To be fair, our day started a little roughly. We got to our hostel around 4 a.m., and after sorting through all the business and whatnot, we finally fell asleep at 4:30. Our main purpose in Xi’an was to see the famous Terracotta Warriors, so Caitlin got up early to find out what time their tour left. It turns out it was leaving at that moment, so she rushed back and hurried me to throw my stuff together — which isn’t all that easy to do in a hostel. Especially the first day, you have to rate all of your items either worth stealing or not, pack them, lock them if necessary, etc. On top of that, I had to brush my teeth, so by the time we got to the lobby area, the tour had already left, and I was rather grumpy.
We probably had something important that got accomplished, but all I remember was waking back up in the mid-afternoon.
Xi’an is much like Beijing in the climate, atmosphere, and pollution. To top off the tour, we had both spent odd hours being awake and had not eaten all day, so the energy and decision-making skills were not at their best. In any case, we got a good tour of the center of the city, as we were staying just a few blocks from the Bell Tower, the big center:
We also noticed that most of the buildings, whether historic or not, were built with traditional Chinese architecture, leading to strange sights such as this Pizza Hut:
One of our main purposes of the exploration was to find the ticket office to get a trip out of the city, but we were nearly at a loss. We had a map with the location pointed out, but we walked up and down the street, all around the side street, and eventually went inside the bank and asked an official. He took us right outside the bank and pointed out a small, unmarked window with a big line. We stood in the line and found out that all the tickets were sold out. Disappointing.
We went back to our hostel and booked the tickets through the front desk, which turned out to be extremely friendly and helpful, although they did charge a 40 RMB service fee per ticket. We were so happy to get them that we didn’t care much at all. It would have been at least a week until they had an opening.
Since it was Wednesday, we had arranged to meet up with Monica and May for dinner and a little chat. By this point, we were famished and feeling faint, so when we were met with unclear bus directions to their place, there was a lot of grumbling and annoyance between the two of us. Somehow, we managed to get on the right bus in the right direction, but we didn’t know this until we heard the name of the stop.
We quickly convinced May that we should eat dinner first, so Monica met us at the restaurant. It was delicious, but that might have been because it was any form of sustenance. Looking back on it, I think one dish was entirely the starch water leftover from boiling noodles, but it tasted mighty good.
When we got to their apartment, one of the first things I noticed was a miniature oven, nothing more than a big sister to an Easy-Bake Oven, sitting on a large table of its own, in the living room. When I brought this up, both ladies were extremely proud of it. As Caitlin quickly learned from apartment hunting, there are no ovens in China. Anywhere. We were impressed by their find.
I’ve known Monica from California, but she was unaware that it was this particular Jeff that was visiting her, so it was fun to see the shock on her face. Just from walking around the town with her, she really seems to love it here, as we would often have to wait for her to finish playing with and talking to the little kids around the neighborhood.
May was a little different, but just as excited and enthusiastic about everything. She’s a short Filipino lady, but very friendly and warm. They both made us feel welcome and at home, even in an intimidating city.
It turns out that one of their friends was performing that evening, playing the hammered dulcimer at an opera nearby where we were staying. She hooked us all up with some free tickets, so we got to experience something that I never imagined.
Caitlin had seen a classical Chinese opera, but never a modern one, so even she was excited about the opportunity. It turned out to be quite memorable.
We all shared a taxi to the theatre and met up with our liaison to get the tickets. Once we had the giant red tickets in our hands, several Chinese people flocked to us, asking how much we paid for them. It seems they were trying to get some scalped tickets, a sign that whatever we were about to watch was something that Chinese people actually wanted to see.
Once we got inside, we found our way to our seats, which for some reason had all even numbers on the left and odds on the right. The theatre was really nice, and the seats were cushy, although they still managed to keep the Chinese tradition of no leg room alive.
I had never been to a performance or movie in China before, so I was a little shocked at the general etiquette. As people were trickling in, the volume grew with the number of audience members. However, once the lights dimmed and the orchestra started playing, the volume of the audience did not change. The singing was actually so loud, it hurt my eardrums, but it was necessary for everything to be understood over the racket.
It wasn’t a bad opera by any means, even through the language barriers. Luckily, Caitlin’s Chinese is really good, so she translated the gist for me. Here’s my summary:
A man marries a woman with the condition that she will wait for him as he goes off to war. The war is with Japan, China wins, but he doesn’t come home. She remains faithful. He appears only to her, explains that he has to go back to war — civil this time — and that she had to keep it a secret, and he instigates his fulfillment of his quota of children. Everyone thinks she cheated on him, they cast her out. The communists win the war, he comes back, the old people in his family get mad, she dies. Everyone is proud of her devotion to communism.
Also, it was colorful:
Throughout the play, many people were talking and discussing it and other various things. As usual, people liked commenting that there was a foreigner in the audience, particularly one translating for me.
Afterward, Caitlin and I were discussing the play according to our American and literary standards. She was arguing that it made communism seem good, since the couple was willing to die for it. I argued that it was actually bad, since it was communism that prevented the woman from explaining the whole situation which led to her death. The entire conflict was brought upon by communism — a fact which wasn’t negated at all by their willingness to die for it.
Either way, the walk from the theatre to the hostel was really pleasant and amazing. The traditional buildings had modern lights on them, reflecting on the polluted sky in a way that looked pretty cool. Also, it was full of people walking about, so there were the usual people trying to sell those people things, including crazy long kites that stretched all across the sky. It felt almost magical.
Our amazement was cut a little short by the fact that we had tickets to see the Terracotta Warriors early the next morning, and the opera had worn us down.