There are many things I like about my father. For starters, he is a great traveler. He took in all the filth, funny signage, and funky food with nary a complaint. I could tell he was getting a little tired of the populace hawking up their left and right lungs in unison, not to mention jettisoning their contents on the sidewalks, but the man showed no outward display of disgust. Secondly, he is always good in a crisis. He is a careful weigher of facts, which is useful in problem solving. (Today there are no crises so we are in good shape.) And finally, for purpose’s of today’s blog post, he does not warn of imminent danger until well after it has passed. Why alarm anyone if not necessary?
One year my whole family met us in Zihuatanejo, Mexico for Thanksgiving. We stayed in a charming group of condos near the beach. Secluded. Quiet. Hotter than hell. My father spent most of the time in the shade underneath a palm frond cabana shelter. He does not like beach vacations per se. The rest of us do, even if we do not like donning bathing costumes. Poppy, as my children call him, knows how much the women in his family fear snakes. So when he spotted a 6 foot sea snake in the water while we were frolicking he said nothing about it until about 4 years later. He knew it would ruin the vacation. Naturally, if we had been in danger, he would have piped up.
On Sunday we came home from our Spring Break vacation which finished up in Xi’an, home of the Terracotta Warriors. Xi’an is a city of 4 million with an additional 4 million living in the surrounding environs. The smog is thick, factories everywhere churning out puffy white toxins with great gusto. We stayed at the Bell Tower Hotel, smack in the middle of town. It was “high season” and they could only offer us one plastic hotel key per room; we all took ours home as souvenirs. I nearly swiped the sign by the bed that read “No smoking in bed please” but one of the ten commandments got the better of me and I put it back. The carpet was worse than any found in a fraternity house, but other than that, it was clean and comfortable. I like my children to know what a Two Star hotel looks like.
There is a lot to see in Xi’an besides the Warriors. We saw a Tang Dynasty music and dance show, toured a recreated Taoist temple (the original was razed during the CR), and visited a farming family living in a cave made of mud. A million people still live in these caves. The only electricity is a single bulb of light dangling from the ceiling. No indoor plumbing. The bed was built on a platform with a brick oven underneath to heat it. One cave’s walls were plastered with posters of the premiers, starting with Chairman M. I told Thing 2 that instead of being shipped off to military school if he doesn’t behave, I will send him to live in a cave instead. He was suitably impressed and began to appreciate the two star hotel even more.
Having said that, going to the farmer’s house felt a little voyeuristic to me. The farmers receive no money for the visit, unlike the residents of Beijing’s hutongs dwellings who are making money serving lunch at their homes, but the tour guide gave them cigarettes and packets of peanut candy. They liked having their photo taken. The farmer we visited inherited his cave from his grandfather. It was sort of like visiting a favela without the threat of being gunned down.
On our way out of town, we stopped at an antique market where Things 2 & 3 bargained for old currency. Thing 2 wants to sell his goods on ebay this summer. I found a baby in a papoose type body with a spinning head. I knew I had been had when the woman selling it pulled out a second one and offered it to me as well. The most chilling item I found, in a used book stall, were three ceramic nuclear warheads. I am kicking myself for not buying them. Can you imagine if America sold replica plastic waterboards for decoration?
It was only while we were eating pizza on Sunday evening, back at home, that my father told us that our Hainan Airlines plane back from Xi’an was the oldest 737 airplane he had ever ridden on. He knows planes and he said it had to be 40 – 50 years old. I had noticed that the tray table had been painted over but since it wasn’t a Tupelov, I was not so concerned. Ever since my friend Donna, a Chinese/Dutch woman, told me that all the old, tourist planes fly out of the Pudong airport I had been careful not to book those flights but apparently not careful enough. I will just have to pray twice as hard when Thing 2 goes back there in May for his class trip. All’s well that ends well.