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.

goofy videos

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

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.