blurred night view, busy sidewalk near the Bell Tower, Xian, November 2012
Bell Tower, Xian
I’ve been sick for about 3 weeks, ever since i got back from Xian. The air quality in Xian seemed to be particularly nasty, resulting in breathing problems and an allergy attack. After my return to Chengdu and a week around students with colds and winter coughs, my allergies turned into a chest cold. I’m starting to recover now, but I’ve pretty much spent my free time in bed, when not working.
crowned head, Muslim quarter, Xian
In Xian, I missed the attraction that the whole world flocks there to see, namely, the Terracotta Warriors. A colleague told me that it was, indeed, a stupefying sight, thousands upon thousands of silent sentinels, unearthed after a couple of millenia, guarding the tomb of of the Qin emperor who unified China. Next time, for sure.
I stayed at the Hantang Inn Hostel my first night – a comfortable and friendly place in an alley near the city center. After walking through the Muslim Quarter and then visiting the Wild Goose Pagoda, I was exhausted. On the way back to the hostel I stopped at a small noodle restaurant and ate the best chicken soup with dumplings of my life. It was a bowl of soup to celebrate and to rhapsodize over, but sadly I never made it back for a second bowl.
Another Muslim restaurant
Getting to the Wild Goose Pagoda was an effort, involving a subway ride and a walk each way of about 2k. The pagoda is an immensely important monument in the history of Chinese Buddhism, being built in the Tang Dynasty by the monk Xuan Zang after his 16-year pilgrimage to India, for the purpose of housing the Buddhist documents and sacred objects he brought back to China. The present pagoda dates only from the Ming Dynasty, but is imposing in its austerity. Even the Disneyfied tourist traps and shopping malls surrounding it don’t detract from its significance. I didn’t enter or climb the pagoda itself, being content to stare at its exterior (and too cheap to pay the extra 30 RMB tower entrance charge).
大雁塔 Dàyàn Tǎ – Big Goose (or Wild Goose) Pagoda, Xian
My second night was spent at a 5-star hotel, courtesy of the British Council (this was, after, an IELTS Examination weekend), and Saturday and Sunday were examination days at Xian International Studies University. Dinner Saturday night was with a group of examiners at a Muslim restaurant, where we feasted in various grilled meats, rice, and bread.
Terracotta Warriors (not the real ones)
I didn’t realize it until today, but I’ve had 7 IELTS Exam weekends in a row. No wonder I’m tired, and it’s taking me forever to get this illness out of my system. Added to this is the stress of planning my life after Sichuan University. I’ve registered as a student for Chinese classes at the Southwest University for Nationalities in Chengdu, which will get me a six-month student visa. Soon I’ll start shopping around for an apartment. 2013 will probably be my sabbatical from teaching.
As a postscript, tomorrow I turn 57. I seldom think about birthdays any more, but I do think about how many more years I’ll be able to teach. I’ve completed 7 years teaching English, and I seem to have gone as far as I can within the Chinese university system, working as a “Foreign Expert” teacher, mainly of oral English. I’m simply tired. I plan to move into EAP teaching (English for Academic Purposes), directed at preparing students for academic study abroad, which is not strictly language teaching. The pay is better, but the entry requirements are higher. For this reason, I plan on starting an M.A. program in Applied Linguistics next fall.
My plans may all change tomorrow, but for now I have a cushion – plans for a visa and study for the next 6 months. More later.
Jiefangbei shopping area at night, Chongqing
I badly needed a weekend away. As I’m facing my final 10 weeks living and working in Chengdu, Sichuan, I’ve been under constant stress. When I was scheduled to give IELTS exams in Chongqing, I made a 3-day weekend of it, and actually relaxed for a couple of days. The weather was turning cooler, the summer was finally gone, and autumn was in the air.
gateway, 下洪学巷 Xiahongxue Lane, Yuzhong District, Chongqing
I spent Friday night at my favorite Chongqing guest house, the Sunrise Mingqing Hostel, where I had a small sitting room and bedroom, furnished with antique furniture. It was quiet and relaxing. The hostel is right next to the Huguang Guild Hall, an exquisite example of traditional architecture, which I visited the next morning. The photo above shows the gateway and steps that lead to the old hillside neighborhood where the hostel is located.
I spent Saturday morning exploring some of the remaining ancient lanes and stone stairways that honeycomb the steep hillsides bordering the Changjiang (Yangtze) River. I took quite a few photos, which you can see in my Flickr set here.
merchant, Shibati ancient neighborhood, Chongqing
On Satuday night, after an afternoon of giving speaking exams, I found a basement food court that offered nothing but noodles and dumplings. After a delicious meal of handmade spicy noodles with beef, I walked to the historic Shibati area, an ancient stairway neighborhood that still retains the flavor of old Chongqing. Camera in hand, I practiced being unobtrusive by shooting from the hip – basically, it means holding the camera at waist level, the lens pointed in the general direction of the scene you want to capture. It’s difficult and takes lots of practice, and I got both good and bad results. People didn’t realize that I was shooting them, although the loud click of the camera sometimes turned people’s heads.
side by side, Jiefangbei, Chongqing
One of my ulterior motives during the weekend was to network with other IELTS examiners for job leads. Since the Sichuan government only renewed my residency visa until February 2013, I’m faced with finding a new job in the middle of the academic year, and moving to a new province just before the Spring Festival and Chinese New Year begins.
This coming weekend will find me in Xian, once again for IELTS examinations. I’ll have more updates on my future plans next week.
View my other photos from the weekend in my Chongqing Oct. 2012 set on Flickr.