Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Other Places in China

Longman Caves
We arrived in Luoyang. We are a little bit disoriented, after we slept on the train. We take the bus from one end to the other. We pass a continuous construction on both sides. Here is a heap of rubble, there a huge hole, here a brick construction, there an apartment building made of prefabricates, here a hill of dirt. The driver honks at every living thing in sight. After almost an hour we get to the end, and we have to carry our backpacks.
The Longman Caves started in the fifth century as a manifestation of Buddhism. Irving Stone, in his book "Agony and Ecstasy" talking about Michelangelo's capacity of seeing the statues in the rock, he would say that he was only removing the excess of marble. We could say the same thing about those caves: there are numerous Buddhas, and bodhisattvas, and demons, and kings, only people needed many centuries to bring them to light. Unfortunately, people were the ones that defaced them with the occasion of moral and cultural change.

On the rock's surface you can see square or rectangular openings, that are deepened and in the middle will contain a Buddha. For the big ones on the sides of the caves there are thousands of little Buddhas, in bas-relief, or other religious person, big or small. Some caves are readily accessible, for others you have to climb many stairs. When we arrived there was a thick fog, so we discovered the caves only as we came closer. Our tickets were good for the West Caves (numerous and interesting), the East Caves (a few, not impressive, just a Compassion Buddha with a thousand arms, but they offered a comprehensive view of the West Caves), some temple and a garden (that we didn't visit).

We were hungry and the children would have liked to eat while we were in the touristic area, but we explained that we want to catch a train, we'll eat at the station, for sure we will find something there. We bartered with the taxi-driver and he took us to the new train-station in Luoyang, one that looked like an airport, in the middle of a constructionable desert, contained in a line of futuristic buildings almost finished. Mihai stands in line, buys tickets and then we run to catch the high-speed train toward Xi'an. After we feed our tickets through a subway-like machine, we're on the platform that has the numbers of the cars written on the concrete. The train pulls silently in the station, it doesn't even make a sound. The doors open, and out steps a stewardess. On the inside it looks like an airplane, the chairs have little foldable tables, TV screens and an electronic sign for the future stations and for announcing the speed (we will travel with almost 200 miles/hour). We don't even realize that we started moving. The stewardess offers us coffee (25 yuan, no thank you) and something to eat. We scramble to find all the leftovers, we ask our children to forgive us and promise that we will have a good meal in Xi'an.

We arrive in a similar train station, but to get out we need to take the subway. A young man helps us to buy the tickets and tells us at what station we need to get down. The subway is so new that it is still shiny. On the TV screens they were showing behavior rules. People were taking pictures of themselves with the murals, and the children were taking the subway just for fun.

Outside was a mixture of old and new. From the last century they had policemen in the middle of intersection on a dais. Full of importance they were facing the traffic and signaling with their hands to stop or to move. From this century they had the buildings.

After we ate we walked toward our hotel. Here too the distances are huge, but we finally arrive at our simple hotel.

Terracotta Warriors
We wake up early because we have to take the bus to the train station, and from there another bus to take us to the soldiers, a two hour trip. The trick was to find the public bus, and not some tour that will have some other factory stops. It was a sea of parked buses, people sitting at a table with lists, people standing and tugging at your coat saying that they will take you, people in uniforms, that they don't even look at you, or answer your questions. Our answer was poking in the eye: the place that had a huge line in the middle of everything, apparently with no reason, that was the place to wait for the public bus. We will get in the second one (everybody has to have a seat).
After we meet with the grandparents, we take the minibus to the complex. The guide will tell us about the pits and then let us to roam free and take pictures.

The biggest pit is number one, where you can find the most numerous soldiers and fragments left in place. They are still assembling things in this pit.

At pit number three is the command post. Looking at their clothes and shoes they concluded that they were officers, but only four had heads (it seems that they didn't finish, hmmm, hmmm).

 At number two there is the infirmary and a cart. There are numerous points that were excavated after they inspected them with rays and that's how they made the exhibition with the kneeling archer (whose sandal print should be patented), with the standing archer, the well-fed officer, the general, the soldier with a horse. We could see two bronze carts, smaller than the life-version. They were like jewels, the way they were made and the ingenuity of coupling systems. Arrow tips, javelins, swords with an outward layer of chromium, that kept them sharp for 2000 years.

Xian's City Wall
It was build in 1370. It is 39 ft high and its length is 8.5 miles. Its thickness varies between 39 and 59 ft. It has four gates, one for each cardinal direction and countless arcades for the streets. On the wall there are multicolored pagodas (lit at night) and food-stores and renting bicycles. On the sides there are street lights with red lanterns and specific flags for the side (the West one had something like a cheetah, the south one like a dragon). In some places we could see the name of the brick-maker.

We walked a little bit with Nasha and the grandparents, then they went with their schedule, we would meet them later. We stayed at the South Gate and played Chinese games. We liked best the shuttlecock (it has feathers in a rubber cap with some weights added, you hit it with your foot; it can be played alone or with many others, the idea being on keeping it aloft for a long time, like a Hacky Sack). The second place was for the running hoop. It was funny to see the Chinese trying to teach their children to play with it (the parents were having fun, the children were frustrated).
The Great Mosque
It is hidden in the heart of the bazaar, or you could say that the bazaar grew around it. Until we got there we contended ourselves with the continuous movement of the people. We bought some pita with meat. He took out the piece of meat from the steaming pot, minced it with the knife (it was so tender that it was enough to look at it and it would have become small pieces) and then put it in the warmed bread. Mmmmm... very tasty. then we tried some doughnuts made with persimmons (that gives them the orange color) some had a filling with sesame seeds and others with walnuts.

The mosque was quiet at that Sunday noon hour. It has a mixture of Chinese and Muslim architecture. We weren't allowed in the praying space, so we watched it from a distance.

I can say that I was in this city, even if I saw only the road from and to the train station. We are the last travelers to get out of the station and a man approaches us: we are his clients! After a short bartering we follow him to his car, kind of a shrunken van. He drives slowly, taking care to go around holes, slow over the speed-bumps. On his board there is a prayer wheel, the kind that goes around by itself. We are looking through the window to see how different is this city from the other one that we saw. The sun is rising. Our driver pulls the car toward the middle of the road, way behind the street light, takes out his phone and starts framing the sun between the buildings. Behind us a truck was honking with a passion. Nothing bothers our driver, who, after taking his picture, drives on as though nothing happened.
The hotel has Islamic influences in the architecture and furniture. The concierge has Mongolian features. The people who are in the hotel lobby look at us like we are aliens. They are sincere, they can't stop looking at us.
As usual we don't understand a word from what is spoken around us, but I hear different sound, not Chinese, more h's and r's. Actually, what caught my attention was the inflection, something like "Why don't you believe me? It is as I am telling you. You will see that I was right!"

Two days sick in bed. As we are leaving, Ileana and Ioan will get sick. In the train station we find a place where we are not the main attraction. They walk around us and try to catch a glimpse of our features, especially Ileana and Ioan who are sleeping on the benches. It is our first contact with the Tibetans. We watch them and study their clothes and way of being. An old man is walking through the station and in his right hand is a praying wheel that he continuously turns clockwise, in his left hand the praying beads. He doesn't stop even when he is talking.
This time we have tickets for the hard sleeper car. There are six beds and no door. You don't have a personal light, you can't turn the light off, and you can't control the volume for the music (nor the choice of music). Also you can't isolate yourselves from the others and their smoke. We spend a long time changing the sheets ourselves-- some people from another car apparently came and slept in our beds. It is cold so we take our sleeping bags.

We look outside at the mountains, desert, frozen water, herds of yaks or sheep. In the hallway is a Tibetan little boy who studies us. He doesn't have a problem with the camera, but if I look at him, he becomes shy and runs away. Eventually he befriends Maria, and at some point he laughs every time she looks at him.

In the end I would like to write a little bit about Chinese language and the English translations. Chinese is a monosyllabic language, every sign being pronounced as a syllable: gi, di, ma, zhi. It doesn't have words in the way that we understand, but the meaning comes through the association of the signs. It doesn't have grammar, so it doesn't have tenses, but you can figure out if it is future or past from the content. There are no spaces or commas, just a period. Even the question mark is a hanzi. So it is difficult to translate. In our trip we found many funny translations. On a bag of sliced bread we found "sliced pain." In a touristic flyer we found that the blue sky seduces the white clouds, and the green grass seduces sheep and oxen. A mosque can hold at most 10,000 prayers in the meantime. But the record goes to a sign in the train toilet: no flushing while meeting emu!
From my point of view we are out of China. I liked what I saw, even if it was dusty and dirty and crowded. The Confucius principles are still the foundation of society (the family is the unit, the son obeys the father, the youngest brothers obey the oldest, and after that, you get outside the family). The woman will work while several men talk and drink tea, but I don't think she envisions a different way. The children are super precious, and so super spoiled. They are carried piggy back or in arms (if they are infants), but I didn't see any strollers. Everybody is enrolled.
One of the things that bothered me was the loss of perspective. The gardens, the parks, the yards are all arranged in such way that you will see just a part. Education presumes to enable one to enlighten one's mind, to view things from above, in spite of the physical obstacles, to understand a situation, to correct it. I wonder what will happen when people would realize that they can live in peace and good will?


  1. Extraordinary. The Caves and then the faimous terra cota army. I have seen some of the soldiers in an exibition few years back in Toronto. BUT to see in situ some images was just great.. Could not say any other words. Thanks. The rest of it holds a good story of sites and people and etc. I wish you all continuted success in finding nuances and meanings of the life pe ici pe colo. I hope you will get so much wiser for all of these travails.Interacting with nature, touching a thing or two. Catching the smile of a Tibetan child. That was a treat. Thanks. My prayers are with you all. Many HAPPY RETURNS for your prislea (for Romanian language means the youngest ladd of the family). Congratulations Mother Ileana Ruxandra for your guy. Elena R Rochester NY USA

  2. Thank you for your wishes Elena. We're going to try to see and feel how similar we all are, no matter what language we speak or what our beliefs are.

  3. Not only that you are taking the effort to tell us what you see, but you are doing it amazingly. I truly like your narrating style Ileana. It's like waiting to read another page of a favorite book. I now understand where your children get their talent from!
    Keep it up!


  4. Thank you Tatiana. I think you would enjoy the Romanian version too at


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