Jiaozi and Biaozi

April 4, 2007 - Xian, China

Leaving the monasteries we took another night train to Xian. This time an overnight soft sleeper. A soft sleeper has four bunks to a cabin instead of six and has a lockable door. It has nothing to do with how hard or soft the bunks are as one might initially assume. Once in Xian, during our orientation walk, we stopped for lunch of dumplings in a very local shop a few blocks from the Muslim Quarter, a couple of streets packed with vendors and small shops. There are two main types, Jiaozi and Biaozi (pronounced Jowza and Bowza). One is the “Chinese potstickers” which are steamed in bamboo baskets. The Japanese have copied then “improved” them by deep frying them after steaming and call them gyoza. The other type are pork encased in a fluffy bread and also steamed. I don’t know there English name but these too are similar to the Japanese nikuman.

[Terry: Chinese dumplings are going to be the end of me. Thank goodness I don’t live in China because I would be eating them for all my meals. They are steamed in those cute bamboo baskets and they are so good dipped in soy sauce, vinegar and chili. We are saving so much money on food in China by eating these because they are not only dirt cheap, but they also expand in your stomach for hours after eating them; we always skipped dinner after having dumplings for lunch. Mark and I tried to feed our colds and we successfully achieved that and more! We did take it easy by skipping on some optional activities, but I felt like my body needed to sleep all day for several days but we also did not want to miss out on anything.]

In the morning we planned on a local coffee shop but it did not open until 10 am. I guess the Chinese don’t drink coffee in the morning. So instead we went across the street to a noodle shop. Terry pointed to some noodles and gestured one order. This is how we typically order in the local shops. It allows us to stay out of the “proper restaurants” that have English menus and inflated prices. The key is to choose a shop where a lot of Chinese are eating. This shop was packed. The waitress was asking us something in Chinese (see below), and despite the help of another Chinese patron that spoke English well, we ended up with something slightly different than we ordered. However this was great because is was a pork mixture packed into a crispy round bread and we loved it; enough to go back a number of times later, even twice in one night.

Everywhere we went the Chinese thought Terry too was Chinese and this was frustrating. They would constantly say something to her in Chinese and even when she replied, “I am not Chinese”, or, “I don’t speak Chinese”, they would continue to speak to her in Chinese. For all we know maybe they were trying each of some 50-something Chinese dialects to find the right one. If I approached them and spoke English just to see if they spoke some, they would always turn to Terry and reply in Chinese. For some reason they seem not to believe she was not Chinese.

[Terry: Mark thought that all Asians look alike to Caucasians (excluding himself, of course) but not to other Asians as well. In order to avoid hassles, Mark stood next to me silently while I try to speak Chinese whenever we were ordering or bargaining. Because if Mark tried to speak Chinese, they ignored his existence and start speaking to me in Chinese. From the way I pronounced Chinese and my gesturing, one would think the Chinese would figure out that I am a foreigner myself, but they kept talking to me in Chinese. Sometimes even Mark got confused which nationality I was since he often asked me, “what did they say?”, expecting me to translate Chinese! He of course denies this and insists that he was talking to himself. Too funny.

I have a theory and I shared this theory with Mark but he doesn’t buy it. My theory is that just like when you stand next to a really tall girl, you automatically look short. Thus, when I am standing next to a blue-eyed Caucasian dude, I look more Chinese than I ever have! Normally from the way I am dressed (no heels, no pink lipstick, no make up, no gaudy flashy purse, and no Hello Kitty logo on my shirt) other Asians could deduce I don’t live in China. Or any other Asian countries where some women insist on hiking with their 3-inch heels walking on snow no less! I am wearing grubby pants, keens, a backpack and the fanny pack that Mark insisted I wear for the trip. I scream of tourist! Just look at the camera attached to my fanny pack like Batman’s utility belt! Anyway, according to our leader, one of the reasons for the constant stares is due to the Chinese thinking that I am Chinese and I sold out to a white guy.]

Since Terry had been given this awesome responsibility of looking Chinese, she stepped up to the plate and ran with it. She would often give translations and insist that she knew what was being said. Although I knew these were random guesses and pressed her on the issue, Terry would insist that she “just knew”.

That morning we had a good laugh. It was 6:30 am so we thought. It was really 5:30 am since we did not adjust the time zone on our alarm clock. Terry needed to make a call to the States but every time she dialed out, a message informed her that the call was not possible. Terry dials zero and asks about calling international but the girl doesn’t speak English and doesn’t understand. Thinking she was connected to housekeeping, Terry asks for “reception” and after no response asks for the “the front desk”. After hearing “front desk” the girl acknowledged but Terry was disconnected. I left to go to the lobby and work it out in person. It turns out they needed a cash deposit to enable international calling from the room. On my return to the room I am surprised to see that housekeeping has brought a folding MahJong table to our room. Both Terry and the housekeeping girl looked thoroughly confused. The poor girl in housekeeping, hearing the only English word she understood, “desk”, brought us the closest thing she could find, a table we could use as a desk I suppose. We felt bad sending it back but it was too early for MahJong. We had a good laugh.

[Terry: Mark had a great time telling everyone how I asked for the desk to be delivered at 5:30 in the morning. When I called house keeping, the girl sounded like she was sleeping. I thought it was 6:30 am, not 5:30. I thought she was connecting me to the front desk (front desk button was not working, which is why I pressed house keeping) when she said okay and said something else in Chinese. So I thanked her and waited to be connected when I heard the busy tone. I thought, “How rude! She hung up on me instead of connecting me!” I was frustrated for not being able to communicate. This is obviously my fault for not knowing the language.

This must be a lesson I must learn for being less than pleasant when Mexicans came to the pharmacy in Arizona and refused to speak one word of English. When we went to a pharmacy near the monastery, the Chinese pharmacist pulled out a Chinese/English dictionary and really worked with us to get us the medication we wanted. I vowed to be more patient with the Mexicans next time and have a Spanish/English dictionary available. I will focus on being more helpful. This trip has taught me many lessons like that and enabled me to put myself in others shoes. In the future, when the Mexicans ask, “Why don’t you speak Spanish, you live in Arizona?”, I will remember when I was in the big Chinese cities and thought the same thing of the hotel clerks who didn’t speak one word of English. How rude of me!]

The highlight of our visit to Xian was the Terra-Cotta warriors, although you wouldn’t know it from the amount of text we have allocated for describing it. We will let the photos speak for themselves. Although my second visit, I had more time to explore and this time took in a bit more history. On the way back we asked to be dropped off at the Muslim Quarter and returned to the same dumpling shop with Ema and Zeban, two fellow travelers. This is local food at its best. A tray of about a dozen dumplings costs us around 4 yuan (about $0.50 US)! Terry and I skipped the group dinner again because we were still not feeling up to par and once again stuffed with dumplings. The following morning we decided to give our bodies a rest an skip an organized walk around the Xian City wall.

[Terry: The Chinese spit everywhere. Sharon, our group leader, said that when she first came to China in 1995, people were spitting on the carpet of the hotel lobby! At first I thought needing to spit was due to heavy smoking, but as Mark pointed out, other Asian countries don’t do this. Neither do the smokers in America. Anyway, we all thought it was completely gross but chucked it up to another cultural difference. One of the group said she got accidentally spit on and after hearing that, I would try to steer clear from their spit path whenever I heard them clearing their throat and pool their phlegm sometimes keeping it on their tongue a few seconds before parting with it. I guess you can get bad Karma just by thinking it gross because Mark and I caught this awful cold which made us cough up some horrible phlegm. Mark, just like the locals, even spit behind a tree a couple of times. When in Rome...]

Pictures

Live model
Little boy
Pit #1
4000 Terra-Cotta warriors
 
 
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