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September 22, 2001
Making friends (Russell)

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Some curious local teens at the train station

A funny thing happened while we were sitting in the lobby at the Xi'an Hotel on the morning of September 22nd.  We had just checked out and were waiting with our luggage for Sherry to take us to the train station.  A Chinese man was intrigued by the boys, walked over, and began talking to them in broken English.  The boys weren't sure how to respond, but Russell and Gail struck up a conversation.  The man was studying and teaching at Xi'an's music conservatory, and majoring in the trombone.  He was also trying to learn English.  This was his day off, and he had wandered into the hotel to use the toilet.  

Mr. Ji Chung (his English name is "William") was absolutely charming and curious about everything concerning us.  When Sherry arrived, we decided that William would come along for the ride to the train station because he had nothing better to do.  He ended up helping immensely with the luggage.  When we boarded the train and said goodbye to Mr. Su Tao, Sherry, and William, everyone exchanged telephone numbers and e-mail addresses.  We promised to send pictures to both of them.

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The family with Sherry and William

Aboard the train, we discovered that soft sleepers are quite different from soft seats.  Our day accommodations were very much like normal train seats, with everyone in an open coach car.  The toilet at the end of the car was a hole in the floor of the train.  The little Chinese boy in front of us wore a shirt with random imitations of English words, including "OPEN" and "ARI DONCITIIONING."  (We suppose that if we tried writing Chinese characters, they would look just as silly to the Chinese.)  We continued to be the subject of many stares, even though there were many other tourists aboard the train.

Our six-hour train ride from Xi'an to Luoyang was relaxing and uneventful.  The boys read and played cards.  Gail watched the rainy countryside and cornfields go by.  We had sneaked out some bread and jam from the hotel for lunch, which we supplemented with some buns and yogurts on the train.  We arrived in Luoyang at 5:15 PM and were greeted by May, another young female guide.  She took us to the Luoyang Friendship Guest House, where (surprise!) we were put into two rooms with no connecting door.  (Joss said it was dad's turn to sleep with Cameron.)

After settling in, we set out in search of more suitcases.  (Two of the other suitcases we brought appear to be on their last legs, and we don't want to wait until they break on us.  We figure that China is the best place to get new ones.)  We never found the department store (we couldn't find anyone in the hotel who could speak English), but we found many other cultural treasures instead.

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Russell with a kettle corn vendor

China has modernized an incredible amount since Russell was here 15 years ago.  In 1987, if you ordered a Coke from a street vendor, they handed you something at room temperature.  Nowadays, there are Western fast food restaurants with neon lights and live bands.  It's unbelievable.

Walking down the street at night, we feel absolutely safe here -- safer than we would feel in an American city at night.  People and life both go on here, focused on day-to-day living.  There are people whose only jobs seem to be sweeping up or filling in the holes in the the streets.  Families sit outside endless rows of shops for long hours, seldom making any sales.  We have seen bicycles carrying three people.  We have seen bicycle carts pulling stacks of cardboard, huge piles of cornstalks, refrigerators, desk sets, and dozens of bags of rice.

In Beijing, Kitty never once mentioned the terrorist situation in America.  In Xi'an, Sherry asked us whether we voted for Bush or Gore, and asked if we thought that Bush was capable of leading America through its current crisis.  (Gail remarked privately that if we ever went to war with China, we would inevitably lose -- Americans are too concerned with instant gratification, while the Chinese seem focused and patient in everything that they do.)

Each city in China has its own personality and surprises to be discovered.  Our world trip would not have been complete without Asia, and we feel enriched being here.  After just one week, we have already met many warm and wonderful people.

 

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