Monday, December 31, 2012

China Winter Tour - December 28

Robin Reif - December 28
We wake in Xi’an and look out on the Bell Tower, a 14th century brick pagoda directly across the street. Apparently, the bronze bell within used to ring at dawn, a sound I’d much prefer to the 1960s switchboard buzz that was our wake up call.
Our itinerary says “Ride bicycle at Ancient Wall,” inviting only the intrepid on this dry, cold, finger-freezing morning. Those would be the teens and tweens who seem lit by some internal furnace that's no longer working so well in most of us parents.
We traipse to the bus, drive through the moat-like entrance, pile out to the courtyard and up the Wall, to a walkway landing wide as a boulevard.
To imagine the color of the day, think of ancient Chinese scroll paintings of mountains in the mist. There must be as many words in Mandarin for gray as there are in Inuit for snow. Against this somber sky, the red bicycles and lanterns lift our spirits, and soon teens, kids and parents are riding and playing—many on tandems—calling out to each other, building up some heat.
We head from the Wall to a factory that makes Terracotta replicas where kids nag parents for warrior paraphernalia and have fun mugging in costume.
Then we start the journey to Panda country with another packed flight, this time to Chendu in central China, then on to Ya’an, near the Tibetan Plateau where some 80% of the world's giant pandas live.

Already deeply fatigued, the rainy, 2-hour ride from the airport to the Hong Zhu Hotel (cold and a bit down at the heels), makes us want to go fetal under the covers. No sooner do we dive into bed than a thousand roosters (okay, maybe three or four) who seem very close by begin to crow and continue through the night. The kids don't hear a thing; they're dreaming of Pandas.

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