On September 13, 2005, my life changed. I watched as six babies were carried into my apartment. They all came from the Xi’an orphanage and had some special medical needs. The oldest was 4 months and the youngest just 42 days. That morning I had been single, and by evening time I was the caretaker of them all. What a change that was. A little bit of background might help. I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and a few years after graduating from high school, I got a chance to go and study in the US. After this, I moved to Taiwan and taught English there for seven years. While I was there, I started learning Mandarin Chinese. I thought that coming to Xi’an for a year would be a great idea because there is so much history here, and I could also learn some more Mandarin. It was while I was here that I started volunteering at the Xi’an orphanage. I was so moved by the plight of the babies. One thing led to another, and I was offered a contract to open a foster home, signed with the Xian orphanage. I am so grateful that they have trusted me enough to allow me to help them with the children. I have now been in Xian for four years and counting.
Coming here can feel a bit like walking through a Chinese haunted house. The place itself is filled with untamed trees, all growing at their wild leisure and forming cobwebs of stringy branches here and there. At the entrance is a pair of worn-down foo-lion statues, their once ferocious frames now dulled into slabs of featureless rock. Nearby, a brick well sits unused, filled with a soupy green liquid. The decrepit atmosphere is perhaps fitting since this place is an ancient tomb after all. It belongs to Qin Er Shi秦二世, a historical figure of small consequence, but who also holds the title of being China’s second emperor.
So February is upon us and those of us living in China know exactly what that means…while other countries are busy buying chocolates, picking out flowery cards and plunking down money for long stemmed roses we are busy stocking upon fireworks, breaking out the red packets, and readying our stomachs for a two week gorge fest. That’s right it’s Chinese New Year.
China is one of the four oldest civilizations in the world, and jade is one of its most important symbols. According to archeologists, jade has been found and used for more than ten thousand years in China.
The “Jade Culture” which originated from the New Stone Age and continues to this very day has distinguished China from other civilizations of the ancient world. Chinese regard jade as the pneuma of heaven and earth and use it as a medium between human beings and Gods, which gives an unusual religious significance to the jade.
Of the 6000 km long Silk Road, half of it is in modern day China. One had to travel on the Silk Road for half its distance before one even got out of present day China.
The Silk Road started or ended in Chang’an or modern day Xi’an. However, lesser routes went east to Louyang, Kaifeng, and Anyong, three of the other ancient capitals of China. Kaifeng had a Jewish synagogue until 1850. Traditionally, Jews have not been home grown in China. They must have come down the Silk Road.
China believes in horticulture (the study and growing of plants). Half of the flowers planted in the gardens in American and Europe come from China. China also has a great love or veneration of trees. Americans claim that the oldest living thing is a Bristle Cone Pine tree (2000 years old) in Nevada in the US. But the Chinese claim that the oldest living thing is a cedar tree in China.
Lou Guan Tai, about 40 kms west of Xian, is home of Lao Tse who wrote the Dao De Ching which is the world’s oldest recognized philosophy. Close to the time of Lao Tse (500 BC approximately), there was planted a cedar tree that still grows today. At least the sign I read, I believe, said that it was 2500 years old. At the Shaolin Temple, in Hebei Province, are also trees that wrestle for the prize of the world’s oldest living organism. Many temples through out China plant trees, in particular, the cedar tree because of its longevity. The cedar tree is like the redwood and has oils that preserve it. Nothing seems as safe as a cedar tree in China at a temple. 2500 years is a long time to stay out of trouble.
For centuries tea has been an important part of Chinese culture. In ancient times, tea was called ‘tu’ and during the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD) the word took on the pronunciation we are familiar with today, ‘cha’. Research on the history of tea has been made more difficult as the ancient Chinese character also means a type of bitter vegetable.
The tea plant originates from China and was described by the Tang Dynasty writer Lu Yu, as ‘a grand tree from the South, tall … with [a] circumference [of] up to two metres’.
Hundreds of billions of yuan are pouring into China’s real estate market. Apartment complexes and entire neighborhoods are built in the blink of an eye. Apartments are sold before construction is finished; and everyone’s attention (both good and bad) is riveted by China. However, uncertainty lurks. Can China’s real estate boom continue, or will the bubble burst like the US dot.com industry in the nineties? Regardless, many investors have successfully navigated the Chinese market and many, many more are on their way. And, they are all asking, “Where should I buy?” and “How do I buy?” You could search the internet for weeks reading the latest reports and articles on the subject, but the truth is: if you want to take advantage of the opportunities in China, you have to be here. Everyone knows China is the “new” big frontier and although one should always be cautious when making investments, there is a lot that can be done. Whether you are looking to invest in one unit or a couple of thousand, foreigners can successfully navigate the Chinese market.
If you walk through the streets of Xi'an, especially in the city centre near the South Gate, you will find a lot of nice artefacts related to the culture of Shaanxi Province. We want to explain one of them because in our humble opinion, it represents the old culture of Shaanxi Province best.
There are some different theories about the origin of the Chinese shadow-play.
ⅰ. Some people think the first shadow-play figures were invented to illustrate Buddhist sermons, first made of paper, then later of leather. You can find, for instance, a whole set of shadow-play figures in the “German Leather Museum” in Offenbach showing very detailed depictions all the tortures of the “Buddhist Hell”.
ⅱ. Others think it has its origin in the marionette theatre of Shaanxi Province. The unintended shadows of the marionettes gave the players the idea to create a two-dimensional theatre.
ⅲ. The next opinion about the origin of shadow-play is that the shadow-plays were invented by people who used the “lantern of galloping horses”, a paper drum with a candle in the centre, projecting the shadows of the figures onto the screen.
ⅳ. Another theory says the hand shadow-play of Southern China might be the origin, until now we can find this form of shadow-play in Guangzhou (Canton).
For expats or those who are visiting Xi’an and looking for a unique gift, Shu Yuan Men is the place to find it. Affectionately known as Old Street- is located near the South gate (Nan Men) inside the Wall of the city. Wander through a street of painters within Ming and Qing Dynasty Architecture. Its old stone slab streets lead to small alleys and courtyards filled with everything from calligraphy to sculpture. This is a place that you will want to stay and spend some time and the Bell and Drum towers and the Muslim Quarter are a walk or short taxi ride away.
Xi’an is famous all over the world not only for its unique ancient cultural history but also for its fantastic Chinese souvenir shopping. Some excellent offerings specific to Xi’an include: Chinese calligraphy rubbings, Tang pottery replicas, Terracotta Warrior replicas, Folk paintings and Folk paper cuttings .