Xi’an, the Terra Cotta Warriors, and our Chinese Grandmother
October 26th, 2009 by Kate

Xi’an is a “second tier” city in China.  There are about five 1st tier cities and 17 second tier cities.  This is determined by the size of the city and the the city’s GDP.  This was our first experience with a 2nd tier city, and I was sitting in traffic in our taxi thinking – they have got to be mistaken – this city is totally massive.  Oh no, but it is not a big city they say, just a medium city… yea, a “medium” sized city with 14.3 million people – more than three times the size of Phoenix!

We took the overnight train from Bejing to Xi’an (pronounced She-Ann) and when our train pulled into the station we were met by Sofia and Mr. Yung.  I know many of you know about our couchsurfing adventures – we had the honor of meeting Sofia indirectly through couchsurfing.  Sofia’s brother(Dr. Kang) and niece couchsurfed at our house back in May before we left, and they were kind enough to help us connect with Sofia when we reached Xi’an.  I can not tell you how wonderful it is to arrive in a really foreign city, and have a kind warm smile greet you at the station after 26 hours on a Chinese train!

Sofia is fabulous.  She was a high school teacher her entire life, and lucky for us the subject she taught was English!  She is retired now but organizes teacher exchanges and summer programs so foreign teachers can come to China and Chinese teachers and students can come to the US.  Her husband Mr. Yung was great too.  He didn’t speak any English at all, but we managed to communicate through elaborate sign language and lots of translations by Sofia.  He was an electrical engineer before he retired.  They have  two adult children but no grandbabies yet (much to Sofia’s dismay), but by the second day Ms. Sofia had an American grandchild named Phoebe (much to both of their delight!).  Phoebe even called her “Ni Ni” (grandma in Chinese) and they walked around the city hand and hand and you should have seen the stares!  (Phoebe wants me to add that Grandma and Nana shouldn’t be jealous because of course she knows they are here real grandmas!)

Sofia arranged our entire stay in Xi’an.  We were treated like royalty.  She had a private driver to take us to the Terra Cotta Warriors.  And all I can say about them is WOW!  They believe there are at least 6,000 of them.  They are life-size, and every single one of them is different.  I had seen pictures of them of course, and in my mind they found them all intact and upright.  Oh but that was not the case at all.  They were placed in a 5 meter deep pit and timber roofs were built over them.  The roofs collapsed and crushed them all to pieces.  At the site you are at an massive archiological site where they are putting the millions of broken shards back together again… Humpty Dumpty! 

Sofia also set it up to have two friends (hey Chen and Maggie!) spend the day with us in the Muslim Quarter bargining for treasures (Lisa & Tami – there are goodies for the girl scouts in the mail!).  With them we also visited the Great Goose Pagoda and learned about the Chinese way of praying at Buddhist Temples. 

One of the highlights of our time in Xi’an was renting bikes and riding them on top of the historic city wall (10.6 km).  It was SO interesting to have a bird’s eye view of a bustling city.  You could see people cooking through the windows of their apartments, the snarls of traffic, little old Chinese men tending pigeon coops on rooftops, people doing Tai’chi in the public park, children in their schoolyards singing patriotic songs and practicing their marching, men teathered to bamboo scaffolding building luxury highrise apartments, and old crumbling houses with full size trees growing out of their cisterns. 

Another highlight was Sofia arranged for us to visit an after-school program for elementary kids in her neighborhool.  There were about 20 kids in the program and she had worked with them the week prior on speaking a bit of English for us.  We were excited and they were REALLY excited – and we had a great afternoon of eating and playing and singing with them (Mom - you will be SO happy to know that the Sound of Music is very well loved in China and the girls and I did you proud by leading a sing-along of Doe-a-Deer!).  The kids in Xi’an start school at 7am, have a 2-hour break for lunch from 12-2pm, and then go back to class until 5pm.  The afterschool program offered homework and tutoring help, and about 15 of the kids live at the after-school program during the weeknights and go home on the weekends.  Most of the kids ate dinner there, and quite a few don’t get picked up until 9pm!  The girls and I all thought about Miss Karen back at Khalsa and agreed that she might just have to strangle some of them if she had to keep them until bedtime!

We all felt so fortunate to have met Sofia and spent time with her family and many friends, and look forward to hosting her in Phoenix someday.  And for everyone that is reading this, I have promised to help them find an English teacher (or two) to come and live and work in China for a year.  I’ll post more about that later – but it would be an amazing opportunity for someone to take.

** We will post pictures soon- we have been having a few computer issues and that’s why we’re 2 weeks behind in posting!

3 Responses  
Sophia writes:
October 27th, 2009 at 7:49 am

I went to Tianshui and stayed there for a few days. I’m sorry to have missed reading your blog and to know the nightmare in Chengdu.It’s great honour to get to know your family, a remarkable family traveling around the world. And I’m also glad to get an American grandaughter.I wish I could see you again in Arizona or in XI’an.

Tami writes:
October 31st, 2009 at 1:43 pm

The Troop 190 girls will be so excited to receive something from China. The troop has been having such fun following you all on your adventures. Next week we are having at our November meeting an exchange student from China and we are going to make the miniature Chinese meditation gardens.

Cricket writes:
November 4th, 2009 at 12:37 pm

Another lovely and descriptive post, Kate, just the sort I’d looked forward to reading while following your travels! The boke-ride to the top of the city wall?, and the Terra Cotta warriors site sounds particularly fascinating–but then again I’m heavily influenced by living with a junior/future “digger” (archeologist? paleontologist? both?)

Sounds as if you’ve made a wonderful friend in Sofia, and I have no doubt “Ni Ni” enjoyed your whole family as much as you enjoyed her hosting.

I was somewhat saddened to read of the many children who stay so late with “Miss Karen in after-care,” some even living with “her” all week and only seeing their parents on weekends. That would crush me!, but I suppose it must be an accepted and necessary part of their economy and culture. Your visit (and sing-along) must have been very exciting for them!

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