiananmen is very somber and the emphasis is on the state, here, it was more like a party - fountains spewing water in time to music, vendors selling stuff from little booths, ice cream and cotton candy for sale, and a carousel. I bought a little dragon decoration; I'm not sure what it's used for, but I bought it as a Christmas ornament.

Afterward, we took the bus back to the hotel - or tried to, anyway. Traffic was rather terrible, in part because it was rush hour, and perhaps in part because there were political rallies going on. It was a pro-China march, apparently in response to the continuing tensions with Japan (over an island?), and they were marching in the street. After about 1/2 hour sitting in traffic at a stand still, we just walked about ten minutes back to the hotel. From there, a group of us went to the Muslim district, where we ate dinner (beef skewers and noodles). Interesting fact: China has the ethnic majority (Han), and 55 official minorities. One of the minorities are the Hui, which is what the Muslim district in Xi'an is. However, they racially aren't different from the Han, and they speak the same language; unlike other minority groups, the distinction is made only on religion. They're essentially Muslim Han Chinese. Just an interesting note I learned on our way back.

Going to Emperor Wu's tomb tomorrow, and we've read a lot about him, so it should be fun. Back to Beijing tomorrow night!

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