The excavator

Trip Start Dec 28, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Macau  ,
Wednesday, April 12, 2006

as i said before, i only stayed briefly in datong before catching yet another long train ride to the town of ping yao. ok to be honest this town isnt exactly a hub of activity or interesting sights but what it does have going for it is that it has pretty much been lost in time as far as the city structure itself. it is china's only surviving walled city and even has some chunks missing from when the japanese decided to go crazy and start killing chinese during WWII. most of the buildings that are compacted inside of the gates are a few hundred years old and the streets are cobbled together in a way that i doubt that they have been repaired much since they were first set down however many years ago . in all, it was the one place i went (im not saying the only place in china) that had a distinct character and ambiance to it. it was enough to just stroll around the city and imagine life back when the emperor still reigned. my guesthouse was a traditional chinese courtyard home that was 400 years old so i really didnt even have to leave the grounds to be immersed in the sense of history and culture. to make things even that much more beautiful, the front desk was manned by an absolutely stunning girl named of all things "candy". how in the hell did i find the one chinese girl named candy out of 1.5 billion?

from ping yao i jumped back on my train and headed farther south to xi'an which is where the terra cotta soldiers are. the train ride proved to be pretty interesting because i was in the "hard sleeper" which is pretty much just an open train carriage with beds stacked to the ceiling. no doors and no privacy for sure. it was interesting because i was the only westerner in my carriage and i think on the whole damn train to be honest. with nothing else to do before it was late enough to sleep, everyone sat around and talked into the night. as for me, with my chinese limited to the words "hello" and "thank you", well i just sat there and smiled alot. luckily there was one girl who spoke english amongst my little crowd and she ended up translating everyones questions to me and after awhile the questions turned to politics which clearly made her uncomfortable translating. the subject was broached when one of my companions made the statement that "there is something wrong with george bush's head". to which i wholly agreed and thats where things took a turn for the sureal. the people around me were mildly shocked that i was more then willing to make that statement about my own government. the fact that i not only disagreed with my government but truly loathed the man in the highest office was startling to these people. People always say that its not polite to discuss politics or religion because there is a chance you may offend someone. i believe that people who hold to this belief are not so much worried about offending but in fact do not have a firm grasp on either their beliefs or their politics. if you are uneducated about that which you believe and choose to keep quiet, well i will admit thats a smart thing but do not condemn those of us who have a working knowledge and an informed opinion about these subjects. It was this belief that was killing me on the train because i was truly interested in what they thought of their leaders, their history with the great leap forward and the cultural revolution. did they even know about tianamen square in 1989 or were they oblivious? these quesitons kept circling in my head but i was unable to ask any of them. Lets face it, these people would not give an accurate portrayl of their opinion to some westerner on a train. the very idea of speaking up or against the government is grounds enough to disappear ala 1984. the fact that i felt a danger to even ask the questions was enough to make me both angry and sick that that sort of crap is still in this world today. it was probably the first time in my life that i was really curious and intellectually engaged with people but feared my line of questioning may lead to undesirable consequences.

on the subject of the joys of living in the midst of communism, i was talking to this canadian girl who teaches english in china and she related to me the fact that she had to clearly explain to her students what yoga was just to make sure that she was not mistaken for a follower of falon guong. she also was telling me about a trip her class took to a confucian site and she was reading this stone tablet that somehow made it through the cultural revolution (it apparantly said many things that did not jibe with the communist view of the world). the fact that she can read chinese is not enough to get her in trouble but it depends on what she is reading. one of her students took a photo of her reading the tablet and she had to ask him to erase it just to make sure that she didnt get into any sort of trouble. the last interesting story she shared with me was that one of her former students (she teaches the equivelant of 8th grade) emailed her from university and said sometihng to the effect "teaher i learn something bad happen in beijing in 1989. is that true? can you tell me more?" apparantly this man had gone through his entire education without ever hearing about tiananmen square and had somehow just got clued into the fact when he was in his early 20's. as far as his question about "can you tell me more?" her answer was "no i cant". at this point in the entry can you please all stand and face the flag and sing god bless america with may be seated.

as my final word about china i would like to introduce you to a man that i shared a bus to hong kong with. he is an old man, somewhere in his late 60's maybe early 70's. his salt and pepper hair is trimmed very short and his hairline is receding to the point that baldness is not too far off. his hands are veined and spotted in the way that only old people can manage and around his wrist he wore a jade green bracelet that hung loosely from his thin wrist. all his movements were slow and delibaret to the point of being somewhat maddening but you dont reach a ripe age in this land without being deliberete and being slow probably didnt hurt much either. can you see him? do you have a mental picture of the well groomed older gentlemen? i sat next to him for our 3 hour ride to hong kong from guanghau. i sat and thought about what he had seen and life he had lived. i mean lets face it, he was around during some really harsh and tumultuous times. this is one of the things i do, especially with older people, trying to imagine his life and his experiences and what he must have gone through. while imagining this and being deep in thought about the trials and hardships of being in china in the 50's and 60's my companion firmly implanted his pointer finger into his nose. in asia, apparantly it is perfectly appropriate to go on a small surveying mission up your nose, its just something you get used to. but our friend was taking it to a new level and im quite certain that he was up to at least his second knuckle in his attempt to clear his sinuses. let me assure you that this was not a minor "pick and hope no one saw you", i mean we've all done that on occasion and we're none the worse for it. no, instead our seat companion is going at this task for at least 2-3 minutes...digging slowly and methodically, just like all his other movements. unfortunately, the pointer finger wasnt up to the task. whatever was lodged inside of this man's nose was not going to be pried out with a mere pointer finger. instead, our friend pulls out the next weapon in his arsenal....his pinky. the choice is excellent because not only is the finger more slender and more capable of moving through the confined space of the nasal cavity but also there seems to be quite a long, yellowed fingernail attatched . some of my friends would call that a "coke nail" but as for me i named it "the excavator". and for some reason i kind of christened the old man with this name also. he now inserted the secondary tool into his nose and continued his slow and methodical burrowing in what i can only assume as an attempt to dislodge the worlds most persistant booger. it did not take long with the slender finger and the sculpted nail to accomplish the mission. i could not bring myself to watch the final moments but i can only assume that the bottom of his seat now had an extra rider for the trip back to china. despite the comedy i try in convey, this 10 minute expedition was gruesome and sickening and really quite annoying but after all it was only 10 minutes out of a 3 hour ride so what harm really? the fact that he used this same nail within 30 seconds to clean his teeth didnt help matters though. in some unconscious way i cant really pinpoint, my seatmate kind of personified china for me...or at least the chinese people. i just kind of shook my head and said to myself "well thats china"
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