After a good first impression of Xi’an I was excited for our first full day in our new city. Today consisted of two parts: a visit to a Children’s Village and a visit to the Greater Wide Goose Pagoda. Our first stop was the children’s village, about an hour’s drive away from our hotel. I went into the day not completely sure what the Children’s Village was, but quickly found out that it is a place where children whose parents are in prison or guardians are unfit to care for them go to be educated. The Children’s Village is designed to prevent these youths from falling into a potential life of drugs or crime. Children at the village range in age from 3 to 20 years old, and the village is funded entirely on donations from visitors and corporations. Spending time with the children was especially fun, and I even had one eight year old girl grab my hand and pull me away to watch her friends play a ball game. There was a definite language barrier that was difficult to overcome when speaking to shy and young children, but we were successful in communicating at least a little with the children, especially with the help the three members of our group that spoke some Mandarin. During the time we were given to spend with the children, we played basketball, talked to them, ate lunch with them, and tried a hacky-sack like game with them. At first it was sad to walk around their facility and realize that these children live a life without permanent parents, but seeing the children really happy while playing games before lunch was uplifting because they definitely seem to enjoy being there.
On our way to the children’s village we learned some more Chinese traditions and history from our tour guide Cindy. The numbers 6 and 8 in are of great importance in Chinese culture while the number 4 is considered very unlucky. Because today was a day of great Feng Shui (meaning air and water) there were a number of weddings, which we saw some evidence of at the hotel before we left as some sort of celebration appeared to be set up in a room off of the lobby. In addition, we learned that a wedding procession is usually led by a white BMW to symbolize longevity of the marriage. We also learned about the old traditions of foot binding, arranged marriages, and the one child policy, which are not as prevalent today.
This afternoon we visited the Greater Wide Goose Pagoda, and received a brief lecture about the difference between ancient and modern Chinese calligraphy. It was interesting to see the origin of many of the Chinese characters painted for us as they seem to be simplified pictorial representations of the words they signify. We also had a brief exposure to the Chinese Buddhist religion with their figures of Buddha and a chance to see individuals praying in a unique way kneeling down and putting their hands above their heads. One of the most interesting things I learned at the pagoda was the significance of the number of animals on the roof edges of traditional buildings in China. The emperor could have 9 animals and high officials could have 5, thus buildings were marked according to the status of those using the premises.
Unlike the United States where the price you see is the price you pay, it seems even stores with labelled prices in China will allow you to bargain. Simply by browsing the museum store at the Greater Wide Goose Pagoda I was offered drastically lowered prices by the saleswomen and could’ve easily engaged in the bargaining process had I been interested. It was shocking to see something as official as a museum store with labeled prices start changing prices at random just to secure more tourist business. It’s definitely something to keep in mind moving forward on this trip, and could serve as helpful advice to anyone planning on visiting China in the future.