Lights, Camera, Act… like you know what you’re doing

It has indeed been quite some time since I wrote the previous blog entry. Alas this may very well be my last post! After I step off that plane in Logan Airport this blog will have fulfilled its duty: to give you guys-my friends and family- a window into my life in China. I was looking over some of the older posts the other day and I think this blog covered a good deal of my happenings in China. But there are also plenty of stories that didn’t make it to the blog for the sake of keeping things concise and audience appropriate. With that said I’m looking forward to seeing all of you again and recounting the stories this blog has allowed us to share as well as the many adventures I have yet to reveal.

I will now attempt to recount some of the major events of my life from the past month…

1. I graduated

Yeah! Feels great! Umass Dartmouth held the commencement ceremony on May 22nd and announced my name among the list of official graduates from the University. Magna Cum Laude baby. Unfortunately, I still had about three weeks of classes left in China so I didn’t get to join the celebration at home. Aaaaaaand I still had to take tests and write papers after I had graduated. Kind of silly. But I finished my last homework assignment ever yesterday. So I guess now I’m a real person or something? That’s what that piece of paper means right?  Well, either way I’m done with school and it feels great to think that when I return home I can begin living out the rest of my life.

2. I was on a Chinese dating show

No, I didn’t win. And thank God for that because I was happy to get off of that stage as soon as possible. Here’s what happened: One of the program coordinators for my study abroad program in Nanjing got a message from the local television studio saying they were looking for a white-face to be on their game show. She called me up and relayed the proposition… “Wellllll I dunno. I’m not too confident my current level of Chinese is good enough for a dating show.”
“Hey, it’s no big deal,” she tells me. “They give you a script and you just memorize that. Come on I believe in you.”
Okay, I’ll do it. And the next day I went down to the studio to pick up the script. I get there and find the room I was told to look for which was a small little conference room filled with the girls and guys who were participating in this dating show. One of the girls asks me: “So did you come here to find true love?”
I answer: “Uhhhhh, I mean, I think I uhhh mssuhnuiks mumble mumble mumble. What about you?
“No way, we’re here to have fun and make money!”
“Yeah me too! Totally…”

The writer of the show comes in and we go over the script together. Basically, according to the script, I am a 24 year old American who is looking to find a hot Chinese wife. Essentially this “character” that I would be playing is an extremely arrogant, self centered, moronic version of myself. The only thing tying me to this buffoon was that we would share the same name and exact same physical appearance. Whoops.
“Do you think this is anything like you?” asks the writer.
“No not at all”
“Hahaha oh okay, lets talk about what you’ll be wearing.” The writer tells the fashion guy: “we want him to dress kind of like an older person would dress.”

We were scheduled to film the next day so I went home and memorize the script which turned out to be a manageable task. I recognized over 90% of the characters and my parts were limited to less than ten lines. So I was feeling pretty confident about the whole thing, a little nervous of course, but overall in control.

Well, the next day back at the studio I was hanging out with all of the other contestants in the dressing room where they did my hair, put some makeup on this mug o’ mine, and gave me this lovely pink shirt.

“The eff is this?”
So a couple of hours later the show finally starts, I’m the third contestant out of four and when my time comes I step out from behind stage for the moment of truth.

Long story short, I stuck to the script as best as I could. Unfortunately I think I was the only one on that stage who did. For one thing the two hosts spoke Chinese faster than Jackie Chan on speed. And they reworded questions such that I basically lost my cues. The 15 minutes I stood up there felt like hours as the hosts fired away question after question most of which I responded to with “uhh whaaaat?” I felt like Chris Farley on that SNL skit of the Japanese game show.

I dove in the deep end of Chinese that day only to find a bottomless ocean. I’m making this sound like a complete failure when in fact I did manage to answer a few questions and thankfully they edited out a good deal. But man, if anything it was good motivation to study Chinese harder because I never want to be stuck in a situation like that ever again. Here’s the episode online: I come on about a third of the way through.

3. Traveled to Xi’an and saw the Terra-Cotta Soldiers

The Shuyuan Hostel, right near the south gate of the Xi’an city wall, offers tours of the local and regional sights including the Terra-Cotta soldiers. A group of nine foreigners and I visited the site under the guidance of JiaJia, a cute and spunky little Chinese girl who held a smiling flower as her tour flag. During her introduction, she made a point to say that she was single :/ . She insisted that a red-haired, blue-eyed woman from Dublin with our group didn’t look or sound Irish.

Before entering the excavation sites, JiaJia explained some of the background information about the Terra-Cotta army. It was discovered in 1974 by a farmer who while digging a hole for a well happened upon a life-sized clay soldier in the ground. Amazingly, the first soldier discovered by the farmer has been the only clay statue completely in tact. Not only that, but some of the original colors still remain on the soldiers armor. Normally, upon unearthing new soldiers, their colors will fade within a half hour after being exposed to oxygen. Yet after more than 2,000 years the color is still visible!

The original kneeling archer found by the farmer

If you have ever seen the second sequel to the movie “The Mummy,” you might recall Emperor Shi Huangdi 秦始皇陵, portrayed by Jet Li, as being a mad despot obsessed with achieving immortality. Surprisingly the movie got that right. In ancient China, mercury was known for its ability to preserve living tissue. The emperor took it a step further and actually ingested large amounts of mercury in order to live for as long as possible. Whoops.
Archeologists have yet to enter the actual tomb of the emperor which today still appears to be a large mound of earth adjacent to where the soldiers have been excavated. But researchers have determined that there is actually an entire moat of mercury within the tomb. Is it there to safeguard against grave robbers, or to preserve the contents of the tomb? Perhaps the emperor’s body is still completely embalmed in a pool of mercury… As the research continues it will be exciting to discover the secrets of Shi Huangdi and his intricate tomb.
What we do know about the emperor today is that within the 36 years of his reign as King of Qin(246 BC – 221 BC) and Emperor of China (221 BC – 210 BC),  Shi Huangdi, unified all of China, constructed a large portion of the great wall of China, and oversaw the creation of the Terra-Cotta soldiers that would guard his tomb and protect him forever in the afterlife. After eating too many thermometers, he died before all of the soldiers were completed.
It is true that no two soldiers are completely alike as their faces are modeled after real people. However they were not the faces of the emperor’s soldiers. According to the tour guide, every face was modeled after one of the roughly 8,000 artisans who were enslaved and trained to sculpt the soldiers and then buried alive nearby in order to keep the emperor’s tomb a secret. The artisans couldn’t model the face after their own, so instead they sculpted it after the face of whichever slave worked across from them. Some slaves, understanding the fate that awaited them, secretly carved their names into hidden spots on the soldiers. Can you imagine working on a task of which the reward for its completion was your own death? And what did it feel like to be in that position and sculpt a clay head of a man about to die, who simultaneously sculpted your own face?

During our tour of the largest archeological pit, there was a group of what appeared to be privileged tourists who were allowed to cross the velvet rope and walk up to see the soldiers face to face.

Government officials most likely… Watch this one guy in the orange jacket. As soon as he got up to the soldiers he takes out his cell-phone and starts making phone calls!

Who ya textin’ bro? What a jackass.

To wrap up this post here are some photos of the city of Xi’an and some of the things I did and people I encountered there.

Some friends who work at the hostel. Being locals from Xi’an they eagerly took me on a tour of the city and bought me all sorts of food! I tried to pay for it myself but they insisted: “You are our guest in our city so we must treat you.” Thanks again guys!

Me and the owner of a famous dumpling restaurant located in Xi’an’s Muslim Quater.

Birdcages hanging above one of the courtyards in the hostel.

A friend and I were determined to ride the city wall on a tandem bike. We waited for 1.5 hours until we got one but it was worth it!

A construction site seen from the city wall.

Delicious texture!

In no other Chinese city have I seen so many buses and such crowded bus stops. This was on Labor Day so the number of people out and about was especially high.

One of the things I liked best about Xi’an is that the city has managed to maintain a lot of classic Chinese architecture despite the break-neck pace of development. Countless other cities in China demolish the old traditional structures in a race to modernize in a way that resembles some gross tribute to the Western world. But Xi’an has managed to develop in a way that gives visitors the impression that “yes, this, this right here is China.”

Well unless I’m forgetting anything I think that’s about all I have to share. I’m back in Shanghai right now waiting for my 4p.m. flight to Boston tomorrow. Well China, it’s been real. I know we’ve had our ups and downs and we don’t always see eye to eye on everything. Maybe we just don’t understand each other that well enough yet. Listen, China, if you’re willing to make this work then I am too. I have to go home now…I know, I’ll miss you too. I’ll be back again, okay? I promise. Well, I guess this is goodbye, China. Take care of yourself… Thanks I will. Okay, goodbye!

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6 Responses to Lights, Camera, Act… like you know what you’re doing

  1. barbara larson says:

    max I love ya and can’t wait to have you home, but the blog has been so fantastic! you are my honey boy!!!

  2. Wayne says:

    Have a safe flight! We all miss you. PARTY TIME in the USA!

  3. Jing says:

    welcome back!!!!!!!

    Miss you miss you!!!

  4. Carol says:

    Looking forward to seeing you in person….Your blog has been so informative and entertaining ,can only imagine how funny your stories are that you have inside your head !! Safe trip home !
    Love, Carol

  5. jim foley says:

    Max, have a safe trip home. Thanks for such a great blog, I have really enjoyed it

  6. Connor Read says:

    Max! I hope you have the same phone number as you did when you left. If not, email me or something so we can meet up –

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