Monday, August 04, 2008

Eclipse redux

I'm now in Seoul, after an exhausting couple of days coming back from the depths of central China. All good here, though I really need a good night sleep before heading into the office tomorrow.

In summary, I didn't get to see the eclipse in it's completeness due to pretty heavy cloud cover. However, the moments of totality were still wonderful and the whole trip was well worth the tiredness, the effort, the stress of getting tickets en route, the worst of the worst squat toilets and more. It seemed that few in Pingliang knew about the coming eclipse and there were screams to be heard from around the rather impoverished area I had found to set up shop for the event.

Somehow the real time experience of a truly astronomic phenomenon is very exciting, even if I didn't see the beauty of the solar corona, the surreal experience of the light changing over a period of a minute was great. I'll see the real thing at some point, so I'm not disappointed having missed it this time.

In fact a while before the eclipse started, three local kids came up to me to see what on earth A) a foreigner was doing in their city (I didn't see a single other Westerner in four days of travels, and only one person who spoke a lick of English) and B) why on earth I was standing in the dust, looking out at nothing in particular. The kids were great and we chatted for some time. I gave them my camera to play with which they loved and I have some great photos they took of each other to put up at some point.

After the eclipse came and went I got on the train back to Baoji in Shaanxi province. As I mentioned previously I had no seat ticket, but in fact was given a seat after a while of standing. The whole journey was rather surreal from start to finish. As I got on the train 200 people turned to stare at this strange creature who had just arrived (the train was a two day train from Urumqi to Chengdu). They all started talking about me and it didn't take long for them to realise that I had some idea what they were saying. From that point on I spent a good four hours being bombarded by questions from those in the train who weren't sleeping on newspaper under the seats (mostly elderly men). Had I not been so exhausted from the last few days it would have been a treasure trove of new Chinese vocab, as I stumbled from topic to topic and we pieced things together along the way, sadly, most of the new words I heard I've now forgotten, as I could barely keep my eyes open by this point.

The next day I had another 16 hour train journey back to Beijing, which was rocky, but reasonably comfortable, and yet another good chance to meet a lot of people from around the country. If I were seriously learning Chinese I would certainly spend the weeks with my books and the weekends out in the countryside, or on short trips, practicing what I had learnt. Given such spare time I would suspect fluency would come in just a few months. Still, that'll have to wait for another lifetime.

And now, after a 5.30 start this morning I'm in Seoul, visiting a university where I'll be giving some talks and hopefully starting a new collaboration. I'm in a very nice flat, not far from the department, and I'm feeling a good deal better than the last time I was in Korea, suffering from two weeks of nasty flu.

For now I've just dealt with one of my photos, from Kong Tong Shan, the famous Daoist and Kung Fu mountain which I had planned on seeing the eclipse from, but, as explained in the previous post, managed to muck up my timing completely. Anyway, it's a rather stunning temple complex, built on and into this beautiful mountain, overlooking the flats of Pingliang. Not the greatest photo I've ever posted, but this one should really be seen for real
Kong Tong Shan

1 comment:

Alex Holmes said...

Wow, sweet mountains. I think China has some of the most amazing landscapes in the world, and few people know about them.