Monday, December 29, 2008

Ocean World

We had a great time visiting the aquarium with my good friend Farhot and his family. His wife Zulfia and daughter Kamila just recently arrived from Kyrgyzstan. Farhot, Zulfia, and Kamila are Uzbek speakers. Uzbek and Turkish are closely enough related that I was able to communicate somewhat with Zulfia and Kamila who don't speak much Chinese. Kamila is two and a half years old and made fast friends with Kalila as they pressed their little noses against the glass to get a better look at the sea creatures.

Shaanxi Hans

This past Sunday we took Kalila to see a CBA (Chinese Basketball Association) game. Basketball is incredibly popular in China and Shaanxi has a good team this year. Xi'an's team plays at Jiao Tong University's Si Yuan Stadium and good seats only cost about $5. As far as I could tell we were the only non-Chinese fans in the crowd. One big bald-headed basketball fanatic gave me a bear hug as soon as he saw us come in right at the tip-off. The two teams were evenly matched but Shaanxi managed to hit a shot at the buzzer to win 118-116. Kalila thoroughly enjoyed herself and joined the crowd in chanting 'Hao Qiu!' (good ball, good play). As there were several excellent American ball players on both sides that seemed to act as team captains I predict that it won't be long before we see more Chinese in the NBA. The CBA is good quality basketball. The only thing they're missing is a mascot in a monkey suit that can do a trampoline dunk from the free throw line!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

T'ang Dynasty Show

In acknowledgement of academic achievement, my advisor at Northwest University gave us tickets to Xi'an's T'ang Dynasty Show. The performance showcases T'ang era culture. The live orquestra is made up of traditional instruments such as the guqin, pipa, and sheng (pictured above). The dancers' costumes were designed to replicate the style of dress shown in cave frescoes at Dunhuang, an old Buddhist enclave in Gansu Province. The clothing seemed to be heavily influenced by East Indian dress. Another highlight of the show was Gao Ming, a world renowned 'paishou' player. The paishou is a kind of pan flute that is over 1500 years old. He used it to imitate the sound of orioles, a bird that was considered a good omen in ancient China.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Jiao zi (dumplings)

Winter officially arrived in Xi'an the 21st of December. A cold front from the Northwest blew in and sent everyone scurrying for Jiao zi. Local custom advises that one eat dumplings on the first cold day of the year to keep your ears from freezing off. The tradition is based on an old joke about dumplings resembling ears. Eating dumplings on a cold day is indeed a great way to warm up although I'd suggest a hat or earmuffs to remedy freezing ears.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Silk Road Talent Show

Although classes at Xi Bei Da Xue (Northwest University) don't let out until after the New Year, the school did hold a Winter party that showcased the talents of our classmates. The couple pictured above are dancing the 'Lezginka.' The dance originated in the Caucus Mountains but is popular throughout the Islamic world. These students are ethnic Chechens that live in Kazakhstan. During the Stalin years of Soviet oppression in Central Asia many Chechens were forced to relocate to Kazakhstan. My friend Saihan, the male dancer pictured above, is a powerful dancer and a super mean soccer player. When I see him in the hall sometimes I just say 'red card' to get him laughing.
Bashir, a student from Kazakhstan, played an improvised piece on his 'dombra,' an instrument popular in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan as well. Variations of the dombra exist throughout Central Asia and the Middle East. In Tajikistan it is known as 'dombura,' in Turkmenistan it is called 'dutar' and in Turkey it is referred to as 'saz' or 'baglama.' Its drone strings give it a trance-like quality and it is often used to accompany storytelling and singing.

This is yet another Kazakh classmate of mine dressed in traditional costume and performing an up tempo, energetic dance. The vast majority of my classmates come from the Central Asian Republics. China's recent boom has renewed the ancient Silk Road connections. My language teacher told me that its just been in the last 5 to 10 years that Northwest University has seen a large increase in the number of students from Central Asia. In the past, Russian speaking Central Asians were more likely to go to Moscow for education and work. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of modern China, Central Asians are once again making the journey along the Silk Road, inspired by economic incentives to learn Mandarin Chinese.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Terracotta Warriors

Qin Shi Huang, the man that managed to unify China after the Warring States period, ruled the country with an iron fist. He was able to accomplish several large scale projects through the use of forced labor. He is credited for having consolidated the Great Wall, building an extensive canal system that surpassed Roman aqueducts, standardizing the written language as well as currency, weights, and measurements. Some 75,000 craftsmen worked for decades to create Qin Shi Huang's mausoleum which is equipped with a life size terracotta army to accompany him in the afterlife. The Qin Dynasty didn't last long as the people grew weary and rebelled against the oppressive regime following the death of the Emperor. The Han Dynasty that followed was much less overbearing and enjoyed long term popular support.


Now and then we see roving merchants like these selling fox furs out of their portable handcarts. Kalila's such a fan of animals that she was pretty captivated by this woman's array of fox skin hats and scarves. They also tried to pass off some larger hides as 'lao hu' (tiger) which were obviously counterfeit. Merchants on the move try to stay one step ahead of the authorities who make a feeble attempt to regulate commerce. Its not uncommon to see a whole row of merchants grab their wares and go sprinting down the street when the police arrive.

Gu Lou (Drum Tower)

Kalila's Puo puo Gong gong (grandma and grandpa) recently came to Xi'an for a visit. We had an excellent time. Here they are at Xi'an's famous Gu Lou (Drum Tower) which is filled with drums of all shapes and sizes. In the past, the Bell Tower and Drum Tower located in the city's center, announced the time of day to Xi'an's citizens. Today the towers serve as museums. We saw a display of T'ang Dynasty furniture as well as an extensive collection of drums from different time periods. Xi'an is known for its drum music. Although traditional drumming is not as popular as it once was, you can still find drum troupes practicing in the park.