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May 6, 2006

Filed under: culture»asia»china»travel

Once Upon A Time in China, Part 2

My parents gave me the notebook while I was in high school, I think as a Christmas gift. It's a small leatherbound volume with sheets of yellow paper, bolted together with wood and held shut by a pair of leather straps. It's kind of impressive, like something Indiana Jones would open to find the location of Tikt'Chuatl. And that was problematic for me, because I wasn't about to fill it with just anything. It had to be something worth reading.

It stayed empty until I went to China since I figured, screw it, I'm probably not going to get an opportunity more interesting than that. I sketched and took notes in the notebook, and also wedged different tickets and brochures into it for safekeeping. I did the same thing when I went to France, although I only managed four pages or so that trip. It takes a lot of time to sketch something and write about it longhand. And I don't have a lot of patience.

While I was in Xi'An, where I spent most of my time in the PRC, we took a side trip to see the Terra Cotta warriors. If you ever find yourself in the country, I highly recommend it. The warriors are the last tribute to Qin Shi Huang, the emperor who united China and then started work on the Great Wall. Not content to grind his subjects to death constructing the wall, Qin Shi Huang also wanted servants in the afterlife, and ordered the creation of thousands of life-sized soldier statues, many with different features and weapons. It was a massive undertaking--and one that was buried with him when he died. In 1974, farmers who were digging in the area found the tomb and its clay army. Researchers are still digging it up today.

At least one of the farmers is now employed full time by the PRC at the visitor's center for the terracotta warriors. He signed my notebook (as well as dating it 2003--guess I had the year wrong). According to my professor, that's all he knows how to write. I guess it's a living.

As I was saying, I did a few sketches in the notebook and the terracotta warriors got several pages' worth. I'll have to scan it some other time. But as I was standing at one of the display cases, finishing up a sketch of a warrior leading a large clay horse, a short Chinese woman walked up next to me and started to look at the drawing. "Very nice," she said, and then added something I couldn't understand. Amanda Laoshi, the graduate student from Xi'An Jiaotong Daxue who accompanied us, wandered up and asked her to repeat herself. She laughed.

"What did she say?" I asked.

Amanda Laoshi looked at the drawing and grinned. "She says you made the eyes too round," she said. "She says it looks like a Westerner."

I looked at the woman. She looked at me. I shrugged, apologized, and added some lines to the sketch, trying to correct the "mistake." The woman examined the drawing again, and made the universal face for "hmph." And at that point, deciding that I was not going to improve the situation markedly, I shut the notebook and wandered off, as tactfully as possible, to sketch something a little bit less subjective.

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