Thursday, July 10, 2008

Shanghai - The Final Chapter

Amazingly, sadly and suddenly our year in China has come to an end. When I think about the fun of traveling and socializing in a new place, it seems the year went by in a blink. When I think about searching for taxis, meal time and other parts I found more challenging, it was perhaps time for a change. Karen has more consistent emotions - she liked her job and our life there and wasn't ready to leave. Regardless how we feel about it at any given moment, we've packed up, put our stuff on a boat and come back to the U.S. to relax and reconnect with friends and family. As could be predicted, our weekends ran short towards the end of our stint, meaning we didn't get to see all of China as one might hope on such an adventure. Nonetheless, we were able to make numerous trips - by plane and by train - to see at least some of China and other East Asian countries. This map shows the places we visited with blue and green dots.

Between packing and socializing and sleeping, we chose to use our only remaining and available weekend for an excursion to Xi'an, which is in central China west of Shanghai. Among other things, it is home to a mere 8 million people and the Terra Cotta Warriors - perhaps one of the most known elements of ancient China. Another interesting fact is that Xi'an, the capital of China for 13 of 39 dynasties, is an ancient city and was the start of the Silk Road, which ran all the way to Rome - over 5,000 miles west. After decades of modern growth and sprawl, the city's old defense wall now only serves as a tourist attraction and the visible boundary between the inner and outer cities. However, the wall also gave us about 60 minutes of fun as we rode a rented tandem bicycle, which might have been old enough to be from one of the final Chinese dynasties, around the 12 km (almost 7.5 mile) road along the top of the wall. The wall is about 40' high and 50' to 60' thick, depending on location. At each of the four main gate locations (the south gate is pictured here), they used a double-gate and high-walled courtyard system, such that if attackers breached the first gate, they would be trapped in a low enclosure where they could be attacked from above.

The room in our hostel, which was a nice enough place that cost us $90 for the weekend, was located exactly in the city center, near the Belltower (see the picture). The northwest corner of the city is the Muslim Quarter, which provided our first and only glimpse of Muslim China (which indicentally is focused in NW China). Of course, Chinese Muslims, like all other Muslims, do not eat pork. This leads to an above average ratio of mutton, with maybe some goat and other meats thrown in, in their diet. For some reason, Chinese people have an affinity for skewered meat products, but this is particularly noticeable in Xi'an. We tried some big dumplings that cost about $0.12 each, a spiced mutton meat sandwich grilled on the street that cost $0.45, and had a sit down meal in a very small little place run by a family, who ate their dinner at the table next to ours, after preparing our meal, for about $2.00, including Cokes. Sorry for the blurry photo, but the picture to the right is of a trash can in the street, piled impressively high with stripped skewers and odd bits of trash.

The Terracotta Army
Apparently the first emperor of China was a powerful and self-absorbed guy, because he had thousands of soldiers, horses, chariots, and other figures cast, fired, and erected in underground chambers to be buried along with him. The construction of this impressive monument involved something like 700,000 people and started in about 246 B.C. We visited the three chambers that have been exposed - there are likely more - over which buildings have been built. The largest of these chambers is pictured here. All of the figures you can see standing have been restored as at some point in their history, the wooden structures over them burned and collapsed, crushing the majority of the statues. In different parts of the chambers, the restorers have left some warriors in rubble form. Apparently each of the faces on the estimated 8,000, life-sized warriors is different. Further, there are infantry, archers, captains, and generals, which get larger (up to 6'-5") with rank. A closer picture is also provided so you can see the detail.

The terracotta army is of course impressive. For some reason, Karen and I were more amazed by some of the other ancient monuments we've seen around the world - such as the pyramids in Egypt, the Mayan ruins in Guatemala, and Petra in Jordan. Nonetheless, it was very neat to see in person and was a good final trip during our time in China. Plus, it allowed us to get this extraordinarily dorky picture of me.

Our Farewell BBQ
To live up to our expectations for ourselves, we decided to invite some people from work over for a BBQ. I say this as if it was an accomplishment because in some strange way, it was. We discussed doing this all year, but always put it off because we were busy and were never confident we could properly feed or entertain Chinese guests. I asked around at work about proper food, timing, and activities, and we went for it the weekend before the movers came. In the end, it was more or less like any other BBQ and it went off well. Most people showed up, it was relaxing, and our food and beer seemed acceptable to our Chinese guests and a welcome change from local fare for our American guests. I grilled pork, chicken, and sausage, and we had corn on the cob and miscellaneous snacks. There were a couple funny things. First, people were mesmerized by our grill alone. They were shocked by the size and the concept of a huge, outdoor cooking device. This was to the point where they took pictures of it, of me with it, and of themselves in front of it. Another thing was that we put out chop sticks because Chinese people are generally not comfortable using silverware, plus we couldn't find plastic cutlery at the grocery store (no demand = no supply). In keeping with the skewered food theme described above, they ate both the corn and the sausage by jamming chop sticks into the end and holding it like a kebab. Lastly, they loved the bean bag game (AKA Bags, Baggo, or Cornhole Toss in the Midwest), which was not a surprise because Chinese people love games and gambling. As an aside, Macau, the ex-Portuguese, Chinese-ruled, island gambling mecca southwest of Hong Kong now grosses more in revenues than Las Vegas - incredible!

Here are some pictures of the guests. Note the 'peace' signs in the first one. This is almost an instinctive reaction for people when they see a camera, seemingly throughout East Asia. The people in this picture from left to right, are Tony, TaoRong, Angela, and Nicola. Next, we have Harris, Jared, Armstrong, Kent, Paul, and GuShaoyi. Lastly, we have Bill, Leslie, and Karen. Bill and Leslie just arrived in Shanghai from Denver, on a similar assignment to the one we just finished.

I've listed the names in this section to give you a feel for the mix of Chinese and western names, as well as the interesting name selections that Chinese people make for their western names. By the way, as you may be wondering, Chinese people simply select a western name for themselves. They decide this on their own when they are old enough to do so. It is not uncommon to change your western name if you do not like it any more. Essentially, they pick a substitute name to make communication with western people easier. One interesting thing with this is that they also reverse the traditional order of their names when they do this. For example, if a Chinese person is named Wu Liming, Wu is their last (family) name, but in Chinese you say it first. Therefore, if Liming decided to call himself Linus, his western name would be Linus Wu. Anyhow, Chinese people sometimes pick one that sounds like their Chinese name, one that starts with the same letter as their first (second) name, one they simply like, or one that they just made up. In my company, we had people named Mountain, Beer, and Simple. Some of them use the western name all the time, some just with western people.

Finally, there is a picture of Sally and Karen. Sally also came to our BBQ and was Karen's Chinese co-teacher in her Year 1 (kindergarten equivalent) class at her international school.

This is a picture from the farewell party thrown by the people at Matt's office. They thoughtfully selected a place called Malone's American Grill. Anyhow, the picture provides an excellent summary of our year in China - us, surrounded by some people we know, but mostly by lots of people we don't know, all of whom are doing strange things, with us in the middle of it all trying to figure out what we should be doing.

Stay tuned for stories from our next adventure, to be delivered from a new website, called "Singletons in Mumbai", which will be available at By the way, if you're wondering what the numbers are (86 and 91), they are the telephone country codes for China and India, respectively. As we've said to every taxi driver in Shanghai for the past year on the way out of the car, "Zai Jian!" ("See you later!").


David S said...

awesome posting. The BBQ was especially'd think these guys wouldn't be shocked by a grill...but then again...nothing surprises me out there anymore. Looking forward to Indian stories! Namaste!

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