Photo Gallery: Xi’an Temple of the City Gods

Xi’an’s Temple of the City Gods is my new favourite place in the city.  Even though I only had a day and a half to explore the city, I came back to the temple a second time to explore the inner courtyards.

Xi’an is one of China’s ancient capital cities.  Its City God temple is known as one of the “big three” temples of its kind, the others being in Beijing and Nanjing, and is held in very high regard across China.  Officially the temple is about 600 years old, though it was largely destroyed by a fire in the early 1700s and rebuilt.

The inner courtyards have sheltered rooms on either side, housing minor gods and local heroes.  I think I read somewhere that a closed room in the centre of the courtyard holds a Buddha relic.  The main temple at the back of the inner courtyard holds a giant statue of the City God, who sits serenely with his eyes closed, protected by four mighty generals.  These statues are impressively carved, painted, and must be twenty feet high.

There are dozens of minor gods depicted in the temple.  One room has tiered shelves with a statue depicting each one.  Each are designated years of the Christian calender and are especially worshiped on the appropriate year.  Some are warrior types, others are scholars, doctors or spiritual role models.

I spent a few hours on the temple grounds, mainly looking inside the temples rather than entering them, and not taking photos as this was requested.  I watched a gangly, smiling monk fellow in black robes and traditional curly-toed shoes wander from statue to statue, offering prayers and stroking his beard.  He was from out of town and apparently delighted to be there.

Considering that just outside the walls of the compound is the bustling city centre, the grounds were a very quiet and peaceful place for me to meditate on the troubling events of the past week and try to come to terms with a disappointing venture.


2014.10.31 - Temple of the City Gods 042014.10.31 - Temple of the City Gods 112014.11.01 - Inside Temple of the City Gods 022014.11.01 - Inside Temple of the City Gods 042014.11.01 - Inside Temple of the City Gods 052014.11.01 - Inside Temple of the City Gods 102014.11.01 - Inside Temple of the City Gods 202014.11.01 - Inside Temple of the City Gods 14


The following photos weren’t taken by me, but pilfered off the internet.


City God Photos (not mine) 03City God Photos (not mine) 02City God Photos (not mine) 01— db

Departure

It wasn’t an easy decision to abandon the job in Xi’an and return to the UK.  I had already invested a lot in the venture and knew that I wouldn’t likely return any time soon.  It seemed that a mixture of issues left me little choice, but in the end I was not disappointed to leave, but drawn home and grateful for the excuse.

There were significant issues with the job posting (see last post) as well as peripheral hardships that were expected, but difficult to deal with nonetheless.  I considered staying on in China to find another post, though it had taken me months of hard work to sift through the obviously bad options to find this one, apparently-promising, opportunity.  I didn’t have the patients, money or will to hang around in Xi’an for another shot.  In truth, I just wanted to go home.  A year ago this seemed like one of my last few options, but certain changes in my personal life had happened and my ambitions hadn’t caught up.

Eager to get going, I moved out of my crummy apartment in the Yangjiacun district and into the old city, which is surrounded by four ancient walls.  I took up for two nights in the Han Tang Inn hostel.  I realised upon arriving that I had stayed there before, a few years ago when I last visited China.  It was a perfect haven after the difficult and emotional week I’d had.  I checked into my six bed dorm and marveled at the relative luxury compared to what would have been my home in Yangjiacun.  It felt clean, safe and comfortable.


Han Tang Inn Hostel

Han Tang Inn Hostel


 

I ordered some comforting grub and a cup of tea and mapped out my next day and a half.  It says something about my experience that I’d felt extremely nervous about lugging my baggage out into the street to hail the taxi that would bring me here, and that I was reluctant to go outside.  I wanted to stay where I was protected.  This was a far cry from my attitude in 2012, when I flew out with my then-girlfriend to explore India and Southeast Asia and bounced from plane to taxi to train without batting an eyelid.  That trip was a breeze with barely a worry in the world, and no compunction about hailing a taxi, or trying to buy fruit from people who we couldn’t communicate with except for the odd word and lots of gesticulating.

So that these new anxieties didn’t get the better of me, I forced myself out into the daylight.  The hostel is centrally located so I was right in the middle of the old city.  The area inside of the city walls is barely touched by the area’s notorious smog – most of the traffic and ever-present dusty construction is without – and sunlight shone down as I reacquainted myself with the ancient capital.

It took no time at all for me to remember why I’d chosen Xi’an to be my new home.  The city, like any in China, is horrendously crowded, but provided one isn’t in a hurry there is little to get wound up about.  The crowds stroll along and the traveler strolls with it, up to the lynchpin of the city, the old Bell Tower, and beyond to its partner the Drum Tower, on through the Muslim Quarter to barter for trinkets, out towards the Temple of the City Gods.  I was out until dark and then headed back.  But even the trip out into the clean, well-maintained centre of Shaanxi culture didn’t make me regret my decision to buy that flight home, though it served to balance some of the disappointment of my experiences.


 

The Bell Tower

The Bell Tower


Temple of the City Gods

Temple of the City Gods


 

That night I suffered the bane of the backpacker: sharing a dorm room with a snorer.  And snore he did, that friendly bearded Swede, from 05:00 for over an hour.  I hadn’t been able to get to sleep, but just as I was drifting off I was treated to that pre-dawn sonorous honk.  After a failed attempt to sleep in the common room, I dug deeper into my overdraft for a private room.

Blessed peace!

I took a similar wander the next day (the inner temple was closed the day before).  I met a few interesting locals, watched arguments over a game of Chinese chess, and was asked to have a photo taken with a group of local students.

Soon it was time to head to the airport.  This time the route was via Hong Kong, and I would get a train from London via the Tube rather than fly to Manchester.  It was 30+ hours of sleepless travel, but I was immensely grateful to be back home amongst the loved ones I’d missed so dearly, even after only a week.

Returning so soon is disappointing and embarrassing, but these are short-lived emotions.  The sensation of peace upon finally climbing into bed in the house I grew up in clarified a lot of thoughts and feelings for me.  For now I’m very happy to be home!

— db

 

Journey

It took me a few days to get a stable internet connection and access my illegal blog site, now that I’m here in China.  Behind the Great Firewall is a different world.  I’ve spoken to a few locals about what they think of the censorship, and answers are evasive.  People here don’t seem to mind it much, apparently under the impression that things are being kept from them for a good reason.

Well, they couldn’t keep me out!  Take that, Asia.  After waiting so long for my contract and visa to come through, I could finally set off for my new life in China.

It would be a long journey – over 24 hours – and was beset by problems from the beginning.  The train ride to Manchester Airport was cut short due to some problem down the line, so I was forced to disembark at Piccadilly.  An uninformative and unhelpful person at the Information Helpdesk couldn’t be sure another train would accept my ticket.  I decided to risk it anyway and made it to the Airport, delayed.  There were the usual long queues at Manchester, and off I flew to Heathrow, where – unbeknownst to me at that time – my check-in baggage was quietly and mischievously slipping into a black hole.

I don’t know what cosmic, transformative adventures were had by that slightly overweight maroon suitcase.  All I know is that it tumbled through dark dimensions untold, and was clawed at by space-goblins before re-emerging into our plane of existence somewhere in the vicinity of Beijing three days later.

The suitcase doesn’t talk about the experience, and I don’t ask.

I met a peculiar man dressed a little like a classic Dr Who who was off to Shanghai to judge a bonsai tree contest.  He was apparently well regarded for his knowledge of stunted trees.  Despite this he proved a little too clingy and wanted the ticket lady to seat us together, so I ditched him on the pretense of taking a pee-pee.  He might have pruned me in my sleep.

As it happened, the 10 hour flight from Heathrow to Beijing was probably the best time I’ve had this last week.  I was placed next to a thoroughly pleasant gentleman from Japan named Ishiro, who was a stage actor and director donchuknow, and we chatted about our home countries and theatre and anime for a while until he got to sleep and I didn’t.  It wasn’t even spoiled by the in-flight film, which was Johnny Depp’s “Transcendence” and should be avoided if at all possible.  Just … awful.  I can’t even.  Don’t watch it.  I watched it twice and it actually got worse.

Then the adventure really started.  I landed in Beijing and wandered about for a bit, wired from total lack of sleep.  A lady insisted that I didn’t need to collect my baggage and that it would be transferred to the domestic connection to Xi’an, even though another person at Heathrow told me that I would have to.

When I discovered three hours later that my luggage had been lost, I blamed that young lady for its disappearance.  This was wrong of me.  The black hole had opened up in London, not Beijing, and although neither Young Lady or I knew it at that point, the fate of the suitcase had already been decided by the fickle gods of international travel. If I ever see Saint Christopher here in China I will sock him in the jaw.

[To be continued…]

—db

Soon to fly

It’s been a long few months of training and preparing, but things are finally ready for my journey to China.

Whilst I was on the CELTA training course I was put in touch with a University in Xian who was looking for a teacher.  After long talks, giving a demo class via Skype, and contract negotiations, I was offered a great-sounding job with them to start November 1st.

There are some horror stories out there about TEFL teaching in Southeast Asia, especially China, as unsavory types catch on to the idea that “rich” foreigners (many irresponsible uni-dropouts and hapless travel bums included) can be duped into taking poorly paid jobs in terrible conditions with only a few well-worded lies.  Thankfully after being very careful, exceedingly dubious and with a bit of experience in that corner of the world, I landed a well-paid job with a reputable language school.

It’s taken a while to organise my work visa, as these require official documents inviting me to China that are approved by the Chinese government.  The papers came via international mail early this week, and I was able to apply for my visa at the consulate in Manchester.


China Town, Manchester

China Town, Manchester


It was great to visit Manchester again.  I was there in 2011 for Chinese New Year and had a great time wandering around China Town and enjoying the festivities.  Walking through China Town this time, I reminisced and wondered what the year ahead will be like.

Although it’s been a busy, anxious week – hoping the visa gets approved, catching up with as many people as possible, and packing my few surviving possessions – I’m trying to look ahead positively.  I set off on a 24-hour journey this Monday, flying via London and Beijing, and arrive in Xi’an on Tuesday with just a few days to settle in before I start work the following week.

Thanks to all my loved ones for their kindness and support!

—db

Introduction to Xi’an

The city I will be living and working in next month is Xi’an (usually pronounced “Shee-ahn”), which is in the Shaanxi province in Western China (Central, if you count Tibet…).  Xi’an means “Western Peace”.  Most Westerners know it for being the location of the Terracotta Army.

I visited the city in 2012 as part of my whirlwind tour of China and really liked the feel of the place.  The bigger cities, like Shanghai and Beijing, are ultra-modern with most of their history buried under Progress.  Xi’an has been modernised and is presented as a tourist-friendly place, but still feels very close to its history.



The city is over 6,000 years old (by comparison, London hasn’t yet had its 2,000th birthday) and is one of China’s Four Great Ancient Capitals.  The Silk Road starts here and connected China to India, Africa, Persia, Arabia and Europe as part of one of the world’s oldest and far-reaching trade routes.  Unlike most cities in China, Xi’an has a thriving Muslim population as well as the usual Buddhists and Daoists (Taoists).

The oldest part of the city is still contained within the ancient city walls, but the modern city spreads out far beyond this.  The old city is known for having maintained older Chinese architectural styles (or at least modern homages to them) as well as grand towers and pagodas that are big tourist attractions nearby.  When I visited in 2012, I got the chance to bicycle the circumference of the walls, which was great fun, but didn’t have much time to see most of what Xi’an is famous for, other than the Terracotta Army and the Muslim quarter.

Terracotta Army

Terracotta Army

One of the two central towers in the old town, the Bell Tower was built to suppress a destructive dragon (possibly)

One of the two central towers in the old town, the Bell Tower was built to suppress a destructive dragon (possibly)

The South Gate out of the old town

The South Gate out of the old town

Cycling along the top of the city wall was one of the highlights of my China visit

Cycling along the top of the city wall was one of the highlights of my China visit

Shopping streets

Like most of China, Xi’an is always bustling but much more peaceful than most

Although there probably won’t be much time for sight-seeing between teaching and lesson planning, I’m looking forward to exploring the rest of the city, meeting some of its people, and scoffing its tasty, varied food!

—db

Challenge accepted

So I heard last week that I’ve been accepted onto the 1 month CELTA training course!  This should give me what I need to teach spoken English.  It begins in 3 short weeks, meaning that by the time I qualify (hopefully) in mid-September, I’ll be ready to fly.

After using highly sophisticated up-to-date deduction techniques (not really) I have decided to teach in Xi’an, China.  This will give me a mix of Western comfort and a good “genuine Chinesy feel”, and a good balance between availability of work and plenty of things to see or do nearby.  More on this in later posts.

It’s weirdly easy to find teaching work in China.  One of the reasons I decided to take the course was because work is so hard to come by in the UK (at least, in the North).  I’m in the wonderful position of being highly qualified in English (i.e. not in a specialised enough subject to win me jobs on its own merit) and being perfectly over-qualified for any job that’s currently available.  I can’t even get the jobs I don’t want.  The luxury of being an English-speaker in China, where the percentage of English speakers is about 7%, is that if you’re qualified to teach there’ll be dozens of jobs available at any given time.  It’s not a position I’m used to being in!

Whilst looking for work in Xi’an, I’m being especially picky.  I don’t want to jump in too deep, and I want to allow myself enough free time to get accustomed to the new lifestyle and to explore.  I visited China for about a month in 2012 and really liked it, despite the difficulty of the language barrier.  My favourite cities were Chengdu and Xi’an, and although the salary is proportionately much lower than in bigger cities like Shanghai and Beijing (approximately one third) the living costs are also much lower.  On top of that, I’d be earning about the same as I’m earning now on UK minimum wage, only in China this is enough to live quite comfortably, and far more than Chinese teachers get (sorry, locals). Research never equals experience, but I’m hoping that I will also have a little room to save money.

Although it’s a big life choice, I’ve not been afraid of taking big leaps.  I’m very happy I’ve made the choice and that University of Sheffield has granted me a space on the course.  Fingers crossed the course goes well!

—db