Thursday, April 14, 2011

Wednesday to Friday, April 6 to 8, 2011 (Xi'an)

ROAD WARRIORS TURN INTO TERRACOTTA WARRIORS IN XI'AN: After spending nearly all Wednesday traveling from Hanoi to Beijing to Xi'an, we woke up on Thursday to a heavy dose of history. We visited the Banpo Museum, which deals with a matrilineal settlement from the Neolithic period. Then we went to a shop where reproductions of the city's famous Terracotta Warriors were made. That's where Sandy and I stooped to the Obligatory Tourism Photo Op (above). I think Sandy is an armor-clad general. I think I could be an emperor. Or a eunuch. Or Friar Tuck.
Anyway, it sure is nice to have that Christmas Card already in hand!
We then went to the Qin Shi Huang Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum itself, and it was, indeed spectacular. Inside a hangar-like structure, the warriors of Pit 1 stand, mostly below ground level. Viewers can see some of the warriors in various stages of restoration. The warriors were discovered by farmers who were digging a well in 1974, and the rest, as they say, is history. For reference, check this National Geographic exhibition guide. From there, we went to the very impressive Shaanxi Provincial History Museum.

A TANG DYNASTY PRODUCTION LEADS OUR TRAVELERS ON A MUSICAL QUEST: On Thursday night we attended the Tang Dynasty Theater Restaurant. The costumes (right), music and food was fine. One song jumped out at us. Although the costumes, themes and instruments were designed to evoke the long-ago Tang Dynasty, we caught wind of a VERY FAMILIAR U.S. folk tune, one that's commonly known at "Red River Valley." We were puzzled. After the show I asked Sandy--who, as usual, was walking wired--to Google the phrases "red river valley" and "tang dynasty". I mean, there had to be a connection, right? Was the cowboy-song's melody simply a reworking of a very old, nay, ancient tune? We may have made Google history, for all we know. I mean nobody has ever thought to link those two phrases have they?
The search, of course, turned up nothing of value to us. The question lingered with us--well, me anyway--overnight. Little did we know what awaited us the next day.

WHIP IT GOOD: Thursday opened with a quick, impromptu lesson in top-whipping. As we were about to go into the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda--which I later would discover required climbing 248 steps to get to the top--our intrepid guide, Paul, spotted some activity in a nearby plaza. He wanted us to watch some Xi'an-ers who were top-whipping. We tried it. We liked it. Shockingly, nobody tried to sell us one. We would have jumped at it. By the way, the visit to the pagoda was worth it.

OUR TRAVELERS ARE STARTLED WHEN THE DRIVER AND GUIDE BREAK OUT INTO SONG EN ROUTE FROM THE GIANT WILD GOOSE PAGODA TO THE SOUTH GATE OF THE CITY WALL: Some moments are hard to re-capture. But I'll try. After our visit to the Wild Goose Pagoda, I decided to ask the guide and driver if they knew the song that the woman had sung the previous night, which sounded suspiciously like the "Red River Valley". I started HUMMING the MUSIC, filling the interior of the nine-passenger Gold Cup van with notes that were close to correct. After a couple of bars, the front of the van suddenly erupted in a chorus of humming as the guide (Paul) and driver (Sun) joined in--with gusto. By that time, Sandy started humming too, with a what-the-heck-I'll-humor-the-boys attitude. So, all four of us joyfully hummed our way through the song.
When raucous exhibition was over, I tentatively asked, "So you guys know it, huh?"
Oh, yes, they were both very familiar with it. How the heck....?
Well, further discussion led Paul to speculate that the song was used in the 1940 movie Waterloo Bridge, which has evidently long been a favorite in Asia, certainly in China. I haven't seen the entire movie, but the soundtrack I've seen does NOT include it. (The movie does have Auld Lang Syne, which is also very popular in China.) Who knows? Maybe the 1931 version of the film uses the song.
In any case, the song is known in China as "hóng hé gǔ" (literally Red River Valley). To hear a Chinese version of this song, you can catch a karaoke-type clip on You Tube. Or, you can watch Vivian Chow sing it (starting about the 1:55 mark and lasting for about two minutes) in the YouTube clip below:

THE PART IN WHICH OUR TRAVELLERS CIRCUMNAVIGATE THE CITY AND BEGIN TO PAY FOR THEIR HEAVY BREATHING: Eventually we made it to the City Wall. Despite the heat; despite the pretty oppressive air pollution; despite our age (still younger than those Terracotta Warriors), we hopped on a couple of sturdy-looking Giant bikes and rode the entire length of the oblong-shaped city wall. I think it was about 14 kilometers, which translates to about 9 miles and 2 pulled muscles. I tried to pull a NASCAR trick and draft Sandy but she kept weaving, forcing me to do it all on my own. We had a great time. The heavy-breathing, however, drove lots of micro-particles of some substance fairly deep into our lungs. We think it was worth it. Xi'an was fantastic. Onward to Beijing. Hack, spew, sputter, gag.

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