Saturday, August 05, 2006

A great little hostel and a big fake army

I am sitting at a cafe and there is a person two seats away just looking bored and watching the middle of Gang's of New York. Its actually very hard for me to not talk to her. I mean, I am actually physically resisting asking her where she is from and what she does. Earlier there was a guy there and I couldn't resist, I ended up talking to him for a half-an-hour.
But I am trying to talk less, at least a little while.

PTI: I did not ask her anything, despite her looking incredibly bored. After that an American guy sat down with a book on China and I had to ask him about it. Luckily another person came and started talking to him, so I could get out of a conversation.

PTI: I just had a long conversation with the neighbors, I just can't help it. One is a New York private school teacher, and his school sounds truly great. He is very nice, and very interesting. His English friend is also very personable and

PTI: Another, even longer conversation. I can't have people say they are living in Korea and teaching without me starting long conversations. Also the English friend turned out to be a progressive education director of some sort, who told me a great deal about this

My hesitation to conversation is that I have just been talking to so many people, about ninety percent of those in Chinese, that I just get sick of it. Not just the Chinese but the speaking. Especially after the same basic conversation six times a day. Luckily I usually hang out with one person for a long period of time, so conversation gets deeper, but I have still done a certain set of conversations way too much.

PTI: Now I am getting talked to by some guys practicing their English. I love the question "Do you speak Chinese?" which I answer yes, followed by "Oh really? So, you speak a little?" I now I sound arrogant, and I know it will very well may all go away when I leave here (man I don't want that to happen, but I think I will subscribe to Chinesepod and keep working even if it kills me).

PTI: This is a hard conversation to write. I ended up in yet another conversation with strangers, this time Spanish travelers (and no, not in Spanish, I can barely speak a little, though they have said a few Spanish sentences to me when they could not explain in English). I have been here for like five hours at this couch trying to write this stupid blog entry. In summary, I can't not talk to people, even when that is a specific goal.

That said, this hostel is really great, a great community, wireless, good food. I am very impressed, but I did not get out to see Xi'an a little like I planned (I might still, but I am determined to write this first).
The warriors were very strange for me. Although they were interesting, the biggest question was not why were they here, but rather, why are we here? The tourists were all over that place, so of course, what is the draw?
Ultimately, who was Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China? From the warriors, the man is definitely looking like the vainest, most arrogant man to step on the planet. He is building great walls, hidden armies, and burning vast amounts of books. His name has existed for two centuries as China. Yet really, he was probably kind of a dick.
This is written from far to ignorance, but the warriors alone speak to an arrogance that is out of control. Yet here people are, in droves, an extensive economy has been created by those stone men alone. Are we celebrating the accomplishment of the 700 thousand some people who worked on the project? Are we empathizing with the solders who fashioned themselves into an eternal army? Are we admiring the emperor himself who felt he was worthy such a tomb?
No question, a non-answer seems appropriate. Just saying, "well it sure is something to see right?" seems like an appropriate answer. However, how did it become such an answer, its mass, its complexity, its oddity or something else?
The solders themselves were interesting, however I do believe a decent history book with nice photos might actually be more satisfying except you can say "I have been there."
The entire time I thought, "man, this place is all about pride." The problem: by "this place" I did not know if I meant the pit, the tour area above the pit, or my own heart.
The pit was full of pride. The solders were pumped up with sharp wicked weapons. Most of the archers were ready to fire. More to the point, they were the sign of a man who felt he deserved and needed the command of such an elaborate army even after death. Or is that lack of pride, a fear that he can't defend himself in the afterlife?
The tourist area had many shades of pride. My personal favorite, but perhaps the most subtle - people with video cameras. Who in the world would want to watch that videotape? The soldiers are surely not moving. Really, I think those tapes will sit on shelves marked "Terracotta Warriors Trip" and be the impetus for conversations. Conversations where viewing of the videotape will be offered, and rejected, but the point will remain, "I have been there."
There was also a lot of English. A lot of ABCs (American born Chinese). And a lot of people showing they have a lot of money (my camera quickly passed from good, to average, maybe to poor in this company).
There was a lot of people who deserved some pride. However there were a lot of French, German, Spanish, and Italian Chinese speaking guides. Some of whom spoke beautifully. These people should be proud they learned a language other than English. However, at least according to Alice, their compensation will not be a source of pride.
Apparently her friends who act as French guides get paid something like 50 yuan, about $6, a day. The rest of their money comes from things that their clients buy. They get half of the profit made on the touristy crap that the people are guiding buy. Thus, the person who is entrusted to represent these people when they are traveling has incentive to ensure that the client spends as much money as possible. I was pretty shocked by this, and it was clear Alice was also uncomfortable with this idea. Most of the guides hate this job, and clearly for good reasons.

PTI: Another conversation, but now in Chinese. Very nice woman from Guangdong who is surprisingly giving me her address. She spoke slowly so I could type, look up, and understand some of the vocab she used without losing the conversation.

I also saw a lot of pride in my own heart. I have only recently stopped treating Chinese like a competition. That said, I hear someone translating Chinese in the next room and I can't help listen to each word for mistakes. You can hear the pride in their voice, and I can hear my own vanity in my reception.
I looked at those warriors and I asked myself, would I want this? Am I that sort of person? I want to do well financially, I want to do well personally. What is the difference between me and this demented emperor? Am I fundamentally different or is it just a matter of scale?
When I was younger, I wanted to be in history. I wanted to seek the immortality that the emperor wanted. He did a good job, he will live a long time in the words written about him, both good and bad. His name will live on in the name of his country. But in the long term, this will all go away. Its true nothing lasts forever, and a population of emotional madmen with atomic weapons surely don't last forever.
So what do I want success for? To live comfortably? Well then why not teach English long-term? Its comfortable, and its nice. Not too much stress and I can learn things on the side. Yet I would never do that. It simply does not interest me. I want to make businesses, I want to do law. But perhaps I ultimately don't know want, its just what I want to do.
I had a lot more thoughts at the time, and perhaps I will write more later, but for now, it is one in the morning and I have not moved here in many hours. So for now, I am off to bed.

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