Our next destination was Jiayuaguan, a six and a half hour bus ride. Halfway to Jiayuaguan we stopped for a potty break and I engaged two young Chinese men in conversation, which consisted of “Hello”. Alex our guide stepped in and I found out that they were migrant workers who had traveled 600 miles on their bus with forty other men and woman to pick cotton. The faces of these people tell a story of hard work and hardship, but when you engage them that all goes away, they are just happy to talk to an American and have their picture taken. They will be paid 200 Yuan a week for their work and then will move on to another area hopefully to pick more cotton. Two hundred Yuan equals $22.50 for a week of back breaking work.
We are still in the Gobi Desert, a desert of gravel and little sand that consumes two providences. At the side of the road for our three hundred mile journey men and woman were shoveling the desert soil to build a culvert connecting to a distant lake to create another Oasis that will some day be a thriving Chinese city. We arrived Jiayuaguan, a city that was nothing more then a village of mud huts five years ago and is now a city of 150,000 with 30,000 working for China Steel. Two years ago the prime minister of China announced that China would no longer be dependent on foreign steel, that was just as China Steel was hitting its stride. There is nothing old in Jiayuaguan, it is a totally modern and vibrant city. As I write this I hear the music of a concert outside my window, it’s not Rock and Roll it’s classical Chinese music. These are proud hard working friendly people, Nita and I walk among them at night the only two blonds within twenty miles and a three year old Chinese child walks up and says, “Hello, what’s your name?”
Today we visited the western end of the Great Wall of China; it is anchored by a fort that was built in the 4th century. It stands as it was with little restoration because through all of China’s turbulent history none of its many warring factions came this far west into this god forsaken part of the Gobi Desert. We also visited a three room tomb of a businessman who died 1500 years ago and was buried with his wife. This tomb is thirty-six feet under the Gobi Desert in the middle of nowhere and here are eighteen Americans climbing the steps up and down to see this guys living room, dinning room and bed room; he and his wife were buried in the bed room the other two rooms contained symbolic paintings and drawings. Oh, yah this guy had three wife’s and four concubines. I assume he died first, how was it decides which of the seven women would go into the tomb. As you can see there are a lot of unanswered questions here in China.The music just changed to some kind of Chinese Hard Rock, the female singer is screaming at an erratic beat. This could be a long night.
September 8: We started the day at the Saturday market in Jiayuaguan, this is not the same as the farmers market on Findley Avenue. We got a first hand look at what we had been eating over the past two weeks. Sides of beef , pig, lamb and goat hung from hooks and people walked up and pointed to what they wanted and the proprietor cut it off. Across from the many butcher stalls were women in a squat position hovering over red three gallon buckets each containing one of the internal organs of the cow, pig, goat, or lamb egger to assist the stream of patrons. Further down the isle we found the fish display, each species swimming in a Plexiglas tank or displayed in an open case. There was a noticeable absence of ice throughout the market. Nita has yet been able to find any chocolate anywhere. The fruits and vegetables were the best I have ever seen, green onions six times larger then we grow, peppers, red and green twice the size of what we get in the states. We have come to realize that this area is not visited by many Caucasians; because we get more stares then we give.
We left the Gobi Desert at 2:15 pm boarding Shanghai Air for a two hour flight to Xian a city of seven million people, the Silicon Valley of China, whose main crops are corn and wheat, and produce much of China’s coal, natural gas, and oil. Xian is one of the birthplaces of the ancient civilization in the Yellow River Basin area of the country. During Xian’s 3,100 year development, 13 dynasties placed their capitals here. Xian is recognized as an equal to Athens, Cairo, and Rome as one of the four major ancient civilization capitals. This evening we visited the Big Wild Goose Pagoda; it is called Big Wild Goose Pagoda according to ancient stories of Buddhists, one day, they couldn’t find meat to buy. Upon seeing a group of big wild geese flying overhead, a monk said to himself: “Today we have no meat. I hope the merciful Bodhisattva will give us some meat today.” At that very moment, the leading wild goose broke its wings and fell to the ground. All the monks were startled and believed that Bodhisattva showed his spirit as an order for them to be more pious. They built a pagoda where the wild goose fell and from that day forward stopped eating meat. Hence it got the name “Big Wild Goose Pagoda”. Tomorrow we will be visiting some of its other ancient sites. Xian like Beijing is a big city with big city problems, air pollution, traffic, poverty on the streets, but little crime beyond pick pockets. It is apparent that crime is not tolerated in China, there are no such things as prisoner’s rights, and their courts are swift and severe.