08 May 2009

In keeping with the panda theme...

I just had to share this.  It's hilarious.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNYfZd8iV2k

I'm not dead yet

Been a long time...  I'm trying to get back into writing, so I thought that I would resurrect this old thing and dust it off.  Ah, mixing metaphors already.  At any rate, the idea is that if I sit in front of the keyboard and do a little writing a little more frequently, then I'll get back into the habit.  Let's see if that actually happens!

Lots of stuff coming up in the next few weeks - AP exams, state exams, the AP reading...and somewhere in there the end of the school year, too.  !!!  Where does the time go?  I'm definitely ready for the school year to be over, though, I think.  

Actually, that's not true.  I'm not desperate for the summer, I think I'm just desperate for the weekend.  :)

More soon.



03 August 2006

Terra Cotta Warriors (part two: the pictures)

Beijing Opera

I tried to like the opera. Really, I did. I went with an open mind, and I was actually excited to see it. Alas, I couldn't enjoy it. What I did like: the costumes were gorgeous, and the choreography was quite stylized and interesting. However the singing and the plot were ... different. First of all, let me start by stating that I really like western opera. My family and I go every year to the Met, and I love it. Everything about the experience is wonderful. So this was not an opera issue, but a cultural issue. And it was my issue, really. Chinese operative singing isn't really something I could get my head around. There is no harmony, for instance, and the scale they use is very different from the one I am traditionally used to. The plot was odd - there was a lot of time spent establishing the pedigree of one of the characters, and little in the way of establishing who the others were. Plus, characters were introduced, and then were never really heard from again. I can't quite figure out what the focus of the opera is supposed to be either. In western opera, the plots tend to be secondary (they are usually full of deus ex machina and all sorts of other devices that good dramatists hate to use (it's kind of like cheating). In western opera the most important thing is the music and the singers. In Chinese opera the focus doesn't seem to be the singers - only one or two characters have short little arias. The music is definitely not the focus, as it seems to be the same throughout the opera. Can it truly be the plot? Really? Anyway, if anyone happens to know, please let me know.

And again, I really tried to like it. Really.

02 August 2006

21 July 2006 - Mao's tomb

This morning it was bright, clear and windy! It was still hot, but the skies were beautiful and blue. We walked down to Tiananmen Square, and got in line to see Chairman Mao's body in the mausoleum. Now that wasn't as easy as it sounds, Tiananmen Square is actually quite large, as is Mao's mausoleum, and we had to walk all the way around the mausoleum to find the end of the line, which then snaked all the way back around the mausoleum, through the front, where we snaked around another little courtyard. It's here that you can buy roses to put in front of a statue of Mao that's in the entrance hall to the mausoleum (Mao-soleum?). Then we were ushered two-by-two past the man himself, lying in repose in a darkened room. He's underneath glass, a light shining upon his face.

Frankly, it looks like he's glowing.

Then we all shuffled past and were deposited...

...in a gift shop. Lenin and Marx would be mortified.

I'm not quite sure what to make of the experience. There were a lot of flowers placed reverently in front of the statue, but I couldn't quite gage the mood of the people. Were they there in reverence? Were they bored? Awed? It was a surreal experience.

I'm also not entirely convinced it was actually Mao. Can a body last 30 years? (He died in September 1976)

I do not have pictures, as they are not allowed. We weren't even allowed to bring our bags into the line, let alone the mausoleum. Here instead is a picture of the line, and of use outside the mausoleum. You can see how windy it is.

20 July, 2006 - The Summer Palace

So today I hit my "too many people" limit, which I think is pretty good - 22 days in. I think everyone in China was at this place. Well, ok, 75% of them.

This is an enormous park in the northwest part of the city, and it's where the Imperial Court spent their summers. I can see why, too. It was gorgeous, and actually quite breezy in several spots, as it is situated on Kunming Lake. A nice vacation spot to get away from the heat of the Forbidden City. It was built in the 1700s, and damaged during the second Opium War in 1860. The Qing Empress Dowager Cixi refurbished it with money earmarked for the navy (she did build a stunning marble boat! see above picture).

We took a short boat ride across the lake, and then explored South Lake Island. it was quite pleasant, and a good deal cooler than the rest of Beijing, but it was so crowded that it was hard to really enjoy the park.

19 July 2006 - Temple of Heaven

I am pretty much templed out. I think the problem may be that I just don't understand enough about Buddhism, Daosim and Confucianism to distinguish the neat little details that must be in these structures, much as they are in European cathedrals (and I love me a grand old 1000 year old gothic cathedral). Nevertheless, the Temple of Heaven is neat because just before you enter into the actual temple, you are actually in a park, and there are hundreds (well, probably thousands) of people here, just hanging out. We saw people dancing, doing taichi, playing chess, playing music, singing, just plain hanging out. I think that this was my favorite part of today's visit because everyone was so relaxed and having fun. Oh yeah, the temple was pretty too.

31 July 2006

Back in Beijing

Returning to Beijing felt a little like returning home - what had been alien a month ago is now familiar and comfortable, especially in comparison to Chengdu, out in the western provinces.

First order of business upon return was the Great Wall - because if you come to China and don't go, they make fun of you and take away your passport ("No more travel for you, you cretin! If you can't be trusted to travel responsibly...").

The Great Wall is called Changcheng in Chinese, and they started working on one section of the original wall around 2000 years ago during the Qin dynasty (same guy with the Terra Cotta warriors). One of the legends is that in addition to dirt and stone, the bones of the workers (peasants and political prisoners) are in the core of the wall.

The section we visited is at Badaling, and it was built during the Ming dynasty, and then restored in the 1950s and again in the 1980s. When you climb upon the wall you can turn either left or right. Right will take you on a more leisurely stroll, and left is the more difficult climb. Everyone turned left, of course. As far as I can tell, a big chunk of this portion of the wall is basically up. Like at a good 40 degree angle. No, I wasn't there with my protractor and compass, but let's just say it was a steep angle, shall we? There's a railing, but it was obviously designed with someone much shorter than I am in mind, as I spent a lot of time bent nearly double. And before you say anything, I'd like to point out that many of the Chinese people on the wall were hunched over, too.

Where the wall wasn't sloping upward were sets of stairs, many of which seemed to go straight upward at a 90 degree angle. And if that's not enough fun, the steps were uneven, some a few inches high and some as high as my knee. I did not travel all the way to the end of the restored portion, but I did pass three watchtowers, which I felt was a respectable distance. It was a rainy day, so it was cool (yay!) and misty, which made for lowered visibility, especially the higher you climbed. So, here are some pictures, but the caveat is that I did the best under the circumstances. And also it's very difficult to convey the depth of stairs, so you don't really get a sense of the view downward or of the death defying and exhilarating experience I found it to be. I am also no longer afraid of the elliptical machine at my gym - it doesn't begin to get close to the wall.

I will also add this: there's a Starbucks at the wall. Does anyone doubt the strength of capitalism? And if that's not enough, then there are all the vendors on the wall selling "I climbed the wall t-shirts. Yes, I bought one. Silly question.

In the afternoon we visited one of the Ming tombs - apparently 13 of the 16 Ming emperors are buried in these sites. They are based on a Confucian layout, and only three are open to the public. Only one has been fully excavated, and that's the one we didn't go to. The one we visited is Chang Ling, and is the burial place of emperor Yongle. It's in a pretty spot, but otherwise it wasn't very exciting - the emperor is under a burial mound at the bank, and it's covered with trees and grass. There was a museum with some really pretty artifacts, which you can see in these pictures here.

29 July 2006

Chengdu Tea House

On one of our last nights in Chengdu (don't remember date, sorry), we went to a tea house. I was sort of expecting that it was going to be like a coffee house - we'd have tea, there'd be munchies, we'd sit and enjoy each other's company, and then return to our hotel. Well, I was definitely wrong. I don't know if this place was typical of teahouses (in fact, in retrospect, I suspect not. The guidebook said something about how tea houses are places where people sit for hours playing cards or mah jong, and as you'll see, that definitely wasn't happening here), but we had tea, and then there was a show. Within seconds of sitting down, we were offered massages, which I did not have, although a couple of other people in our party did. It was actually pretty funny to see - these three guys standing behind our friends massaging their heads.

The show itself was kind of like a variety show (the Chinese equivalent of Ed Sullivan?) with all kinds of dances, a magic show, music, etc. There were two sets of traditional dances, there was a magician (it loses a bit of something when you can't understand the patter) a gentleman who played traditional Chinese instruments, an woman who did shadow puppets with her hands, and something called vanishing faces.

The traditional instrument that has always fascinated me the most is the erhu. A few years ago I had a chance to see Lang Lang play in Philadelphia, and as an encore, he brought his father out on the stage to accompany him. His father played the erhu, and it was just lovely. The music at the Chengdu tea house wasn't as wonderful as what Lang Lang and his father played, but I'm not complaining.

There were also "tea pourers". I'm just going to let the picture tell that tale.

The last act was something called vanishing faces. Basically, there are dancers onstage in elaborate constumes wearing masks, and they dance to traditional music (actually, it wasn't so traditional, now that I think on it. It was more sort of cheesy 70s tv drama theme show-y. With a smidge of Chinese for flavor). There was also flame spitting, but that wasn't the coolest part. The coolest part is that while they were dancing, they would tap their forehead and a new mask would appear. I have no idea how they did it. I do have a couple of half-baked theories, of course.

15 July - Wenshu monastery

This is a Zen Buddhist temple in Chengdu. Our bus driver dropped us off at the end of the street, which was blocked off by construction - they were completely redoing the road. Completely. We walked through the construction to the Temple, where we got a chance to walk around. This temple was founded during the Sui dynasty (581-619, one of the shorter ones. The dynasties average about 300 years each, and there's about ten major dynasties from the beginning of their history until the fall of the Qing in 1911). The temple was destroyed during the Ming dynasty and then rebuilt during the Qing. It has five temples within its walls, and is an active site for worship. We saw a monk leading people in chant/prayer, and saw many people bowing and worship at the different temples/Buddhas within.

This is a temple that was well protected during the Cultural revolution, so it remains mostly intact from when it was rebuilt in about 1680. I can certainly see how this would be a lovely spot for contemplation and meditation away from the city noises - it's right in the city, but once inside you don't really hear any noise - an oasis of calm amidst a busy metropolis.

Dujiangyan Irrigation Project

It was a little unclear what we were going to do this day (Bastille day! A big bonjour to my French amis out there), except that I think we were told we’d be going to a mountain to see a temple. As it always is in Chengdu in the summer (subtropical climate, I remind you) it was REALLY hot and humid. We got to the bus and drove for nearly two hours to this dam/irrigation project. According to the my Lonely Planet guide:
“The Dujiangyan irrigation Project was undertaken in the 3rd century BC by famed prefect and engineer Li Bing to divert the fast-flowing Min River (Min He) into irrigation canals. Min River was subject to flooding at this point, yet when it subsided, droughts could ensue. A weir system was built to split the force of the river and a trunk canal was cut through a mountain to irrigate the Chengdu plain.
“Li Bing’s most brilliant idea was to devise an annual maintenance plan to remove silt build-up. Thus the mighty Min was tamed, with a temple erected in AD 168 to commemorate the occasion.” (p. 724)

It was pretty hazy, even up in the mountains, so my pictures didn’t come out as well as I’d like, but you’ll get the idea. The bamboo rope bridges are as scary as they look, I’ll have you know. It was still pretty fun to cross, despite repeated Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom flashbacks (yes, I know, that was India. Same basic concept, only we didn’t have deranged priests chasing us. That I know of). At any rate, at the other end of the second bamboo bridge is a temple built into the mountain. To be honest, what I remember is stairs. Lots and lots of stairs. Uneven stairs. The temple was really pretty, but its unclear whether it was a Buddhist or a Daoist temple – perhaps it was Daoists, because it seemed like there were lots of different gods being worshipped there, but my eye is very unpracticed, so basically what do I know? We weren’t really able to find the top of the temple (you just go up, basically), but we did get directions froma woman as to where we could find a Mao statue. Why is this interesting? Because I was able to understand her when she said Mao’s name – I could pick it out of all the other stuff she was saying, which I thought was pretty cool.

Anyway, I was a mite grumpy at the dam (I was worried about all the climbing because I was just getting over a cold), but it was a nice day nonetheless, and people were still talking to me at the end of the day, so I can’t have been too awful.


Haggling is expected here at all the street markets, and boy are there a lot of them. There are also tons of indoor markets as well. In these markets, you can find row upon row and stall upon stall of … well, frankly, Chinese crap. Chopsticks, fake Jade figurines, bracelets, stamps (so you can stamp your “Chinese” name on paper or something. They’re called chops), all kinds of Buddhas: traditional Buddhas, happy Buddha … I saw one that was just a Buddha head, and you could turn it around and see a variety of different facial expressions: happy, angry, sad, stricken, bemused … ok, I just threw those last two in there, but I wanted to be sure you were paying attention. You can get all kinds of Mao paraphernalia, including a lighter with his face on it. When you open the lighter, it plays the Communist anthem. It is quite possible the schlockiest thing in China, and I really want one. Darn the TSA and their pesky rules!

You can’t really go anywhere in these markets without someone trying to get your attention to sell you something. “Hello lady, look-a here.” “You friend, give you nice price.” I bought a packet of postcards the other day. The woman started out by asking 150 yuan, which is about $18. Needless to say, I wasn’t about to purchase postcards for $18, even if they were gorgeous. Anyway, I offered 20, and she started to come down in price. I stayed at 20 yuan, saying that’s all the money I had. At one point she said “Now you come up , you offer more”. Now here’s the key – and I kind of wish I’d had this lesson before I bought my car: Walk away. I told the woman I just had 20 yuan and I walked away, to which she said “ok, ok,” and I got the postcards for 20 yuan. Here’s the kicker – I think someone else in our group had gotten them for 10, and I was kind of mad. The bottom line of haggling is you really just need to be happy with the price you got if it’s something you want. Walking away is a really good technique though – I’ve found that for stuff I don’t even want, I’ve got people chasing me down to give me a lower price. While at the Muslim market in Xi’an (an experience, and if you ever get a chance to go, walk all the way through once, figure out what you want, and then go back and bargain), I was looking for a mah jong set for a friend. Most of the sets were plastic and not very nice. Some were what looked like bamboo and bone, but since I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, I couldn’t be sure. The only thing I had to go on was the memory I have of my parent’s mah jong set which is actually quite nice with lovely images on the tiles. So I used that as a comparison against the sets I was seeing in this market. Most of them were nowhere near as nice as the one I remembered – they had fewer tiles, the tiles were smaller, the bone layer was very thin, and often they looked they weren’t attached very well to the bamboo. Plus, the pictures were often not very nice and not pretty, and were small and hard to see. So I finally found one I could potentially consider purchasing, and it came in quite a nice wooden box. So I asked how much, and he started off at something like 500 yuan, which was ridiculous, and $60 to boot so of course I said (playing the haggling game, of course) that it was too much. He offered something slightly lower, pointing out the nice wooden box (not, please note, anything redeeming about the actual mah jong set), and told me it was a good bargain. I didn’t particularly think so, and we went back and forth a couple of times. I then decided it was too much money for what it was, and not very nice, so I told him I wasn’t interested and I walked away. He started hollering numbers at me as I walked away: “250!” “200!” “Ok, 100!” It was quite a drastic reduction. I was not tempted by shoddy merchandise … no I walked away, and bought shoddy merchandise somewhere else. Don’t ask me what, I don’t remember.

I found shopping at the markets a little stressful, because for me, shopping is a tactile experience; I just have to touch. The second you touch something, the merchants are on you trying to sell it to you. The big thing at the Muslim market was silk pillow covers. I don’t know if they were actually silk, but some of them were quite pretty. Whenever I looked at them, because I wanted to see what they had to offer in the way of color and design, the merchant would come over to me and give me a running commentary on what each pillowcase design was: “Bamboo. Birds. Red. Dragon.” These were all things I could plainly see, and yet I got the information. I suppose it is part of the patter. It’s not unlike car shopping, I guess In the case of car shopping you get the rundown of all the features: 50 million horsepower! 20 cylinder engine! Sushi chef in the trunk! GPS system and satellite tv on the dash. With silk pillow covers you have far fewer options, so the salesperson is reduced to pointing out the obvious.

28 July 2006

13 July 2006 - Pandas!!!

It began pouring practically the moment we left the hotel to go to the Panda reserve. I think pandas are native to this province, partly because a lot of bamboo grows here (I'm speaking from my vast biological and plant knowledge here). At the preserve they are doing a lot of research and are trying to repopulate pandas in China. They have a nursery for newborn pandas, and throughout the park you can see lots of pandas at different stages of life. There weren't any infants there, that I could see, and In don't hink they are born until later in July or in August. They also had red pandas, which were definitely not as appreciated as the other kinds of pandas. No red panda stuffed toys in the gift shop, to be sure. However, the red pandas are adorable - about the size of small to medium sized dogs. They look a lot more racoonish than I expected, with long, fuzzy, ringed tails.

We saw a few of them scuffling and playing, but I wasn't fast enough with my camera (between the umbrella, the tissues, the bottle of water and the camera, which I was trying desperately not to drop, it was very hard to get the best pictures).

Then we were off to see some serious panda. They were just so cute and magnificent at the same time. I was interested to note that we all spoke in hushed tones around the pandas, as if we didn't want to disturb them. I got a couple of pictures of some sleeping (so cute!!), but the highlight was getting the chance to actually touch the panda. For a donation, you can get into the panda area. While he is sitting on what I can only describe as his little panda throne and chomping away on some bamboo, you can crouch behind him, pet him and have your picture taken. How cool is that???!! You can't get anywhere near them at the National Zoo. I'm so spoiled now, I can just see it - I'll make catty remarks about how you can't touch the pandas whenever I go. Kidding! Anyway, it was a phenomenal experience, and I don't care that it was wet and I had a bit of a cold, because I will never be able to do something like that again. And to think I almost didn't do it!

Du Fu's Thatched Cottage

Du Fu was a Tang Dynasty poet (712-770), who was actually born in a different province, but left to travel around CHina. He was captured by rebels and he eventually fled to Chengdu, where he lived in a thatched cottage for four years, where he wrote more than 200 poems. It's actually a park, with lots of walkways, a beautiful pond and a tea garden. There was a big pagoda called the Ten Thousand Buddha Tower,
and some really interesting statues that may have been petrified wood, may have been some kind of stone or wood, but were at least pretty cool.

It was really pretty there, but it was so hot that day it was sort of hard to enjoy the day. I wandered around with another Fulbrighter for most of the day, and then towards the end of the afternoon, we sat and had popsicles (yes, we each had two) in the tea house.

A poem:

Song of the Autumn Wind and the Straw Hut

An autumn wind ripped clear
Three Layers of Thatch from my hut
Spreading it over the river,
Along the banks, into the marsh
Or driving it up into branches
Of tall trees.

Over from the south village ran
A bunch of boys, seeing me old
And feeble, stealing the thatch
In front of my eyes; hauling it
off to their bamboo grove, I
shouting at them until my mouth
Was dry, throat sore; then
Going inside with a sigh, leaning
On my stick; the gale stopped
But black clouds gathered
Hastening the night.

I looked at my bedding quilt, now
As cold as iron, all torn with
The restless feet of my children;
Rain streamed through the roof
Like unbroken strings of hemp
Drenching all, and I pondered on
How much sleep I had lost since
This rebellion began, hoping
The night would pass swiftly
Wondering in my dream whether
It would be possible to build
An immense house with thousands
Of rooms, where all who needed
Could take shelter; a mansion
As solid as a hill, not fearing
Wind or rain; then thinking how
If only such could be,
Would I be content to see my poor hut
Demolished with I myself
Frozen to death.

26 July 2006

12 July 2006 - Sichuan Normal University

We arrived here about 9:30 am, and got a brief introduction from a student of the English department. Her English was excellent. The campus is one of several, and there is another one that is under construction. This was our first full day in Chengdu, and I think we were wholly unprepared for the heat and humidity. Ok, I was unprepared for the heat and humidity.

What is interesting about the campus is that it is almost like a university/college town all enclosed within the unversity walls. We didn't get a chance to see any classrooms (they were doing student registration, I think), or dorms, but we did get a chance to see the buildings, including a primary school, a nursery school, and housing for retired teachers, who still do work/research on the campus. It was very hazy that day because it was so humid, so my pictures have a misty/grayish (or greyish, if you will) quality.

They had a wall that displayed the history of China:

They also took us to the second campus, but like the first, we didn't get a chance to see anything other than the outside. It may be a key university of the western provinces, but it is hard to tell, because we didn't see any classrooms, talk to any teachers, or any other students.

Here was my favorite building of the school:

Random thoughts on Chengdu...and I do mean random

Chengdu is the capital of Sichaun province, and while my guide book says it's a smaller city than Xi'an, it seems a lot bigger. It actually reminds me of New York, although I couldn't really say why, even if pressed. Maybe it's because the buildings are tall here (in contrast with the buildings in Beijing, which are wider than they are tall in many instances), and the area we are in has lots and lots of high end stores, including a Japanese department store called Seibu, which is across the street from our hotel. It might also be the sort of sour milk smell one has in cities in the mornings during the summer that makes me a bit nostaligic for NYC. Or it could be dementia, who knows?

It's incredibly hot and humid in Chengdu - it's a subtropical climate. You only have to stand outside for 10 seconds before you're drenched in sweat. I bought a pretty blue fan in the Muslim Market in Xi'an that've been using a lot.

Driving (or rather, riding) on the bus in Chengdu has been an experience. ON the way to the Sichuan Province Ed. dept, the bus driver had to ask for directions a bunch of times, and did about four or five u-turns, which on a bus is pretty impressive. As far as I can tell, you can't really make left turns here, but you can do u-turns. We got up to about 15, I think. The other thing that is terrifying is that cars don't give right of way to pedestrians (that seems to be par for the course in China), there are thousands of bicycles and modpeds in the streets, and buses and cars actually seem to keep going to make sure they occupy every inch of space they can on the road. They will get incredibly close to the next vehicle (think inches...no centimeters). When our bus driver executes u-turns frequently it looks as if there's going to be an accident because there are cars behind us and on all sides. The lane markings also seem to be somewhat optional.

I will say this for Chengdu - for all the busy streets there are a lot of great pedestrian overpasses that go in all kinds of directions so that you can wander from one side of the street to another without worrying about getting hit by a car. This is definitely an improvement over Xi'an, where there aren't even traffic lights or walk/don't walk signs. The intersection that we had to cross from our hotel in Xi'an to get inside the old city walls was the most hair-raising intersection I've ever had to cross, and we did it multiple times on a daily basis.

Leaving Xian for Chengdu (in the Sichuan Province) - 11 July 2006

We got our wake up call at 4:30 am, which is just so very early in the morning. (I suppose I could comfort myself with the idea that it was 4:30pm the previous afternoon on the East coast?) Xi'an had no traffic at all at that time. The city was barely waking up. At the airport check in was so easy, and there was hardly anyone there either, which was in stark contrast with the Beijing airport.

We arrived at the Chengdu airport around 9:30 am, I think and we were all definitely ready for a nap, no question. We got on our bus and were taken into the city, and we checked into our hotel, which was right across the street from an enormous Crowne Plaza Holiday Inn (I didn't realize those two companies were connected, I never really thought of them as being in the same class of hotels). Our hotel is right around the corner from a pedestrian mall/shopping area. Basically it's outdoors - as if they took all the stores in a mall and removed the walls and roof.

We went to lunch, and our first Sichuan food experience was not a success. Let me start by saying that Sichuan (you may be more familiar with it as Szechuan) province is VERY hot, and the food is as well, because, as our guide explained: "In order to get the sweat, you have to eat the hot, spicy food." However, they don't just do hot, spicy food in Sichuan. The very first dish they put down in front of us was chicken feet. Then they followed that with a bowl of tripe. Um, yum. I did not taste the chicken feet, I'll be honest. They looked like chicken feet, and were plae white and kind of pimply. I was willing to try stuff, because hey, half the reason we were there was for a cultural exchange, but they were chicken feet. Someone in our group did try them, and she said that they tasted just like you'd expect them to: like knuckles. Again, mm, yum. There was also some kind of pale green bumpy thing which they said was bitter herb. One person at our table tried it, and he said it was really bitter indeed. There was edamame, which I actually kind of liked - I didn't know they were a form of soy bean until later, but that was definitely something to try again in the future. There were a number of very spicy dishes that were so spicy that I couldn't eat them, and there was a dish of what they called bullfrog, which I actually thought was pretty good. It's hard to describe it, but it has a similar texture to crab, although the flavor isn't quite as strong. There were also a number of dumpling type foods that were quite good. They also had a bunch of bean curd/paste things that were really sweet, although they were brought out in the middle of the meal. Generally, the Chinese don't really do desert, although they do have these sweet courses in the middle of the meal. You always know the meal is over when they bring out the watermelon. However, that hasn't stopped Haagen Dazs from opening several stores in China - one in Chengdu and one in Beijing (that I saw - there could have been more, but I didn't see any).

After the meal we went to the Sichuan Province Department of Education, even though we thought we were going to have a free afternoon. I don't know if I said it, but in China there are three levels of control over education: National, provincial and local (cities, villages). In all honesty, I didn't get a whole lot out of the meeting with the dept. of ed folks, because I was so tired, but also becuase there were translation problems. Our guide, Jim, didn't know he was going to have to translate, so he was unprepared to do it. Plus it's really hard, I would imagine. I also think that some of the numbers and details we got weren't entirely accurate.

What I did learn that was interesting was that Sichuan has the second largest Tibetan population outside of Tibet and 75% of the population in this province is rural. They also have a much smaller teacher/student ratio (about 1 to 22, which is more than half what it was in Beijing or Xi'an, where it was about 1 to 50 or 60). I wonder how much of the rural population is really attending school.

Shaanxi Provincial History Museum

We were supposed to go to this museum on the previous day, but for some reason we didn't - I think it had something to do with the bus. I'm not sure which day we went, but it may have been the 9th. Anyway, the museum is organized chronologically, and by dynasty. The exhibits are comprised mostly of artifacts from each dynasty, and they actually go from prehistoric times. They did have four terra cotta soldiers so you could see them from close up, which was neat, plus some kneeling figures from Qin's tomb. There was a lot of stuff from the Tang dynasty, especially the tricolor pottery stuff that they are best known for. They didn't have a lot of the stuff that I consider typically Ming - the blue and white vases, in fact they only had one. I think this is partly because the museum focused primarily on stuff found in Shaanxhi Province and the Ming and Qing dynasties had their capital in Beijing, whereas dynasties like the Qin, Han and Tang all had their capitals in Xi'an. I felt like there should have been more stuff there, but it was a nice museum in the end. There wasn't a whole lot of written history (but what they did have was both in Chinese and English, which was cool) for us to read, but the stuff was pretty neat:

Pictures! How do you know for sure you're in China?

When you see this: