Sunday, December 30, 2012

China Winter Tour - December 27

Robin Reif - December 27

If it’s Thursday, it must be Xi’an. Up at 4 am in Beijing, we pile into our Happiness and Panda buses and head to the airport for a packed flight to this ancient terminus of the Silk Road on the plains of Shaanxi. Haven’t seen a vista this flat since I hitched from Connecticut to Oberlin back in the day.
On our way to see the Terra Cotta soldiers, our local guide Andy points out the surrounding fields of winter wheat, which make Xi’an the “noodle capital of the world.” We look but can’t see through the smog. Dangerous to breathe, it’s strangely beautiful, casting a golden veil over the fields with the wintry sun glowing faintly overhead. 


When we arrive at this 8th wonder of the world, the tween girl set doesn’t seem captivated by acres of fantasy fighters some king 2000 years ago on the other side of the world dreamed up to protect him after he was already dead (big exception is 11-year-old Aaron Ewy who thinks it’s pretty cool to have so many soldiers and archers to repel the bad guys).
New Friendships
Even at the spectacular expanse of 8000 soldiers spread over 3 or 4 pits, each the size of a double football field, the girls are more into dodging and tagging each other, trailing peals of laughter as they go, Moms and Dads shushing after them. They're high on their new friendships, playing til they glow and living in the land of “yes” (as in yes you can have that gooey sweet bubble tea before lunch; ok you can buy that overpriced jade elephant for your best friend; sure you can play in Sophie’s room for the next half hour while we, the parents, shop for more long underwear). It’s moving to see them form a little kingdom of their own with its own language, culture and norms in the space of a few days.
I can’t help but wonder whether the exceptional situation they share—being in the land of their birth with 1.4 billion people who look like them but are not like them, coming from the land where they live in families who adore them but can never fully stand in their shoes—allows them to connect with such emotional shorthand.
Teens at Dumpling Banquet
It’s happening to some extent for the parents and teens too, though expressed in subtler ways. Suspect I speak for most of the parents here when I say that even if my daughter goes home without more Chinese than xie xie, or remembering one or two sites we saw, it will still be one of the best and most valuable trips of our lives.

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