Monday, July 28, 2008

Vietnam


Vietnam

We left Xi’an on what was supposed to be a 36 hour train ride to Kunming. Turned out to be 43. Trains were still being re-routed due to the earthquake, so we had to take a roundabout way to get around Chengdu (couldn’t really follow the course of the train) before reaching Kunming. Turns out that the train was extremely relaxing; we read, played cards, slept well, and reminisced over our year while playing “train trivia.” I can’t remember the last time I slept so well – two decent night sleeps and several naps each day. What heaven. However, Tal clearly felt that the endless parade of pb & j sandwiches was slightly tedious.

Kunming was low key. We stayed near the campus of Yunnan University so had lots of foreign students around us, and the accompanying food and shops. We specifically chose that area as last time we were in Kunming (on our way to and from Laos) we stayed in the centre of town and were constantly approached by child beggars – too disturbing to describe. In Kunming, I LOVED their fried goat cheese, and ordered it whenever I could. We were kind of upset as we didn’t get to eat the local specialty, “across the bridge noodles.” Not always easy to find the right food at the right time. Met a nice family from Minneapolis who were there as the dad was running a Chinese language camp – interesting to see how many families find different ways to travel – and went to the museum with them one day.

Yoni ran into a person who he knew from his time doing field work in Nanjing for his Ph.D. The guy is now an assistant professor at Seattle University. Otherwise we did a bit of touring, but the weather was rainy and slightly cold, so we focused on getting the Vietnam visas, and then headed out on an overnight bus. Overall we spent 3 days in Kunming.

The bus was a total disaster – on the outside it was one of the older muddier buses (that should have been a clue that the road would be rough) and on the inside it was fairly dirty and overcrowded. (Tal’s comment: “a little more than fairly.”) We slept in bunk beds, with three bunks across the width of the bus. Dirty, smelly, and the guy in front of me was a chain smoker. Excluding Noam, none of us could stretch totally out on our beds-they were too short. The slimy “owner” of the bus greeted us by charging us extra to transport our bags. Quite certain this was a scam but didn’t want him to get angry at us and chuck all of our belongings off in the middle of the night. The road was AWFUL – reminded me of our Juizhaigou trip in October. Recent rains had made what was probably already a very bad road much worse. Did not sleep much and was quite nervous for a significant part of the ride. Thank goodness I was sleeping on the bottom, the top guys seemed to feel the bumps and swaying of the bus more. A Dutch couple on the bus said that we were very "brave" for travelling on that bus with children. Not sure if that was a compliment.

Miraculously arrived safe and sound (almost sound, anyway) in Hekou and crossed the border into Lao Cai, Vietnam. Was very emotional to leave China after the year. The opening photo of us on this posting is the boys and Yoni about to cross into Vietnam.

Initially, Vietnam didn’t feel very different – hectic border towns with people hukking the tourists. But we couldn’t understand anything! All of a sudden we went from feeling “in control” while traveling, to being completely at the mercy of the tourism industry and whatever English speaking people we could find. A much more difficult way to travel.

We easily caught transportation to Sapa, a French hill station. Truly gorgeous. Huge mountains, moderate climate, terraced rice paddies, many different ethnic minorities. We stayed at a decent enough guest house, but the real selling point was the view. Stepping out of our room, was a million dollar view. Here's a picture of Noam on the balcony. We trekked two days – first day was a fairly rigorous hike to a waterfall; Noam struggled a bit and at the end had pretty much given up when a friendly jeep passed us just as we had climbed up to the road. Noam hopped in, followed by Yoni and the rest of us, for the final 500m. Crazy enough, it happened to be the very jeep that we had reserved to take us back to our hotel. Here's a picture of us at the waterfall - after lunch and a rest everyone was happy again. Afterwards we took a jeep ride to a famous Vietnamese canyon that bridged the gap between the hottest and coldest places in Vietnam, Sapa being the coldest. The view was supposed to be spectacular, but it was very foggy and we could barely see 10 meters in front of our faces.

The second day we took an easier route to a local village called Ta Phin – shortly after heading out we were joined by three minority women who walked with us for the majority of the trip, clearly trying to sell their wares. In the end we felt bad for them so asked to at least see what they had – beautiful embroidery work – and then I felt too bad not to buy anything. It was a bit of a scam, or an extremely guilt-ridden way to sell things (but I just walked 5 km with you with all these heavy things on my back . . what do you mean you’re not going to buy anything??). Maybe if it was later in our travels I would have held firm. But now I’m the proud owner of a table covering and some small purses.




Here's some pictures of us trekking amongst the rice paddies. Rained two of the days we were there, but it was a nice, gentle rain, and didn't stop us at all. Notice the plant that we found growing all over the place?

Wild marijuana.

Overnight train from Sapa to Hanoi went fairly smoothly, although when we first got on the train it was a sauna – no exaggeration. We were dying. Men got on the train and stripped off their shirts (here's a picture of Noam following the trend - a bit dark but hopefully you can make him out), and we tried to open as many windows as possible to stick our heads out. It even had the sauna look-everything was made of a fake wood.Eventually the air was turned on and it was a fine ride. Actually, a bit too chilly if you can believe that. Bathrooms were MUCH cleaner than any Chinese train I’ve ever been on. We arrived in Hanoi at (ugh) 4:30 am and slept in the lobby of our hotel for a bit before hitting Hanoi. Yoni was smart enough to wander around the city early to see lots of elderly people out doing their morning exercises around Hoakiem Lake.




Hanoi was a bit hectic – the motorbike traffic was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Made crossing the road in China seem sane. We saw the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum (except I couldn’t go in as I forgot to cover my shoulders), the Ho Chi Minh museum (interesting, but there were no English tour guides to be had at the museum and we missed out on the symbolism in many of the exhibits . . but they were clearly proud of their historical defiance of outside invaders), the “Hanoi Hilton” (disturbing, particularly the contrast between their exhibits on how inhumanely the Vietnamese prisoners were treated under the French, while the exhibit of US POWs showed pictures of US soldiers getting medical care, raising chickens, celebrating Christmas, and smiling while playing cards).

From Hanoi we went on a 3 day boat trip to Halong Bay – beautiful karst peaks jutting out of the water. Spent our first night on a boat after kayaking, swimming, and seeing some beautiful caves. Tal and Yoni jumped off the top of the boat (Tal's the lower jumper, but that's not Yoni - couldn't get a picture of his jump). I decided not to jump, and was enjoying just swimming around in the bay, until I got stung by a jellyfish – ouch! Second night was a bit less fun – got stuck in a TERRIBLE hotel on Cat Ba island-a big island in Halong Bay. Turns out that the tourism infrastructure just couldn’t handle all the people that wanted to see the bay, no matter what our reservations said. Our morning trek was almost a disaster when, while climbing up a mountain (really HOT and HUMID) our guide stopped halfway and said that if we wanted to go all the way to the top we’d have to pay him some more $. After some negotiating (we were with a group of other tourists, mostly younger backpackers), a lovely young man stepped forward and offered to take us up. Didn’t really understand it at the time, I thought he was another hiking guide, but it turned out that he was a university student studying to be a tour guide. He didn’t want us to think negatively of Vietnamese people (and diplomatically stated that there must have been a misunderstanding with the first guide) so guided us up the mountain. It was a great view, and easier to climb once we got into the shade of the trees.

Things ended up OK, as we went to a beach on Cat Ba Island with enormous waves – much fun. Yoni and I were a bit edgy as we just couldn’t take our eyes of Noam (who basically couldn’t stop laughing no matter how many times he was thrown by the waves).

From Hanoi we took an overnight bus to Hue. MUCH more comfortable than the bus from Kunming to the Vietnam border. In Hue we settled into an AMAZING hotel (at $20 a night it was our best hotel value for the entire journey) and did wonderful siteseeing. But it was HOT and HUMID. Here's a picture of Noam sweating it out . . us older guys looked MUCH worse and wetter. Was significantly hotter than Hanoi. The citadel in the old city was amazing – somewhat like China’s forbidden city but less grandiose. Significant destruction everywhere, although renovations are underway. Took a boat tour to see some nearby tombs and pagodas, and a one day trip to the DMZ. Unfortunately, for the DMZ trip we had to suffer through a HORRIBLE guide, so the best information we received was either from our own guidebook or the people we were traveling with-a lovely older Australian couple (Patrick and Liz) and a nice younger English couple (Hannah and James) who were just returning from working in Hong Kong for 2 years. Here's a picture of Noam entering the Vinh Moc tunnels where local villagers lived for about two years during the war. They dug it out mostly themselves, and the tunnels in parts were 25m deep; an amazing feat. The wood is just a modern addition to keep the tunnels from collapsing. We took a break from the heavier aspect of the DMZ tour by wandering into the ocean at a relatively peaceful and undeveloped beach. Was bittersweet to see this beach; however, the same one that the villagers could see, but rarely touch, while confined to the tunnels.








From Hue we continued south to Hoi An, where it seemed to get even hotter (if that was possible), but at least in Hoi An we had a beach nearby. Unfortunately we were not as lucky with hotels in Hoi An, and considered moving to a nicer place several times, but after all the running around in the heat we just couldn’t motivate ourselves to leave the place, and just stuck it out for the 3 nights. Probably a mistake, as both Yoni and I left kind of grumpy, and feeling like we’d been cheated. We call the hotel “the touching hotel” as the staff were constantly touching us (and all the other guests). One waiter even greeted Tal and Noam (separately) with kisses. I told him off (not too severely I hope) and he stopped. But Hoi An itself was lovely. The old city has been well –preserved, and we enjoyed wandering the streets, took a kind of paddle boat trip around the river, a rickshaw ride for me and Tal, and several trips to the beach. I got some clothes made (that is the thing to do in Hoi An – fast and relatively cheap tailors and shoemakers) and even a pair of made to fit sandals. We’ll see how long the things last. Here's a picture of Tal, Noam and Yoni eating our favourite, "Pho" - noodle soup - at one of the local joints we frequented in Hoi An. The beach was lovely but the sun is so strong here that we have struggled to keep ourselves from burning. No matter how much sunscreen we put on. We went from 30 to 50 spf, and finally told the kids they just had to wear their shirts in the water. Tal woke up one morning to all the skin from his shoulders spread over the bed he was sharing with Noam. We then referred to him as a snake. Below are a few pictures of Hoi An - the Japanese covered bridge lit up at night, and Tal, Noam and our tour guide when we went to see the Champa ruins of My Son. We got caught in a colossal downpour, but the site was really amazing.

Next came another overnight bus trip (this time much worse than the first, but still not as bad as our China overnight bus) – and I swore I wouldn’t do another one. We ended up in Nha Trang, a beach resort where we were hoping for some R & R. But it was so crazy with tourists, that it didn’t really feel so relaxing. We went snorkeling and scuba diving (Yoni and Tal did a dive) one day – crystal clear water and decent coral reefs, and took a boat trip to an island another day for some less hectic swimming and snorkeling (the coral at this island was mostly dead, but there were still plenty of fish to see). For those of you who haven't seen Tal in awhile - look at how big this kid is!!!

One of the perks of Nha Trang was that we got to hang out with a lovely local family (a friend of a friend), so that we were able to break free from the tourism circuit a bit. We ate in their home two nights (we ate on the floor – good vegetarian fare), and they took us shopping and siteseeing. Their hospitality was wonderful and two 11 and 9 year old girls let me braid their hair every time I saw them, and tried to teach me how to count in Vietnamese. From the beginning, we have all felt totally overwhelmed by the 6 tones of this language, and the very difficult to decipher words (they swallow way too many letters). Tal, amazingly, has learned to count, so he is our language expert. Anyway, one of the women in this family is married to a Canadian guy, so she has this little one year old who wears “future hockey star” t-shirts, although the kid has never experienced weather below 18C.

Nha Trang was not as hot as Hue or Hoi An, being by the beach, but was not as relaxing as we had hoped, so we decided to squeeze in a 3 day trip to Mui Ne – a more rustic beach town about 4 hours from Saigon (it’s still referred to as Saigon by everybody, although officially it’s called Ho Chi Minh City). Of course, the ultimate perk was that adding in this journey ensured that we didn’t have to do anymore overnight bus trips. We lucked into an idyllic bungalow resort right on the beach, beautifully sculpted gardens and not much else to do except go from the beach to your room. Unfortunately, Noam got stung by a jellyfish (a big one) and refused to go back into the water after Day 2. We subsequently found two HUGE dead jellyfish washed up on shore, and if one of those things was the stinging culprit for Noam, it’s amazing that he didn’t suffer more. Here's a picture of Noam's sting (about day 3; it actually looks worse now (day 5). And here's one of the massive dead jellyfish we saw on the beach.


The siteseeing in Mui Ne was low key – we walked through a stream to a waterfall and ran down some sand dunes (red dunes and white dunes). Here's a picture of Tal and Noam that seems like they're wandering through the Sahara. These were the white dunes - they were nicer than the red dunes as they were a bit harder to get to. Mostly, in Mui Ne, we went to the beach, played cards, read books, and relaxed. It was a nice break from the hectic pace of travelling. Here's pictures of our bungalow and the beach (when's the last time you saw a herd of cows on a beach?)

And now here we are in Saigon in front of the Reunification Palace. For those of you who remember - the North Vietnamese tanks plowed through the gates of this palace in 1975, to claim their victory over the South. The whole place has stood still in time - wandering through it is like an eerie walk back into 1975; dial phones, tacky furniture, out of date communication equipment. It was very interesting.

And now it is our last day; we were supposed to do some more touring but cancelled at the last minute to just enjoy Saigon, get some good food, and wander the streets. Yoni has been recruited to give a lecture at a university here, so it's me and the boys wandering around. Of course, this is slightly dangerous as the motorcycle madness is totally out of control - millions of wheels coming at you from all directions. Makes Hanoi appear tame.



And I believe that's the end of this blog. What a year it's been!!!



Tuesday, June 24, 2008

trumpet concert


Here is a small clip from Tal's final lesson with his trumpet teacher here in Xi'an. I apologize for the lighting, and for the backdrop . . but hopefully you can still enjoy the music. Tal has had a wonderful musical year with his teacher, Peng Nan. A true testament to the ability to communicate through music.
video

goofy videos

Here's some examples of Tal and Noam's latest videos.
video video

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

last entry from China

The final entry from China. Can’t be possible that it’s almost over, that went way too fast. But the boxes around our apartment don’t lie, nor does the fact that it truly feels like it’s time to leave. We spend much time discussing our final meals here in Xi’an, savouring every last morsel of food and bemoaning the lack of good Chinese food (particularly Xi’an noodles) in New Paltz. Noam is trying to encourage me to open a Chinese restaurant as I have learned to cook a few dishes, but it’s really just a few, and they’re hit or miss. Nice to know that my son thinks I’m a good chef, though. As we speak to other foreign families I learn to appreciate my children’s gastronomic sense of adventure. I can’t tell you how many other foreign kids we know who eat very little, if any, Chinese food and list “Pizza Hut” or “KFC” as their favourite places to eat in China. UGH!

We have spent the last little while living our ordinary lives, but have also tried to travel on weekends as much as is possible and practical. Luckily there's still so much to see in Xi'an that when we don't feel like travelling outside of the city we can still be tourists right here and sleep in our own beds at night. Although our travels have been limited by earthquake-sensitive areas and other less tragic events: like time and money, we've still tried to have some adventures.

We have been to Luoyang - another ancient capital of China in nearby Henan province, and I've included some pictures from the Longmen caves, just outside of the city. The pictures show part of the site, it was really impressive.









And nearby Luoyang is the Shaolin Temple, the birthplace of Chinese Kung Fu and the home of a very intense boarding school. Here's a picture of some of the students "working out". They practice martial arts every morning, and regular school in the afternoon. Even have some foreign students but my kids were not interested.









Another weekend the boys and I took our own trip to Pingyao, without Yoni. Something I doubt we would have attempted earlier in the year but by this time we all felt we were up to the challenge. The kids were great - Tal worked hard at ordering things in Chinese and I was also forced to work harder at making myself understood . . things we usually leave to Yoni when he's around. Pingyao is a well-preserved walled city that makes you feel as if you’re walking through Qing dynasty China. Pingyao is in our neighbouring province of Shanxi - as opposed to the province that we live in Shaanxi. Different tones - no Chinese would ever get them confused but the boys and I spent the whole weekend practicing to make sure we got it right. Took overnight trains there and back, and unfortunately got stuck on a particularly old train on the way back . . surrounded by a bunch of sunflower-seed spitting, card playing, smoking, loud men . . no air circulation and no air conditioning. The train to Pingyao was fine, but clearly there are many older trains still in circulation in China, and we just got unlucky on our return trip. Am thrilled to say that my boys took it as an adventure, and laughed that they were lucky this wasn’t the first train they ever went on in China, as it may have been the last.

Another trip was to Yan’an with our niece Maayan and her friend Jarod. Yan'an is famous as the headquarters of Mao and his boys in the 30s while the Communists were gathering their strength, their ideology, and their forces. Here's some classic photos from Ya'nan. Virtually every Chinese person who visits seems to pose just like this. Tal is offering a speech from the very podium where Mao spoke - and Mao raises his right arm in a famous picture from that very spot, exactly as Tal is posing. About 10 people took that picture, posing the exact same way, before Tal. And Maayan and I pose, in communist costume (should have removed my sunglasses from around my neck, in front of a youthful Mao . . just like hordes of others before us.

Very few foreigners seem to visit Yan’an, thus we were the focus of a bit more attention than we’re used to. In the city there was this outdoor activity centre so I tried my hand at walking through a variety of hoops while trying to keep a ping pong ball balanced on my ping pong paddle. I did miserably, but had a good time. Here's another photo of a local carrying bricks up the mountain. Yan'an, despite its tourist industry, is relat,ively poor and the living conditions for many were difficult.

Below is a picture of us at one of the Communist sites (Mao's room, Mao's office, meeting rooms, that kind of thing) and a group of actors performed for us . . after the performance we took a picture together and, unbeknownst to us, the performers had us shouting, “Go Communism” instead of "cheese” when it was time to snap the shot. Actually, the locals ask you to say, "chedzi" (eggplant) to get you to smile. Anyway, Yoni was on the side laughing, and later told us of what we had said for the camera. At the end of this blog is a videoclip, filmed by Tal, of one of Mao's dwellings in Yan'an.








Another adventure involved a short trip to a small city called Hancheng, near the Yellow River. We stayed overnight in a well-preserved Ming era farming community, nestled among several mountains to ensure the correct feng shui. We slept in a farmer’s home on a traditional “kang” bed - all 4 of us in one bed - cost about $1.30 per person for the night. The farmer’s family cooked for us and were unbelievably lovely – their child woke us up in the morning wanting to show us his baby chicks and began a game of badminton with Noam.



We took our meals in the courtyard of their home (also constructed precisely according to feng shui principles). And here's another shot of us roaming around the village, was really lovely.












Unfortunately, from this pastoral village to the Yellow River (we took a small boat trip on the river) we drove through this unbelievable industrial wasteland. I have never seen anything quite like it, neither even had my China-savvy husband. The driver warned us before we entered the area of the pollution, and thought Yoni was nuts when he asked to stop to take a picture. It was mind-boggling. The pictures don’t do it justice - factory after factory after factory, smoke stacks everywhere. And still, children wandering around, women hanging their laundry. Made me want to cry. Only about 30 minutes away from the lovely farming community I describe above.,

This weekend coming up we are headed for our last weekend adventure – just south of Xi'an in the Qinling mountains where we'll visit, among other things, the tomb of the only Empress.

And we are now busy planning for our post China trip: Vietnam – feels crazy to tackle another whole country at this time . . so much left to see in China. But we are very aware that we may not have an opportunity to travel again in Asia like this for a very long time, and it will be nice to see some other places as well. Besides, our Chinese visas run out on July 15, and pre-Olympic visa restrictions are such a pain, that we'll save ourselves a lot of time, money, and hassle by not having to renew them.

Lastly I'm posting a few of the notorious "Chinglish" signs that we see all around. There are whole blogs dedicated to Chinglish signs, so I won't post too many. Especially since we haven't been doing a thorough job of recording them. However, here are several good ones taken by the boys.

video

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

earthquake aftermath

It’s been eight days since the earthquake but I’m afraid that life here has still not returned to normal. Not to compare our situation with those in Sichuan province, of course – the destruction there is indescribable . . but I’m going to write here about how our lives have been affected.

Tal and Noam missed a week of school. The day after the earthquake their principal decided he would not re-open the school until a professional inspection could be completed – the building shook, tiles fell, walls were shaking. The principal’s decision seemed like the only responsible thing to do. However, it was very difficult to a) find a qualified building inspector who was willing to do the job at this difficult time; b) find the relevant building blueprints so that the inspector could effectively perform the task; c) get the building inspector to complete the job as he kept on getting called away on more pressing matters. After pressure from parents (not us), the school reconvened this morning for a half a day, and held classes in a park beside the school.

Their choice of location was complicated in that at 10:30 pm last night our provincial government issued a warning that a large aftershock was quite possible in Xi’an. All the parks were crowded with people who preferred to sleep outside rather than risk being caught in their buildings during the earthquake. During the day, people continued to hang out in the parks, preferring the open air to their buildings. So the kids had lots of company at “school” today.

Here at the university, our students are in similar straits. Last night, after the “announcement” was delivered to virtually every mobile phone in the city, the students poured out of their dorms and slept out in the central areas. I arrived at class this morning to a half-empty class, and the students who were there were pretty sleepy. Some chose to stay in their dorms last night, but most slept outside. Seems like the student union was trying to organize everyone at the large outdoor stadium, a valiant effort. The students were really impressed. While it seems that a few administrators came to some of the dorms last night to calm some students, in general the students were left to their own devices. This has been the students’ main complaint that I am aware of – lack of administrative support re their plight.

But effective communication is definitely lacking at our university, and from what I can gather from other colleagues at other universities, this is quite common. This morning, some of my colleagues were informed by their class monitors that classes had to be held outside, while others (like myself) were told nothing. I asked the students if they were comfortable in the building, the ones who were there said yes, so I held class inside. This afternoon, I showed up to class and was informed by a student that all classes in the university had been cancelled due to the pending earthquake. The students were meandering about on campus, there is no adequate shade, and it was about 93F/32C. So, many of them gathered under bridges or overhangs – I couldn’t understand why they felt that was safer than their buildings. I saw some students leaving campus with suitcases . . I guess they’d had enough.

I asked my students if they wanted to talk about what’s happening, tried to see what kind of support they needed, but at this point most of them express that they are “talked out.” They just want life to get back to normal, but with these constant “alerts”, this is difficult/impossible. Many of them think I/we are crazy for continuing to live our lives and sleep and eat indoors . . but, well, we feel differently. I don’t understand the concept of giving out these warning messages, yet not instituting any kind of reliable information system, or other services. Like providing shade for the students, or an information booth, or water, or even some entertainment.

And while all of this panic is occurring, sadness and loss permeates everything. So I try not to get too frustrated or judgmental . . everyone is overwhelmed. The coverage of the earthquake and its aftermath are everywhere – there’s blood donor stations, collection booths, fundraising drives . . all wonderful and important things, and the Chinese people we speak to are very unified, very proud of their government’s response to the trauma. There was a 3 minute “moment of silence” yesterday to begin a 3 day national mourning period. Cars stopped, horns blared, people bowed their heads. It wasn’t exactly Memorial Day in Israel, but that’s my closest comparison . . the sense of shared loss.

And we are constantly reminded that things could have been much worse – a friend was hit by a falling tile and has a massive welt on her arm, she saw someone get hit in the head by a falling “something”. And yet we still feel removed from the danger, but not from the panic/edginess of others, and the sense of loss.

We were just informed that the children will return to their full school day tomorrow – indoors, I guess the school got the “all clear.” Odd, as the rest of the province will still be on “earthquake alert” for at least another day, and I assume many other schools, who never had a building inspection, will choose to have their classes outdoors tomorrow. But now our kids will be inside. What a crazy time.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Taekwondo



Here are some clips from Noam's Taekwondo lessons - he goes twice a week with a couple of other foreign kids in our complex, but otherwise it's all in Chinese. He loves it and is doing very well. Will hopefully pick it up again when we get back to New Paltz . . but we prefer the price here in Xi'an. It's about $50 US for 3 months, including outfit, shoes, and twice weekly lessons. video

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Earthquake



I’m compiling a few emails we sent out about the earthquake and its aftermath to offer a sense of what it was like here in Xi’an – approximately 500 km away from the epicentre. Of course this kind of event makes everything feel fragile. We had a trip planned this weekend that would have taken us about 200 km closer to the earthquake epicentre, our friends were scheduled to be at ground zero the weekend after next, and Tal’s teacher and his family were there about a month ago. Besides being home to tens of thousands of people, the epicentre of the earthquake is near the World Wildlife Federation’s Panda Preserve – a very popular tourist destination in China and one that we were considering visiting on our way to Vietnam this July. Obviously, we’re going to skip that adventure. It will be a long time before travel to that part of the country will be back to normal.

I’m also adding in a couple of pictures of our campus the second night after the earthquake; many students continue to refuse to sleep in the dormitories, feeling the buildings are not safe in case of aftershocks. The first night there were apparently many more students outside, but I was focused more on my own family and did not wander around campus with my camera. Tonight, after almost 20 hours since the last aftershock, I was feeling more at ease. My family is sleeping soundly in our own beds.

Not quite sure of the students desire/need to continue to sleep outdoors. Some of them I know are legitimately scared, but when I walked around campus late tonight there were guitars out, laughter, singing, candles. Seemed like a giant excuse for a camp-out.

Re the situation in Xi’an – most of the damage is related to property, but no buildings collapsed or anything like that. Fallen tiles, cracks here and there, this kind of thing. However, 13 construction workers were killed on a construction site as the building they were working on swayed.

What our letters don’t mention is what didn’t occur. All this pandemonium and chaos in a city of 8,000,000 and I didn’t hear one siren. And I was in an extremely busy intersection when the earthquake occurred. Then, when I thought about it, I’ve NEVER heard a siren in Xi’an, and never seen a firetruck here either. So much for emergency response.

Dear all:  Most of you received a first email intended to inform
everyone that we were OK.
Some have asked for additional details, so here they are:
The ground began to swell and sway at around 2:30 in the afternoon. It
was a LONG and significant swell - no way to confuse it for anything but
an earthquake.
Seems we had an aftershock at 4:30 AM (we slept right
through it - our neighbors mentioned it - no sirens).
The epicenter is in Sichuan province (neighboring province to the south
of us) - right on the edge of the Tibetan plateau.
Some jokers are
claiming that this is an act by the Dalai Lama to break Tibet free -
wouldn't that be something.

The boys were at school, Lin was in mid-town at a post office and I was
in my office.
The boys were evacuated from their building and kept
outside.
They were not allowed to re-enter to gather up their books
etc. and were sent home as usual.
No school today as the building is
being assessed for safety.

Linda was in the post office and ran outside with everyone - thousands
of people crowding into the middle of the main street in Xi'an (for
those of you who have visited - Shao Zhai - about 1/2 way from our
campus to the old city wall).

I was at the computer in my office.

At the University: There were no sirens, no announcements on public
address systems and nobody asking that we evacuate the buildings.
I
tried standing in a door post, and then got under my desk (they gave me
three??) and then realized that I had no faith in the construction in
China and decided to get out.

After about 15 minutes I returned to my office to discover that the
internet was not disrupted (a shock).
I was steadily trying to reach
the boys' school and Linda and did get messages out though nothing back
from Linda - amazing how the phone system collapsed but Skype was up - I
could have spoken to any of you, but not to anyone in my family!

By the time I got home, the family was in, we had a normal dinner, Tal
and I played some ping pong but Noam's Taikwando class was canceled.

Everything was weirdly normal....

While we slept in our building, it seems that ALL the campus students
were required to sleep outdoors last night - the poor kids.
Faculty are
either more expendable or harder to boss around.... I will leave it to
you to decide which.

Our sense is that there is no clear organizing authority charged with
dealing with the situation. This is so clearly different from what one
would expect in the west that we find it perhaps the most disconcerting
aspect of this event.

Nonetheless, we have all that we need and our lives are back to normal
(except the boys' school being canceled).

The oddest thing is that while the quake was ongoing most everyone I
spoke to felt nauseous and lightheaded.
It was quite uncomfortable and
since the earthquake went on for an extended time, so too did the
discomfort.

Lots of coverage in the local media, with pictures of the Prime Minister
heading to the scene to "take over" relief efforts.

Based on my experiences in China, particularly my experience with
construction standards here and corruption levels, I think it is quite
amazing how well Xi'an did during the quake - though there are
rumors.... and my office building lost some bits and pieces.... and I
would expect the situation in Sichuan to be quite serious.
Rural area
construction is quite poor and old.
Rural in China isn't rural by any
Western standards - so lots of people are going to have been affected.

Still, we are thankfully well and safe. We had a family meeting about
what happened and how we would respond in future to similar events.
The
boys, it should be noted, maintained their cool throughout the quake,
calmly following instructions and not becoming hysterical.
Linda and I
did well too - a test under fire as it were.... no need for another one
thank you very much.

I expect my students tomorrow to be a mess - lets hope they are allowed
back into their dorms tonight.

Best to all,
Yoni

Hi everyone: Some more details about the earthquake. We are all fine, but feeling a little uneasy (not the right word, can't think of the right word) as the reality of the disaster sinks in. Had classes today with my students, many of them tired and exhausted from a sleepless/sleep-limited night but all very willing to process yesterday's events. Some were actually in dire need of processing the events. Funny thing is that the students received only one message from their university re the earthquake at about 4:00 pm (90 minutes after it occurred) - that all buildings and dormitories were safe to enter. However, most students did not believe this information so everyone stayed out much longer, and a good portion of them slept in the outdoor stadium on campus. So, after countless discussions with my students on Tibet, and endless frustration with what I deem their blind acceptance of government/authority, turns out that my students do not blindly accept government authority. No matter what they were told yesterday, they all preferred a sleepless night in the outdoors rather than re-entering the campus buildings.

Yours,
Linda

Hi there - Boys are off school again tomorrow though I anticipate Thursday school will be open again. Was some damage to their building and it has been challenging to find a building inspector free and willing to give it a lookover. Most schools and other buildings skip the inspection before re-opening (on campus they sent a security guard into the buildings about 90 minutes after the earthquake, and he said that everything was fine!!!). We have returned to our regular routines, although many around us are still wary of entering buildings and the parks are littered with people sleeping outdoors. Some of my students insist that they will sleep outside for a week at least. Their response is a little puzzling - they are tuned into the news, but there is a lot of faith placed on rumours. (Speaking nof rumour-mongering, the dean of international students told several foreign students to expect an aftershock in Xi’an today at 2:48 pm. Where he got this ludicrous information I’ll never know, but the ground was solid all day). My students seem to distrust whatever minimal information has been given to them by the university. But, in defense of the students, the university leaders have communicated almost nothing to them and have been largely absent. Some of my students told me that during the earthquake their teachers simply ran out of the room before anyone else . . they were left to manage their own evacuation. I understand panic and rash decisions, so I'm not trying to judge, but my students really feel abandoned and like they can't trust anyone. So I suppose they feel it's best to just stay outside. But, we've had almost 24 hours with no further aftershocks, so I imagine that they will soon return to their dorms. Probably a good rain will help them all go back inside (today the weather was gorgeous . . no wonder they all stayed outside).

Love, Linda