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Published: March 31st 2017
China with my Xiong di...How it all began
I have two younger brothers and they are both tall.
One was born in Australia of my parents and the other was not.
This is the story of my Chinese younger brother...my Xiong di.
How a chance meeting led to a relationship that has endured for over 10 years...brothers by name and deeds.
This is our story...and 'tis quite a ride.
It was January 2007. Denise & I said goodbye to our kids Simon & Anna-Louise in Lhasa, Tibet as they winged their way home.
We returned to Chengdu, Sichuan with plans to go to the carved mountain of Maiji Shan in Gansu Provence that I had seen in black & white pics in a 1950s China book.
But the news was impossible due to heavy snow so we cancelled our plane tickets to Lanzhou in the North-West and instead headed South-West to Lijiang in Yunnan for me to rectify my regret and climb the extra 9 metres up Jade Dragon Snow Mountain that had been denied me years before.
So Maiji Shan became a wish not consumated...opportunity lost.
Jade Dragon conquered...now to Xian to visit the small terracotta warriors and terracotta animals that I had been reading about.
We stayed at the Bell Tower Hotel so I went downstairs to the travel office to book a tour.
"What? It's in National Geographic...it's why we've come to Xian."
Not one to give up easily they arranged a guy to take us.
And that's how I met my Xiong di...Anglicised name of Robin.
Everyone has heard of the Terracotta Warriors of Emperor Qin Shi Huang...the first Emperor to unite China of the Qin Dynasty who died in about 209 BC.
8,000 larger than life soldiers, 130 chariots and 670 horses.
Been there...done that.
The Qin were succeeded by the Han Dynasty...the Golden Age...206 BC to 220 AD.
While the Qin nearly bankrupted China by it's excesses...the Han Emperors to appeal to the people as beneficent...decided the armies guarding their tombs in the after-life be miniature.
So we are hunting for the the tomb of Han Jing Di...40,000 miniature figures...one third life size to 18 inch warriors...and battalions of cows, pigs,
goats, sheep, dogs and fowl.
Near Xian Airport...Yangling it is called...when we were there..."NO TOURS"!
Walking on floors of thick glass over pits of partly unearthed terracotta warriors...their wooden arms and silk clothes long disintegrated...chariot wheels protruding from the red loess earth.
Battalions of animals in underground vaults in rows...cause ya gotta have plenty to eat in the after-life.
The Terracotta Qin warriors may be the 8th Wonder of the World...but mine is Yangling...the tomb of Han Jing Di and his Empress Wang.
And Robin smiled as he led us around.
Next Robin took us to the tomb of Prince Yide and his younger sister Princess Yong Tai...the grandchildren of Emperor Gaozong and his wife, later the first Empress of China, the ruthless Wu Zetian.
History says Prince Yide (aged 19 years) & Princess Yong Tai were dobbed in for "gossiping" about Empress Wu...who arranged for their deaths...Robin said "by suicide."
Their father Emperor Zhongzong waited until Wu's death and his accession to the throne to posthumously build lavish tombs for his deceased children lined with niches of treasures and walls and ceilings of murals of
What a thrill to gaze on the murals of courtiers gossiping behind their hands...smirks of the scandal of it...and the youthful Yide and Yong Tai who would die because of it.
Of the 17 tombs in the mausoleum at Xianyang, west of Xian...these have got to be some of my favourites.
Having been to Xian before and wanting to show my true love, I asked Robin to take us to my favourite tomb...Qianlong...the tomb of Empress Wu.
Super impressive but never opened...what riches await?
A jewel of the fabulous Tang Dynasty 618 to 907 AD.
Fortunately the Chinese Government will only open it when they know how.
A long stone causeway lined by tall stone statues...the Sacred Way representing her body with pyramids for her feet in the distance...straddled by two stone pyramids representing Wu's nipples...and 40 headless figures representing dignitaries who came to honour her.
The Sacred Way leads to her head...a mountain...but not really a mountain...it's Empress Wu's tomb.
And off to the left but not presented by a Sacred Way... a mountain...but not really a mountain...it's her husband Emperor Gaozong's tomb.
The tomb of Empress Wu
Kinda makes one wonder who wore the pants in that marriage!
Robin then takes us to meet the locals.
Spent some time with a family in their cave dwelling cut out of a loess hill...cool in summer...warm in winter...double bed and kitchen with the usual TV...sure saves on construction costs if you don't mind a bit of digging!
Our introduction to the 1,000s of cave dwellings in Shaanxi Provence...many of which I would see on a later visit.
We have all been on tours.
But it was what happened next that led to the personal connection that broke through the guide/customer facade.
As Xian was 85 kms away, Robin decided that he could take us back to Xian by a "shortcut"...nothing like local knowledge we thought.
The "shortcut" would have to be the worst road we have travelled on...and considering we have traversed some of the roughest roads on the planet...this is quite a statement.
"Rough" does not describe it..."potholes" does not describe it.
Every few metres there were chasms in the road...pits so deep...if fall in return impossible...even piles of dirt or stones blocking the way...winding
at micro speeds around these death traps for miles and miles!!!
Certainly the worst road we have ever travelled...and the funniest.
We chortled and cavorted along...Robin's wit (and probably embarrassment) having us in hysterics.
So much fun he invited us to dinner at his home the following night.
We gazed out the window of our hotel room at the Bell Tower lit in festive glory a stone-throw away...recounting our fabulous day with Robin...planning the next.
Booked a tour to the Qin Terracotta Warriors as Den had not seen them before and it's a bit of a hike to get there. Such tour was a new experience for us, so with 12 hearty souls we visited the obligatory shop packed with terracotta warrior figures before visiting the real thing. Then Banpo Neolithic Village and Great Goose Pagoda which we climbed for city views.
Robin was waiting for us on our return at 6pm and drove us across town to his apartment in a security block...20th Floor...white tiled, spacious, furnished as only a collector of fine things could be.
And greeting us with a smile was his lovely wife Barbara and
shy 13 year old son, Ethan and a young niece.
Robin & Barbara with reasonable English delighting in new words coming from us.
A steamboat feast was awaiting but first the tea ceremony...washing the tea...small cups...careful order...taste being everything.
Robin is a tea connoisseur...little would he or we know how his sensitive palate would lead him into his present vocation years later.
He drove us to Xian Airport for the next leg of our trip to Chengde for the summer palaces of the Qing Emperors in Hebei...swapping emails and addresses to keep in touch.
As we bade farewell I had no idea we would meet again.
About one month later the phone rings..."Hello it is Robin. I am in Melbourne. I want to come to Sydney. Can you help me?"
He was with his sister Jian Nan who speaks no English.
So as you do, I arranged digs for them in a Federation style house in Kirribilli not far from the northern pylon of Sydney Harbour Bridge. All they had to do was walk outside for views of the Opera House across Sydney Harbour.
Their grins and
surprise when we met them at Sydney Airport were priceless.
Our daughter was working her university casual job as hostess at Jordan's Seafood Restaurant at Darling Harbour and arranged the best table for us.
Imagine Robin & Jian Nan's faces when we sat them down facing the view...then when a seafood tower was brought out and placed before them.
Sometimes hospitality is as pleasurable for the givers as it is for the receivers.
The next day we took them on a ferry across Sydney Harbour from Circular Quay to Manly Beach...toes in the sand and ocean a rare delight for our visitors from Xian in Central China.
Over dinner at our home Denise not only cooked up a storm as only she can, but she brought out a fine Australian wine for them to savour.
Several years later Robin hosted us at his home.
Imagine our surprise when he brought out an Australian wine for us.
"I remember you like this wine," he said.
Imagine our more than surprise when it was not only the same vineyard and style...it was the same batch and year!!!
Robin had noted the details
that night at our home in 2007...and had sourced it for our reunion years later.
"Very" in our book.
We chatted into the night...like old friends though our times together in China and Australia were brief...Robin translating for Jian Nan...her smiles of one in a foreign place but feeling welcome in our home.
Reminiscing of our recent adventures in five provinces in Beijing, Chongqing, Dazu, Zigong, Leshan, Chengdu, Lhasa, Lijiang, Chengde & of course our times with Robin in Xian.
"We tried to get to Maiji Shan but we could not get there and had to change our plans"...just chattering as you do. "I will drive you,"
was Robin's fervent reply.
How often do you meet someone in your travels and they invite you to visit them if you are ever in their country?
How often do you take them up on the offer?
But Robin had planted a seed.
I contacted him by email a couple of weeks later.
"Robin, you said you would drive me to Maiji Shan. Were you serious?"
"Yes. I will
drive you. You come and I pay."
"How about in two weeks...and I will pay?"
"I will meet you at Xian Airport and we will then decide who pays." To be continued...
Relax & Enjoy,
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