May 17 Pingyao

Having woke from the overnight train to an industrial view...
...and my bunkmates in the four bedded soft-sleeper compartment.

The man on the left is actually a soldier(!) in the Department of Propaganda(!!), really, I have his card, and he told me he is coming to Hollywood in November to pitch a war movie his group recently finished.

The man on the right is from Germany here for a month to stay with his Chinese girlfriend, the woman in the middle. Due to the visa particulars of both countries it is quite complicated for them to be together and hence there was much billing and cooing and coochie-cooing. Bearing in mind that they communicate in a language foreign to both of them, that being English, they did a lot of gazing too.
A get-acquainted view of Pingyao.

The train arrived very early and it was raining but thanks to my bunkmates I did luck into a lovely place and was able to check-in right then before 8am.
So I hit the streets and had a couple of these puffy fried things, not sweet, but oily and good - two for 1 yuan which is about 12 1/2 cents.

Today was food food All Day Long. Later in the day I had two more from a different vendor.
I bought a huge bag of sliced pressed tofu from this woman, so many that I gave a lot away and still have half a bag in the refrigerator, for 2 yuan, about 25 cents.
I bought one each of the 20 varieties of dried fruit from this woman for 3 yuan and ate them all.

I also bought an apple, an amazing nectarine like fruit, and an apricot from a stall - 2 yuan...

It's not all a free ride however. You pay 15 yuan for a cup of tepid bitter instant coffee.
...and stopped off here for a bowl of a local specialty pasta soup - 6 yuan.

You do have to wonder what those untranslated foods are considering the names they have chosen for the translated ones.
Lastly I had dinner at my hotel, a local specialty noodle dish. In this area they use various wheats much more than rice and it's all been pretty dang tasty.

This dish however, is the first thing I've eaten that I've never even imagined.

I thought it would be fried apple which it was, sort of. You take something like Karo Syrup, cook it down good and sticky and then pour the syrup over the cut-up apples and cook up the whole bit until the apples are boiling hot inside the sticky coating. Then to eat it you dip each bite in the water provided in the other bowl, to harden the syrup and cool the apple. Yikes.
The view from out my back door. I haven't yet counted all the air coolers, and note the satellite dish.
May 18 Pingyao and Raising the Red Lantern

But first a little shopping? This is one of those write-on-a-grain-of-rice places and the English sign reads as follows: 'China is carved characters on the one desperate rice.'
Then this guy drove me out and back to the historic compound of buildings, actually the home of a prominent merchant family dynasty, where the film Raise The Red Lantern was set.

The whole process took more than three hours. It was pretty cool except that on all the big walls they had hung framed posters from the movie, which was waaay too much, and then that it cost $30 was too much too.

Of course in the Grand Scheme of Things, it costs me $30 to take a taxi to the airport, but considering what I have been spending for things here it just bugged.
So I was hanging around chomping on whatever it was I had bought last to eat (and Please don't be hoping for any trinkets since you do know me, and buying food is as much shoping as I can manage!) and I could hear an approaching commotion. Camera at the ready, around the corner came this car followed by a caravan of cars all with that red ribbon tied around the mirror.
Then came these guys...
...and these women.
...and then this crowd and also there was a squadron of guys carrying heavy lanterns on long poles, and a group of warrior types led by a young boy with a huge saber, and other structures carried on poles.
Almost last was this group that appeared to be the primary family, and at the end there was another caravan this time of three-bench golf-carts full of wailing women.
Spread throughout the parade and separating the groups were men carrying bamboo frames covered in these paper flowers.

What a spectacle! I never learned who the man was or the symbolism of all the numerous parts - maybe when I get back...
May 19 Xi'an

Another overnight train and an early check-in and off to check out the streets.

Yet again another city where the air quality was painfully bad and I despaired of finding anything to spark my interest. Oh foolish one! This kite chain was 180 meters long.
And the main tourist plaza was full of them. This place separates the Bell Tower to the west and the Drum Tower to the east.
At last, a good clear shot of the toileting of young children in China. And yes, they just do it about anywhere. I have not noticed the parents carrying plastic bags like we do when we walk the dog... So Angela, shall I be bringing home some of these for my grandbaby?

They get that squating technique down early. The hotels and large restaurants do have western style toilets but don't count on finding one when you need it. Better practice squatting before you come to China!
Xi'an has a very large Muslim population and this is their Mosque. The mineret was even in Chinese style, a five tiered pagoda.
The Muslim district is a street food bonanza. There are about five regional specialties that I can think of now... Here are a few of them.

I have only a few more minutes on the computer so I'll describe them later.
Another one...
...and another.
Because. I haven't told yet about the caged birds that hang from every tree because I can't get a good shot but these babies are well aware of them!
The almost entirely intact ancient city walls are another big attraction in Xi'an.
Looking down from the wall, you can see a make-shift stage where a performance of Chinese opera was well underway. I walked for about an hour on the city wall and could hear it for much of the time. It was Great. But then remember I also liked Farewell My Concubine.
Here's where I had dinner, in a well-known restaurant featuring another local specialty. It was packed and I was the absolutely only person who looked anything like me...

First you get this bowl with two very thick very very dense disks of bread and it is your job to pick away at these disks until your bowl is full of little itty bitty bits. The staff had their eye on me and if my bits got too big they would glance at my bowl and warmly raise an eyebrow at me. It was funny.

This guy was my neighbor and apparently he got tired of the picking because at one point he started eating his bread whereupon the woman he was with slapped his hand and helped him finish the picking.

When you are done with the bread they take away your bowl and bring it back full of the most aromatic mutton soup you can imagine to soak into the bread, with huge chunks of very tender mutton, some noodles added, and pickled garlic and chilies on the side so you can season it to your own taste.

It was deeee-lish and so much I couldn't begin to finish. It cost 20 yuan, about $2.50.
I have many many more pictures like this one because admiring someone's dog is a great ice-breaker. They love their dogs and anyway if you appreciate a person's dog how bad can you be?
May 20 Xi'an and The Army of Terra Cotta Warriors

A shot from an overpass in Xi'an where I was re-aquainted with the fact that many before me have written Sci-Fi best sellers exploiting the fact that breathable air will become our most valued asset and people will eventually pay about Anything to get it.
I took the morning to ride public transportation to the History Museum, then to the Terracotta Warriors and back.

The overriding principle of Chinese public transportation is that there is always room for one more. And in fact from my many forrays into public transportation it is true, there always IS (and cheerfully I might add) room for one more.
Following are about one tenth of the pictures I took at the Terracotta Warriors site so just be grateful...

Pit 1, the first and most dramatic site. It is a real wow-zer even though you know what to expect, still, the scale is quite magnificent and it's true that the soldiers are life size, 5'11" tall on average. You just don't get that Life Size from the posters.
The walls that you see here are actually part of the original pounded-dirt installation, with beams added to hold up grass mats creating these corridors. Over time the mats disintegrated and the corridors filled in with dirt.

In 1974 while drilling a well a farmer made the first discovery of the warriors in modern times and has since become a national hero, all expenses paid for a lifetime.

This city was built as an imperial necropolis with estimates of up to 300,000 workers and is approximately 2,000 years old.
All along the railing every spot was taken up with a smiling tourist and a photographer taking the shot.
The magistry of the whole concept is entirely remarkable but also each individual warrior has an individually handmade unique head. There are many body types repeated representing different tasks like archer or swordsmen or general, but each head is unique.

They say the heads represent the great diversity of the Chinese empire and that actually the craftsmen used the men on the project as models.
And more. The soldiers were originally brightly colored with blue coats, black hair, red decorations, etc.. This is the near exact status in which they were uncovered.

Also on the site is Pit 2 and Pit 3, not as impressive as Pit 1, but they are continuing to reveal more. At one point they had to cover-up again whole sections of warriors, chariots, and horses because they were not ready yet to protect what they had found.
This shot and the one below are just a few degrees apart...
...showing how the workmen figured this army was guarding the city of their leader and since a city needs a city wall, they built one.
More close-ups of the individual faces and also note how the uniforms change denoting status and job.
In Xi'an a local entertainment was hoping to expand into the English speaking market so our hostel got free tickets and transportation, as a test case. I ran into many of this gang from Beijing and The Great Wall, Pingyao and to here, from time to time, and it is fun, and friendly, and interesting.

Actually, it's way waaay fun!
Even the show had some fun moments.
It was a variety show with a lot of odd audience participation and occasionally some English translation. I controlled myself from going into a massive and ultimately foolish explaination about how much the show could be improved by this and this and that. Good for me!
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