Monday, January 21, 2013

Field Trip to Tianshui

This past weekend marked my first time joining a sight-seeing trip organized by my school for the foreign teachers.  I did not make the first trip due to some alcohol-related activities that were clearly not well thought out.  This trip would be a three day adventure, so I made sure I was present and accounted for.

Tianshui is located in the neighboring province of Gansu and was settled back in neolithic times.  The major draw of this sprawling industrial city, and all of Eastern Gansu, is Maiji Shan and its Buddhist caves. Also located there is Fuxi Temple, dedicated to none other than Fuxi himself.  Fuxi is a mythological character regarded as the “first ancestor” who introduced the Chinese to fishing, hunting and animal husbandry.  On Friday we saw both of these sites, as well as the house of some poet from a long time ago.  At least I think that’s what he was.  To be quite honest I wasn't paying much attention to the signs.  The house was so beautiful and peaceful that I was completely engrossed in exploring the complex and imagining how great it would be to live in a place like that.

So what are my impressions of the trip as a whole?  In a phrase: waste of time.  That’s right, a gigantic waste of time.  Don’t get me wrong, the sites were really great and I’m glad I had the opportunity to view them.  Nonetheless we wasted an incredible amount of time getting there and back.  How much time, you ask?  Well I am more than happy to elaborate.  Thursday was the first day of the long weekend, we spent 10 hours on a bus from Xi’an to Tianshui.  One day down.  Friday we did all of our sightseeing.  Three sites in one day is not bad at all; I was satisfied with that.  Two days down.  Saturday was the day of our return trip.  It took a whopping 12 hours to get back.  12 hours!  By the time we finally got back to Xi’an I was ready to murder.  I was totally and utterly fried and I think everyone else was too.  And that makes three days.
I take this weekend as a learning experience.  An important lesson life lesson, if you will: for a weekend trip take the train, take the train, take the bloody train.  In my eyes the pain and suffering of a 10+ hour bus ride simply cannot be justified if you are only going for a day or two.

Maiji Shan is an incredible sight.  There are Buddhist figures carved all over the sheer face of the mountain.  The feat of actually getting up there in the first place, and then carving something into the mountainside is impressive in and of itself.  The quantity and quality of the pieces just adds that much more to the beauty and grandeur.  Climbing up and down the steep stairs and narrow catwalks to view the different carvings from all different eras is definitely a highlight among my recent trips.  I highly recommend a visit to Meiji Shan for anyone traveling in the area.

Fuxi Temple was interesting but paled in comparison to Maiji Shan.  There is a 1000 year old tree that is nearly collapsed on the main building, that’s kind of cool.  Other than that I don’t recall anything particularly impressive about the place.  Like almost every other temple I've been to it is beautiful and tranquil.  The traditional Chinese architecture never ceases to capture my interest.  And despite the hustle and bustle of the market just outside the walls, Fuxi Temple was just as quiet as you would expect an ancient place of worship to be.  In retrospect I suppose it is a great way to relax and rest up after a morning climbing all over a mountain.

The final bullet on our itinerary was, as I said, the ancient residence.  For the life of me I can’t remember any of the history of the place other than some important guy used to live there. Regardless, it was a nice little side trip and I enjoyed myself getting lost in the maze of alleys and paths.  It also has an awesome secret basement that was used as a treasure cave and later as a bomb shelter.  It would make a fantastic wine cellar.  The house is very large and consists of several buildings connected by inner courtyards and porches.  The style and layout made a big impression on me for some reason.  I would like to imagine that if I ever own a house in the future I would like it to be similar in design with plenty of open space and inner courtyards.  I feel like it makes for a really unique feeling that encourages a close relationship with nature, which I like.  It’s probably a pain in the ass to keep clean though.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Language Translation Barriers and Bad Feet

"Science Friday" Recommendations
Friday night saw the crew and I going to the Train Bar (more on this later) for some much needed rest after a long week.  The events on Wednesday caused quite a bit of stress for my colleagues, while myself, more or less unfazed by the unsurprising chain of events (I learn quickly), I was still recovering from my illness and in dire need of a beer or three and then a good sleep.

As it turns out, there was no good sleep.  No good sleep at all.  The owner of the Train Bar seemedto be on good terms with a bunch of the foreign teachers here, so when he showed up he immediately had a round of shots brought over for us. Very nice guy, but I would have needed language translation services to understand anything he was saying.

So we spend Friday night out at the clubs and I did not get home until very early in the morning.  A bit of a throwback to my days in Buffalo, but my days here of getting up at 6:30 every day did not appreciate it.  Not one bit.  Bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived, and hungover I stumbled out of my bedroom to get showered, dressed, and caffeinated in preparation for our trip to the Banpo Village that Saturday afternoon.  At some point, for the second time already, I was not paying much attention to the angle of my step and I quite forcibly stubbed my little toe on the edge of a large chair.  Damn did it hurt.  Upon immediate inspection it appeared as though the nail had been bent in half and it very quickly turned purple.  OK, now it’s really hurting.

I slip on my shoes-very carefully I might add-and don’t bother to tie the left one. I limp out to meet my friends. I then limped to the closest street and we catch a cab.  The drive is about 15 minutes outside of the city.  I try to relax and focus on the scenery, which is mostly just dirty buildings, dust filled air, and excavations.

We arrive and enter the site.  At the front there is a couple of small museums holding various tools, implements, containers, and a number of prehistoric bones.  I limp through them, trying to keep my interest piqued despite the pain in my foot.  Shuffle, shuffle, throb, limp, throb.  Incensed by the pain, I try move quickly through the museums so we can get to the good stuff and subsequently get the whole ordeal over with.  This, of course, just causes my foot to hurt more, which in turn makes me want to move faster, which causes my foot to hurt more, which in turn … you get the point.  Eventually we made it through the entire thing.