Archive for June, 2008

In Xi’An

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

We visited Xi’An, the home of the Terracotta Warriors. It’s a very ancient city with a long and important history. It was the capital city for 13 dynasties. The Terracotta warriors were made about 2200 years ago to guard the burial place of Qin Shihuang, a Chinese emperor. Only a few of the warriors have been excavated, but it’s an incredible sight to look at the long rows of realistic warriors made of clay. Each one is different, and each one is a work of art. Apparently the building of the tomb required nearly 800,000 people, and in the end the emperor executed the people who worked on it because he didn’t want anyone to know where his tomb was. Needless to say, his family’s popularity suffered. Their dynasty ended just two generations later.

We came to Xi’an with our friend Anne, and she has an aunt who lives here. She made us some sugar cakes and boiled eggs for snacks, and the family arranged a small bus to carry us to the historical sites. We were so surprised at their kindness and we’re so grateful! It was much more meaningful visiting the historical sights with Anne’s relatives who live here. This experience has reminded us how long Chinese history is compared to our own country’s, and it has reminded us of the friendly, open attitude of our Chinese friends. We’re so happy to be here!

Here is a picture of the Wild Goose Pagoda and a statue of the Tang dynasty monk who was a central figure in the Chinese classic story “Journey to the West”. It’s a very exciting, dramatic story that every Chinese person knows. We were excited to see a statue of him here, in the city where the journey starts.

We also went to the top of the wall that surrounded the ancient city. Today it surrounds the downtown area of Xi’an. It’s very wide and about 12 km long – so we rented bicycles and rode all the way around it. We had a great time riding bikes and talking, looking at the ancient towers and traps for the enemies, seeing the re-created siege equipment, and contrasting the old parts with the modern city.

Feeling very conspicuous

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

Carol and the boys actually made it into the big TV show! It was broadcast during prime time on CCTV 10, which is a very popular TV station. Apparently the evening news on CCTV 10 is watched by something like 70% of the people in China, so that’s about 900 million viewers. Maybe this show aired right after the news. Their appearance was very brief, but they each had a small speaking part.

Every time we leave the apartment we feel very conspicuous. Everybody in our neighborhood recognizes us, and many smile and say “Hello.” We always try to smile and act friendly to everyone, even if we’re tired. We often overhear our neighbors discussing us as we pass, catching phrases like “four sons!” “American,” and “all one family!” Everybody has been very kind to us and some people are especially friendly. But we never know quite what’s going to happen when we leave our apartment… maybe we’ll end up being seen by 900 million people!

We are also grateful that our friends are willing to go places with us, even though they don’t all enjoy being conspicuous. Come to think of it, we don’t particularly enjoy being conspicuous either. But we knew before we came that we would stick out like a sore thumb, and that has turned out to be just fine.

Scout songs for the Minister of Art and Culture

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

On Tuesday Carol and the Boys had to rush to an unknown address to meet with someone from the Utah International Trade association. Fortunately our Chinese teacher was able to help them find the right building. The boys helped the Boy Scouts make a presentation to several important Chinese people, including the Minister of Art and Culture. The Scouts were so excited to have some real Boy Scouts to show off!

So everyone had a fantastic feast, then there was a kind of impromtu show for the official people. The boys all introduced themselves, their ages, and their scout rank. Nick spoke about his Eagle project. Carol talked about the way Boy Scouts has helped her in raising four boys. Then the boys sang two campfire songs: “Alice the Camel” and “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt”! I still can’t believe it… Maybe those songs qualify as some kind of culture, but I never thought it was the kind of culture you’d want to share with important foriegn officials! But they loved it. The program was recorded to be shown later to other officials.

We really hope that the boys’ efforts can help the government have a favorable view toward the Boy Scout organization.

Another TV Interview

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

Andrew and Nick were walking down Wangfujing Avenue in the center of Beijing when a Chinese person stopped them. This Chinese person spoke perfect English and was accompanied by a television camera. They were asked to guess what a particular Chinese-named dish really was. It turned out to be some kind of meatball. Then they were shown a dish and asked what it was made out of. It turned out to be pork lungs. Andrew actually asked the interviewer if he could try some! The interviewer said sure, so both Andrew and Nick ate a little on camera.

We don’t know when this interview will be aired, or what channel it’s on. It’s some kind of travelogue show.

We all feel very famous these days.

Meeting a Chinese Rock Star

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

We had heard about a Chinese double-reed instrument called “Suona”. Nick actually has a simple traditional version of the instrument now, but we had heard about a modern version that has keys, to let the player hit a full chromatic scale. That way the instrument is useful for jazz and rock music. The suona has a very strong – even biting – tone quality that sometimes sounds almost like a trumpet, so it could be a good addition to our reed instrument collection.

So I asked a coworker to ask his son’s saxophone teacher where we can buy a suona with keys. In return I got an address and a phone number. Anne called the phone number and set up an appointment for us to go look at the instrument. We had an adventure finding the apartment where the shop was, but we managed to get there in the end. Anne arrived a few minutes later, as soon as possible after she finished work.

The instrument “shop” turned out to be an apartment filled with traditional Chinese musical instruments. These were not cheap tourist instruments, and they weren’t student instruments. They were the real thing, some probably very old. All of them were beautiful. We could immediately tell that this would be a very different experience than our previous visits to Chinese musical instrument stores. The shop owner brought out some cherry tomatoes and we spoke together for a few minutes. Then Anne arrived, and a few minutes later the shop owner’s brother, our “translator”, arrived.

The “translator” turned out to be Wu Tong, a real Chinese rock star! But we had no idea about his accomplishments while we visited with him because he was very modest about his accomplishments. We didn’t figure out who he was until we tracked him down through the Silk Road Project web site. Then we understood that our “interpreter” was actually a famous rock star and world music ambassador. It’s amazing that we had an opportunity to speak with him in person. He gave Nick some basic instruction on the Suona and he gave us a personal demonstration of the Sheng. We were overwhelmed by the kindness he and his sister showed us. In fact, once we understood who he was, we couldn’t believe he had taken so much time with us.

It turns out that he’s a very talented professional musician. Wu Tong tours with Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project, playing the traditional Chinese Sheng mouth organ. He composes some of the music for that group. He apparently composed some or all of the music for the soundtrack of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and he is a well known lead singer for a rock band. We were able to ask for his recordings in a CD store simply by saying his name. The workers in the CD shop knew exactly which CDs he performs on. Now we have two recordings of his performances – one with the Silk Road Project and one with his first rock band. We hope to find more, because his music has a fascinating blend of traditional and modern, western and Chinese, classical and popular musical forms. It’s exactly the kind of music we were hoping to learn about when we came to China.

After the visit with Wu Tong and his sister, we had dinner with Anne and her mother. This dinner was traditional food from Hangzhou. Again, the dinner was delicious. That dinner was only slightly spicy and it included some sweet, delicious sauces that we had not experienced before.