The Final Leg

September 29

My 11-month stay in China ended with the three-week journey you’ve been following me on. This three-week journey ended with a brief bit in the historic city, Xi’an.

After this stop, my trek through central China was over. I returned to my China home of Zhuhai for two days of preparations, reflection, and final good-byes to all of China.

But first, a thing or two about this Xi’an place: for starters, let’s learn to pronounce it, shall we? In the pinyin (alphabetized Chinese), the “x” sounds like “sh” but tighter. So “Xi’an” sounds something like “She an”. And then remember that Chinese is a tonal language so you gotta sort of sing it.

Go ahead and give it a try….

An ancient capital and the eastern point of the legendary trading route, The Silk Road, Xi’an has 3100 years of history! There’s a week’s worth of sites to see here; I only had 40 hours. And beings it was the tail end of my trek, I had the anticipation of returning home on my mind.

But, I did get out to see some interesting things here in Xi’an:

And for you photogeeks out there, a pretty cool, albeit accidental, shot here:

Being an old, old city, Xi’an has an old-school security measure—the city wall. Of course, now the once-contained urban area sprawls far beyond this boundary, and automobiles make their way below it. Nonetheless, it stands strong:

It’s a big wall, as they like them here in China. Atop this construction is a wide walkway/bikeway—heck, even a roadway if needed. It was wide.

When up there, I saw some white tourists who struck me as the Yankee-type. I was half right. They were from the American south:

Nothing screams southerner like that shirt: 'Stuck on a Truck at Toad Suck'.

Let me explain that shirt. Toad Suck is a festival down in Alabama. It’s like the Woodcarver’s Festival in my hometown, Blackduck. But whereas Blackduckers carve wood, the Alabamans don’t actually suck toads—to my knowledge anyway. But they do have food, booze, and music. Yeehaw! And the pinnacle of the event is a contest where folks put their hands on a truck; the one who keeps their hand on the longest, wins it.

The winning times have been lengthened a great deal over the years. (100+ hours this last year–no sleep, no drugs.) Some might say it’s the downturn in the economy driving people to new means of owning a car. I’d say ‘pshaw’ to that, and choose to believe it’s the continued evolution of the human race, reaching new heights of physical capabilities.

On another note, I don’t typically see too many Americans when abroad. Europeans and Australians are the usual foreign tourists I see. Maybe it’s the American work ethic, the fact that America is fairly diverse already, or maybe a discomfort being out of their element. Anyway, it was nice seeing this group of young Americans on an organized tour with their high school(or college).

The Drum Tower and the Bell Tower are located in the city center. Forgive me, but I don't recall which one this is!

Heading back to the hostel from the city wall, I heard some music inside a darkened building. Obviously, I had to enter:

They strummed, plucked, and beat the sounds of classic Chinese music. Yet they were just the back-up for the center-staged gal:

She had the voice of a door that needed to be oiled. I don’t say that to be critical. In fact, from what I’m told, this is the standard wail of classic Chinese opera. I may not get it, but apparently they certainly do. And artistic tastes aside, for the Chinese it’s also about identity and culture.

Tell me what you think:

The next morning I went to breakfast and noticed another compelling T-shirt:

Oh boy

You can bet she wasn’t an English speaker. The ones who wear these shirts rarely know what they say, let alone what they mean. 99 out of 100 times English on shirts say something hip, funny, or inspirational, though often typoed. But once in a while a jokster must put out a few of these pink eye-catchers to make the English speakers laugh and the wearers of the shirt clueless.

And on this strange note, this three-week, central-China trek comes to a close. But let’s have a ball looking back:

From Zhuhai:

I started right down there.

This train took me part of the way.

To Beijing:

A lovely summer Sunday at Temple of Heaven Park

I believe it was the right side of this path that only the emperor could walk upon.

Forbidden City

CCTV Tower in the business district

The historic, 'hutong' alleyways of Beijing

The Summer Palace

After a week in Beijing, I took a train to rural Henan province:

station in Beijing

"Zao sheng hao": early morning on the train

Here in Henan province is where I met 99-yr old, Jing Yuan:

And kicked it with the locals:

By train out of the plains of Henan:

my train company

To the mountains of Hubei province:

The town of Wu Dang Shan

Where I practiced tai chi for 8 rich days:

what form!

And after this, it was back to civilization in Xi’an.

It’s incredible where life will take you if you go with its flow. Getting on the bus out of Zhuhai with my luggage, a couple rough plans, and an openness to meet others and follow curiosities, opportunities were presented, situations arose, one thing led into the next.

I see my trek as an example of what life as a whole can be. Of course, this fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of traveling is all well-n-good given the resources, time, and lack of domestic responsibilities I had. But now stretch this three weeks to encompass a lifetime and then dilute the relative drastic nature of my experiences—going from urban to rural, from wealth to squalor, from modern to ancient—to include the broader, real-life endeavors such as marriage, parenthood, and career. I do think it’s translatable.

And though our fantastic journey called life does not, as a whole, take the form of such concentrated movement and variety as my recent trek, these real-life endeavors delve into a deeper need for personal and professional growth and fulfillment. So no, I don’t believe the drama and excitement of life’s journey decreases with responsibilities, occupation, or age. It ends when you use these events as excuses to feed your hunger of activity and adventure with the food of vicarious existence–living solely through others or the television.

With that in mind, I flew back to my Chinese home in Zhuhai. Facing “real life”, I had 48 hours remaining to prepare for the travel back to Minnesota and to say goodbye to all of China.

Next time, I will reflect further back—encompassing the entire previous year.

to new plateaus,



Posted by on September 29, 2011 in Uncategorized

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