Friday, October 10, 2008

Wild Wild West Day ONE: Tombs, Movies Sets, and Helan Mountain

Right so I've been home about a week now. Time is really flying by, somehow I've managed to fall behind yet again.

Our first day in Yinchuan was freezing. The day started off on a great note when our driver, not even two minutes out on the road, accidentally rolled backwards into another car. There was a great deal of arguing between the two drivers over fault, and I got out of the van even to take pictures of the bystanders.
Our first stop was the Xi Xia Mausoleum, which were tombs from the Xi (Western) Xia Dynasty. Honestly, they just looked like giant anthills. The gloomy weather didn't help our lack of excitement either. But because there were four of us camera-happy girls, we took loads of funny pictures.
  Our next stop was a giant movie set where numerous films have been shot. Danny, our director, told us a whole generation of filmmakers who grew up during the Cultural Revolution used this set, because they would make films about the Sent Down Youth or the Re-education movement of the 60s and 70s. One of my favorite movies I recognized as having taken place there! To Live, which is from 1994 and stars Gong Li. Highly recommended. Anyway, we ended up exploring and taking more funny photos. There were also two tied up monkeys in the complex, they looked like they were going to bite my nose when I got close to them. The set is obviously just a tourist attraction now, but we could have spent half the day there if Danny let us, just taking pictures. My favorite part of the whole trip there might've been when a group of tourists kept trying to take photos of Brittney and Leanna just because they were white, and I started making funny faces whilst standing in between them. Imagine looking at a picture of two white girls with me in the middle scrunching my nose and sticking out my tongue...brilliant.
Our last stop of the day was Helan Mountain, which looked to be just giant rock formations but they actually had ancient carvings and drawings. I couldn't see a single one without having to stare at the same boulder for ages, but some of the others could really pick them out. It started to drizzle while we were there, and by the end of our walk through it, we were all just wet and cold. I ended up holding everyone up though because I was bargaining for some souveniers to bring home. I think the matter of contention was five kuai? So less than a dollar...but really, it was a matter of pride.  I ended up winning. Dinner that night was on Danny's contact in Yinchuan, who is the sister of a coworker in Dalian and whom Danny had never actually met. She's a professional singer, or was, and now gives voice lessons while her daughter is a news anchor on the local television station. Her husband turned out to be Shanghai born and raised, so we had a conversation in Shanghai dialect, which made me very happy, as it always does. The dishes at dinner were all fantastic, and kept coming even when we were stuffed. Because we were in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, where a good majority of the people (the Hui minority) are Muslims, lamb is a staple meat. One dish was lamb raised so as not to taste gamey, and it was so tasty, the meat seemed to melt off the bone. Even the tea we had -ba bao, or Eight Treasure tea- was delicious. The dinner was definitely a good experience not just for the culinary satisfaction, but also because through Danny's polite conversation and the way he acted towards these three, it was a perfect demonstration of how Chinese people form and maintain guanxi as well.

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