Friends: As I drifted through the narrow, jam-packed streets of the Muslim Quarter in the old city of Xian on my bicycle, I noticed a sidewalk vendor selling bean-curd soup, a food Julian-Ann had just introduced me to. I only recognized what he had in the large metal barrel on the back of his bicycle cart as a young woman sitting on one of the several stools he provided customers had a bowl of it on her lap.
When I joined her, she immediately said, "How do you like China?"
"I like it very much, much more than I ever expected to. Everyone has been so welcoming and the food is delicious."
"Is that your bicycle? I've never seen one like it?"
"It is. I brought it over from America and rode it up from Hong Kong."
"Wow. That's amazing. You are gorgeous."
"It's been a great ride. It's a wonderful way to get to know a country and meet its people."
As we talked, I learned she was a college graduate who was busily preparing for an entrance exam for graduate school. Besides English and Mandarin, she spoke Russian. At one point she said, "When I saw you on your bicycle, I willed you to stop here. I wanted to talk to you very much. I see it is our destiny."
She said she wished she had a bicycle so she could take me around the city. I asked if it was possible to rent a bike. She said probably, but anyway, she was soon meeting a friend. Several minutes later her friend arrived. She too spoke excellent English and joined in the conversation before they had to be on their way.
My farewell meal with Julie-Ann was another bowl of one-and-a-half yuan (twenty cents) bean-curd soup the next morning, just a couple blocks from her office, her usual breakfast. As we took our seats at the small sidewalk table Julie-Ann noticed a recently placed paper on a post behind us advertising for people to pass out fliers. The pay was forty yuan a day, about six dollars, a seeming pittance, but not bad pay here and a great windfall in many parts of the world--all of Africa and India and much of Latin America and Asia, where many people are lucky to earn one dollar a day. That such work is being advertised and such work has become a part of China's booming market economy is another indication of the state of affairs here.
The English teacher who came to my aid in the Forbidden Area asked me, "Do you think China is a poor country? You can be honest."
"Not at all," I said, "Especially in comparison with much of the world. You haven't caught up to the U.S. or Europe or Japan, but you will."
Julie-Ann and I were still talking about the movie we had seen the night before, Michael Jackson's "This Is It," an extraordinary documentary on his weeks of rehearsals for the concert tour he was preparing for just before his death. It was a virtual concert-film, interspersed with interviews with his huge cast of singers and dancers and musicians as well as the many people involved with the production of the concert. It was going to be an extravaganza unlike anything seen before, that would have set a new standard for all rock concerts.
Julie-Ann and I were lucky to see an undubbed version. Julie-Ann rarely goes to the movies in China, as only occasionally in the first week of release of a film is it not dubbed. We knew that most of this film would be music, so we could endure dubbing if we had to. But we learned when we bought our tickets that we were getting the original version.
As in Thailand, when we bought our tickets we were given our choice of seats. It was an hour-and-a-half before showtime, as we bought our tickets before having dinner, and only four other tickets had been purchased, though at show-time the theater was at least a quarter full. It was on the ninth floor of the mall with the Wal-Mart and one of ten theaters. There were two other Hollywood films playing--"The Taking of Pelham One-Two-Three," which I had seen on my flight over, and "Astro Boy."
The movie was preceded by a few ads and trailers, including one for "2012," which was neither dubbed nor sub-titled. After the movie Julie-Ann commented that "This Is It" had taken in $68 million world-wide in its first week of release. She still monitors such things in case she returns to the business. She keeps up with films via DVD. She recently purchased "Berlin Alexanderplatz," Fassbinder's fifteen-hour masterpiece. I would have been happy to see even a sampler of it with Julie-Ann, as I had fine memories of seeing it at Facets ten years or so ago, but time did not allow.
Though it was sad to say farewell to Julie-Ann, it was exhilarating to be back rolling down the road, even though I had some missteps getting out of Xian. It seems impossible not to go astray in China. But now that I'm safely on 312 it should be dead ahead for the next three or four days.
I got to play the troll last night, camping under a beautifully arched concrete bridge that had a secluded grassy nook in its corner. Nearby was a circle of stones used as a fireplace that people occasionally took advantage of. I didn't worry about anyone coming out on such a cold night. Though it got down into the 40s I actually overheated and had to unzip my sleeping bag after I'd fallen asleep. That was a good sign as its only going to get colder as I head north to Beijing and December closes in.