1/26/10: Xian, China
Like most budget travelers, Zhou and I are usually do-it-yourself-ers. We book as much long-distance transportation as possible without the help of travel agents. We’ll walk an hour to avoid a small taxi fare. We chew our own food instead of asking for the butler’s help. Today, whether out of respect or laziness we’ll never know, we became do-it-with-help-ers and booked a guided tour to visit the famous Terracotta Warriors of Xian. Although this option lightened the left front jacket pocket (pickpockets, that’s where I usually keep our money) by an extra $20, we decided we’d splurge.
Enter Jia Jia.
Jia Jia was our tour guide today. Tour guide today. Mmm. Right away we could tell we would have a good time with her at the helm. At the helm. Mmm. She enjoyed repeating the last couple words of most sentences for emphasis, then she would add an emphatic grunt of contentment while grinning from ear to ear. She instantly developed a crush on Johnny, an Aussie at the back of the bus, and then she immediately announced that she was single. Throughout the bus ride she peppered questions over the speaker system, and every single one of them was directed at Johnny.
“Johnny, were you paying attention? What are the four types of warriors in the army?”
“Johnny, tell me about yourself. What is your story?”
“Johnny, can you please sing us a song?”
To everyone’s surprise Johnny actually obliged by singing a song, and then he promptly butchered “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” I think he did it because he was having fun with Jia Jia. And who wouldn’t? She was probably the most earnest (Zhou’s word) person you’ll ever meet, and she never stopped smiling. Not even when relaying a story of the Chinese government blocking her visa request to teach Chinese in South Africa, despite her having been accepted in an all expenses paid four-month program.
When we finally arrived at the museum, it was Zhou’s turn to become friends with Jia Jia. Rumor of Zhou’s excellent Chinese-speaking skills had bypassed the grapevine, and Jia Jia was excited to have someone who could help her translate some words into English. After all, in her few years of doing these tours, she had never had a Chinese speaker on her bus.
Let me pause the story here and include a bunch of pictures of the Terracotta Warriors. I would be remiss if I failed to mention that it was pretty awe-inspiring to see the thousands of clay soldiers that were buried underground for 2,000 years before being discovered. What amazed me most was that this is an ongoing process – almost 8,000 soldiers have been found, but experts believe that this is just the beginning.
Anyway, Zhou and Jia Jia caught up through our tour, and I interjected when I could: “Ting bu dong” (“I don’t understand”) and “Wo bu hui shuo zhong wen” (“I don’t speak Chinese”). Obviously Jia Jia still made time to make sure Johnny was doing well and that he understood everything. If he didn’t she would take his arm and lead him to an exhibit for a closer look.
As we were leaving, Jia Jia fell behind the entire group – Johnny, Zhou and everyone else. By the time we all realized she was missing, she came running down the walkway to catch up without a word of explanation. A few minutes later Zhou tiptoed up to me with a bag in her hand. “Look what Jia Jia gave us.” It was a six-inch model of a the horse-drawn chariot we had seen in Pit 2. “It will give us good luck in our jobs and in money. She said not to tell anyone else she gave it to us.”
Zhou had told Jia Jia the story of our travels and her impending grad school and my tentative plans to find a job, and Jia Jia had decided that it would be nice if we had a good luck charm for this next stage of our lives.
In the 4.5 months we have been on the road, one of the hardest things I have learned is to not trust anyone at first. Somebody is bound to use your trust to their advantage – it’s so easy to prey on tourists who have no knowledge of their foreign surroundings. Jia Jia throws this whole theory out the window. It has to be better to encounter ten disingenuous strangers in order to meet one Jia Jia, as it’s people like her who we’ll remember for a long time after our trip is over.
Pictures of the Day: In a stunning upset, Zhou scored the come-from-behind Mahjong victory in game three, but it was I who had the last laugh by winning the final three games.