Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Surprising Xi'an

Xi'an continues to surprise us.

This city of 12 million is remarkably clean thanks to the hordes of street cleaners perpetually sweeping up trash and litter in public areas.

Flowers and flowering trees abound.

Huge tableaux of giant flowers and cartoon figures spring up along streets and intersections, holdovers from Chinese New Year.

Wherever an area is walled off, either for construction or safety, handsome posters appear.

Like many Chinese cities, Xi'an is divided into rings, one being the inner part, then moving to two, three and more into the suburbs, each with its rules and limitations. For example, only small dogs are allowed to live in the second ring; large dogs may live in the third.

There is a Muslim population of more than 100,000; there's a Muslim Quarter and even a  "Muslim Street"  filled with food and crafts vendors. It is an extremely popular spot with locals and tourists.

"We show our respect for their habits, praying and food," our guide proudly told us. The university has a special dining hall for Muslims. There is no more room for the Chinese to be buried so all are cremated. However, because Islam requires burial, the Muslims have their own cemetery.

We were there twice, both for too short a time, so we recommend you take your time ambling along, people watching, sampling strange foods and enjoying the mob scene.

We were treated to a unique dining experience at Tang Dynasty Art Garden Hotel. Emperors used to stay here when acknowledging successful candidates who passed the imperial examination for state positions.

Now it is a boutique hotel nicely located east of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and adjacent to the famous Ci'en Buddhist Temple.

The whole area is a fairy land of lights and musical water show for strollers by day and especially at night.

We were ushered into the garden where some guests were preparing to dine, shown a room, took seats in the garden, were introduced to officials from our gracious hosts,  then guided to a banquet room with a huge, beautifully set round table.

Then the courses began coming

and coming

and coming

and coming

and coming.

 This was, we learned, headquarters for the Shaanxi Cuisine Research Institute and we were served the cuisine of aristocrats.

 Midway through our banquet a quintet of lovely musicians, the Xiang Fu Jasmine  Band, arrived with their traditional instruments to entertain us. As we had discovered at the "Everlasting Sorrow" performance, classical Chinese music is quite lyrical. A perfect exclamation point to a superb evening.

  Speaking of evening, Xi'an saves its biggest surprises for last. Just when you think your hotel's neighborhood is ho-hum,

night falls and the lights come on.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Everlasting Sorrow

Setting for the show. Imagine a mountain as the unseen background and a full moon.

Although exhausted from an international flight and two days of non-stop sightseeing, we were dropped off for the evening performance named "Everlasting Sorrow." Our guide prepped us with  the story line and we sat expecting some colorful costumes and special effects. The Chinese love drama, but little did we know what we were in for. 

This show is an absolute must if you visit the Terracotta Warriors. It takes place on the grounds of the Tang Dynasty's winter palace, a beautiful setting of a temple with a lake in front and hill behind. .

From the moment the show started, sleepy or not, it grabbed our full attention. The cast  flew through the air as if they were levitating, the stage changed before our eyes and the most fabulous dancers moved delicately in their cumbersome, yet extraordinary costumes.  Imagine a combination of Cirque du Soleil, a Las Vegas Show, a Broadway musical, a Hollywood Epic, and the Chinese Opera-- all to lyrical, evocative music. Smoke and mirrors, fire and fountains rising from the lake, a cast of at least a hundred, the entire hillside behind the temple illuminated -- including a roaring waterfall.  This production pulled out every trick in the book of special effects.  We were in total awe, what could possibly happen next? Just when we were sure we had seen it all, doves were released and flew over our heads. 

I would return to see this show time and time again. You can’t possible appreciate each scene with so much happening on stage.  Don’t miss it and take a camera with a telephoto lens. 

 With apologies to poet Bai Juyi, we are excerpting portions of his poem, Everlasting Sorrow, as we attempt to convey the beauty and grandeur of this production.

 China's Emperor, craving beauty that might shake an empire, 
Was on the throne for many years, searching, never finding,

Till a little child of the Yang clan...
 ... At last one day was chosen for the imperial household. 

 If she but turned her head and smiled, there were cast a hundred spells, 
And the powder and paint of the Six Palaces faded into nothing. 

... It was early spring. They bathed her in the Flower Pure Pool, 
Which warmed and smoothed the creamy-tinted crystal of her skin ...

... When first the Emperor noticed her and chose her for his bride ...

 The cloud of her hair, petal of her cheek, gold ripples of her crown when she moved ... ... the Emperor, from that time forth, forsook his early hearings ...

 And lavished all his time on her with feasts and revelry,  

His mistress of the spring, his despot of the night.

Her sisters and her brothers all were given titles;
 And, because she so illumined and glorified her clan, 
She brought to every father, every mother through the empire, 
Happiness when a girl was born rather than a boy. 

 ... The Emperor's eyes could never gaze on her enough- 

 Till war-drums, booming ... shocked the whole earth 
And broke the tunes of The Rainbow Skirt and the Feathered Coat.

The Forbidden City, the nine-tiered palace, loomed in the dust 
From thousands of horses and chariots headed southwest. 
The imperial flag opened the way, now moving and now pausing- - 

But thirty miles from the capital, beyond the western gate, 
The men of the army stopped, not one of them would stir 
Till under their horses' hoofs they might trample those moth- eyebrows.... 
Flowery hairpins fell to the ground, no one picked them up, 
And a green and white jade hair-tassel and a yellowgold hair- bird.  

The Emperor could not save her, he could only cover his face. 
And later when he turned to look, the place of blood and tears 
Was hidden in a yellow dust blown by a cold wind. ...

... a petal was like her face and a willow-leaf her eyebrow -- 
And what could he do but cry whenever he looked at them?

... Her Pear-Garden Players became white-haired  ... 

... a Taoist priest ... was a guest of heaven, 
Able to summon spirits by his concentrated mind. 
And people were so moved by the Emperor's constant brooding 
That they besought the Taoist priest to see if he could find her. 

He opened his way in space and clove the ether like lightning, 
Up to heaven, under the earth, looking everywhere ... 

Above, he searched the Green Void, below, the Yellow Spring; 
But he failed, in either place, to find the one he looked for. 
And then he heard accounts of an enchanted isle at sea, 
A part of the intangible and incorporeal world, 
With pavilions and fine towers in the five-coloured air, 
And of exquisite immortals moving to and fro, 
And of one among them-whom they called The Ever True- 
With a face of snow and flowers resembling hers he sought ... 


... And the tear-drops drifting down her sad white face 
Were like a rain in spring on the blossom of the pear. 
But love glowed deep within her eyes when she bade him thank her liege, 
...  she took out, with emotion, the pledges he had given 
And, through his envoy, sent him back a shell box and gold hairpin, 
But kept one branch of the hairpin and one side of the box,  Breaking the gold of the hairpin, breaking the shell of the box; 
"Our souls belong together," she said, " like this gold and this shell -- 
Somewhere, sometime, on earth or in heaven, we shall surely 

And she sent him, by his messenger, a sentence reminding him 
Of vows which had been known only to their two hearts: 
"On the seventh day of the Seventh-month, in the Palace of Long Life, 
We told each other secretly in the quiet midnight world 
That we wished to fly in heaven, two birds with the wings of one, 
And to grow together on the earth, two branches of one tree."  

Earth endures, heaven endures; some time both shall end, 
While this unending sorrow goes on and on for ever. 

Our bus of weary world travelers relived the experience all the way back to Xi'an, relieved that no one had listened to our grumbling about extending an already tiring day. Definitely worth a sleep deficit.

Bai Juyi (772-846) was known as the people's poet. Famous poets of his era, Tang Dynasty (618-906), produced more sophisticated work for the court, but Bai poems were simpler and beloved by the majority of readers. Not unlike Barbara Cartland of romance writers or Joyce Kilmer of "Trees" fame.

Guess we aren't as enlightened as members of the Tang court because we find them elegant and touching. If you would like to read "Everlasting Sorrow" in its entirety or more of Bai Juyi's work, go to 

or https://www.poemhunter.com/bai-juyi-2/