Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Fountains of the Wild Goose Pagoda

'Have you lived here all your life?' said the tourist.
'Not yet' said the local.

We made our way to the 7 Sages international youth hostel, walking amongst the sites of Xi'an - an ancient, dusty vision of China. It wasn't until we checked in that we realised Mason's passport was missing, and it must have been left on the train. We rushed over to the train station to inform them, using my knowledge of the Chinese language. They didn't seem to take me seriously until I banged my fist on the table (a trick I learned from Suzanne, which really seemed to work). They advised us to go to the police station nearby, so within quarter of an hour, I was surrounded by police officers who couldn't speak english, with me explaining in broken english about the missing passport. They seemed to have no idea what to do, eventually coming to the conclusion that we should contact the embassy. We returned to the hostel, unsure where best to proceed. Suzanne shouted out to the courtyard 'does anyone speak English?' and one man raised his hand. He agreed to help us inquire with the train station about the passport, so Mason went with him. After what felt like a million cigarettes, they returned with the info that they did indeed have the passport and the train would be returning at 4 o'clock. Mason would have to be at the station by then to collect it from the officials. It was a long way until four, so an exhausted Mason decided to have a rest before going out. Suzanne and I were wide awake, so we decided to head out by rickshaw (8) toward Shaanxi museum to have a look around Xi'an.

We were so stressed from the passport fiasco that we needed some fatty junk food from America, so we visited Burger King. It's the only time I went there in Asia, and the only time I needed to. The main benefit of going to these fast food restaurants overseas is that in places like China, it can be the only place to buy cheap coffee (although I was reminded this is probably because it is unfairly sourced - the swankier coffee outlets would employ fair trade.) Be that as it may, we had our fix and we went to the museum.
We didn't actually go inside the museum as we didn't want to spend the money without all our companions - it is actually very easy to get in without paying, you just stereotypically 'go around the back', but Suzanne was a big believer in karma, and I was being so too throughout the duration of this trip. So, we decided not to visit the museum, instead exploring the souvenir shop, which was almost just like a museum itself. We then went over to the Wild Goose Pagoda, a famous landmark in Xi'an, where a festival of sorts was taking place. Fountains would spurt water ceremoniously as children dressed up in traditional outfits. In such a majestic and uniquely Chinese event, it was easy to feel out of place as a foreigner. It's one of those moments when you can't help appreciate the wonder of culture - especially the culture of the Chinese, which is sublime, to say the least. Where is New Zealand's culture? What even qualifies as New Zealand culture? - there is Maori culture, which is on the wane, and what's left is just British. I have always thought it would be wonderful to live in a country with such a vibrant culture - one that had developed and enriched over thousands of years, and a history for that matter as well. But of course many Chinese people my age wouldn't be concerned too much about that culture, and as I say here, the grass is often greener on the other side. I might a lady in Xi'an who became a pen-pal of sorts later on, and she told me how she would love to live in New Zealand and be in the real estate business too. How do I, with my almost complete lack of pride in my own country, reconcile a comment like that? Well, I did tell her, without sound too negative, how New Zealand is almost certainly not as great as many Chinese people are led to believe. I remember an article in the newspaper discussing this very thing. The air is fresh, there's plenty of food, but what else can I say? I cannot get tight in the throat about thinking about my own country. In the end I explained it to her in a way a Chinese person might understand - 'I like my country, but I don't like where it's going. It's becoming a pawn of American Imperialism.' She probably got the gist of that.