Double Happiness For Everyone

Mother Kate is Captain at our helm, with gold loop earrings doubled up in one ear and a sometimes-audible cluck. We’ve navigated our way through the night, off the train, across the city, (around certain medical difficulties), and into our hotel. Proud moments for the diligent organiser of everything who can see her ship take shape.

Shuyuan Hostel by the Xi’an city wall is on the brink of backpacker festive. Lots of pot plants and laminated signage, remnants of patriotism from the Soccer World Cup taped to the walls of the breakfast room.

It’s the kind of place where young women scrawl inspirational notes on the bathroom walls. Some new philosophy they thought up in India, with a smiley face to follow as full stop. But we are happy here in our sheltered courtyard, knocking back coffee and flicking through maps. Birds of a feather perhaps.

Traditionally the end of the Silk Road, Xi’an City still races and so we race with it. The Bell Tower, Drum Tower, Muslim Quarter. Wet Market, Curio Market, Folk House. Big Goose Pagoda, Little Goose Pagoda, Shaanxi Museum.

We split to travel across town on buses, packed in with all manner of people completing all matter of task at high speed. Modern buildings are happening all over – in and around old streets that stress at their seams. Fruit vendors, shoe fixers, key cutters and hot food cookers make smell and noise and notice, in some parts, the tall white person coming down the back lane.

These are vibrant and embedded scenes, improbably synchronized with the newer world around them. This seems to be a very Chinese thing.

Fiona walks with Francis through the Shaanxi Museum. At its entrance a large sign reads;

we sincerely wish that every visitor could acquire pleasure, inspiration, enlightenment and distillation when you appreciate the rhyme of the song, taste the implication of the poem, and probe the mystery of the treasures;

which we all do at one stage or another while getting a handle on Shaanxi Province dynastic structure.

Cultural artefacts on endless exhibit trace the rise and decline of fourteen Emperors. One couldn’t help but question the triviality of their own creative gesture. Though perhaps that’s the tonic for toughening vigour. Or the point of your satire if your use it like that.

Philjames, Pete and Guy climb a very tall mountain followed by the camera crew. We are slowly acclimatizing to them. Overcoming our own embarrassment at being recorded in sometimes vacuous roles. The three come home all super glittery though wacked out. They scaled the steps of this mother landscape from morning to afternoon. It was perfectly inky and accurate by their description.

Rows of corn struggle to grow between the criss-cross of new highway on the way to Bingmayong (The Terracotta Warriors). A woman tells me that many of the farming grannies now spend their days playing Mah-jong. Land has been sold off for development and so they wait without work as their grandsons negotiate the building of big business.

Out the cab window a crow’s nest of road workers eat lunch on the high top of an unfinished pylon.
Before the hall of Warriors a near Disneyland of food joints, tourist taps and car parks bog the flow of traffic. We bolt through fast on our way to the sight where the first fragments of ceramic were found not so long ago.

Facing us are 6,000 armoured soldiers, ready for battle, taking us in through 6,000 varying expressions. Their hair is lovingly different as you look from face to face; top knots and ponytails with little twists and braids and ties. The detail is touching.

In perfect formation under this domed roof hall, they’re positioned as originally intended – to protect China’s first unifier in the Afterlife. Imagine what violence may have befallen him there for his army to crumble with such theatrics.

But then to the back of the hanger, under dirt or transparent sheet plastic, beside the surgical tables of Archaeologists, lie the wounded. They stand half completed, numbered tags hanging from their wrists, waiting for the day when they will join their fellow men and face east.

It seems this immense army of China is saddling up again.

The Station is a moving mess of people; all bags and food and boxes funnelling through turn styles and security checks. None of us know where the other ones are, but we make the train and sweat and smile and start buying fruit from the woman with the trolley who moves through our car. The family has re-formed. Is looking almost fully-fledged.

Before an imminent bedtime we’re in number Nine, the dining room carriage with space and hot egg tomato soup. There is a single red rose on every table, as plastic and fantastic as the other faux furnishings. Outside the window a mountain scene flickers between the ins and outs of tunnels. Running water and steep views down to old stone towns.

We start up toothpick poker. We flick sticks and drink beer and take out loose loans from one another. We’re back on this slow gravy boat – with double cooked pork and double happiness for everyone.

with love from China

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