Monday, November 2, 2009

Xian Day One

[11/2/09. Posted by JP for GC.]

Friends: My trip is complete. Not only have I met up with Julie-Ann, but I got in some ping pong with a couple of gents this afternoon and even managed to win a point or two. As I was cycling the ten-mile perimeter of the towering old city walls, I stopped to take a picture of a man and a woman at play at the Chinese national sport on one of the many outdoor tables in the strip of a park between the walls and its accompanying moat. After I put down my camera the woman smiled at me and offered her paddle. I initially declined, but she insisted.

As a young teen, I had been a summer camp champion, but my game was horrendously rusty. It had been three-and-a-half years since I last played, and years since I had last taken the game seriously. I remember that last time well, as it was with Craig on the cement outdoor table in his small French village.

My preference is a volleying, rather than slamming game, standing back from the table, scooping balls up and lobbing them back, so my timing and coordination didn't need to be precise. I whiffed on my first attempt, but I quickly regained a bit of form and could somewhat hold my own.

After several minutes, my partner offered his paddle to a friend who had been watching. He was a bit more aggressive, but still a decent match. After a few points he took off his jacked and rolled up his sleeves. My heart rate was beginning to accelerate from all the bounding about. This was getting infectious. The last time I played with Craig we couldn't stop playing until it was too dark to continue. My legs were sore the next day. I wasn't going to let that happen this time.

After a few more minutes I put ball and paddle on the table and bowed my thanks. All three gave me a nod in return and a thumbs up. That gesture is so universal in China that Lonely Planet even mentions it. I had been receiving plenty of them out car windows and from passing cyclists and people who learned how far I had biked and each cyclist who had their photo taken with me yesterday.

I've had a pleasant leisurely day putting in about 25 miles on the bike exploring Xian. I bought the two Chinese English newspapers this morning and would have sat in various parks to read them, but it was too cold to sit for long, even in the direct sun light, so a thorough reading of them awaits me. A cold wave has hit the entire country. It snowed in Beijing yesterday, two months earlier than last year.

When Julie-Ann and I left her apartment this morning we had to go back in for wool hats and an extra layer. The high today was a predicted 57, sixteen degrees below normal. Still, it wasn't too cold, bundled up as we were, to have breakfast sitting at a small table beside a sidewalk vendor of hot bean curd soup just a couple blocks from Julie-Ann's office.

Julie-Ann pointed out a billboard behind us that said, "Only socialism can change China. Only reform and open door policy can develop China ." She said the many billboards I've seen with just Chinese characters and no product are all such slogans. They are about as antiquated though as Ho Chi Minh's museum in Hanoi extolling the virtues of communism. A story in one of today's newspapers wrote about all the people getting rich in Shenzhen in the mobile phone market in an environment of "anything-goes capitalism that has spread throughout this nominally capitalist country." Wealth is now extolled as a virtue. No one seems bashful about getting rich and living the good materialistic life.

There are still a fair number of bicyclists in Xian, but they are a distinct minority. Several of the places I stopped to visit had parking areas for bicycles and motorcycles for half a yuan. The bicycles were outnumbered nearly ten to one.

Tomorrow I'll bicycle out to the Terracotta warriors. Now it's off to dinner with Julie-Ann and a stroll around a huge shopping mall that has an accompanying Wal-Mart and McDonald's. We were up to one a.m. last night catching up. We could be in danger of that again tonight.

Later, George

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