Friday, September 16, 2011

Starving In Shanxi

There are times when skipping breakfast, the most important meal of the day, might be appropriate. For example, if you are planning to hit a Chinese tourist site extra early, you'll expect that there will be a variety of morning snack choices available all along the way.

But if you also decide that you're going to save up your appetite for a nice, hearty lunch, say Shanxi hot pot, but wait just a bit too long (in other words, you spend a little extra time at the tourist site and are now outside the prescribed Datong lunch hours), you might find yourself in a bit of a quandary.

Take our experience, for example...

After deciding we were all fine to delay our meals in lieu of touring , we arrived back at the area of our hotel around 2:30 pm. In a city of three million people (that's twice the population of Philadelphia, by the way), you would think that there would be plenty of places to choose from for a late lunch...

First choice, hot pot. Door locked...Waitress asleep on two chairs pushed together.

Second choice, dao shao mian. Metal gate pulled down.

Every other place? Locked up tight...Sometimes with workers taking siestas on mats on the ground or in the back of sanlunches!

We learned very quickly that we could walk for blocks and blocks and not find a single open restaurant. The hours of most places were clearly stated on the door...See the accompanying photograph for a very clear statement of operating hours...

So what's a starving family to do? Take their own siestas and head out for an early dinner...

By the way, Shanxi hot pot rocks!


Thursday, September 15, 2011

It All Ends: Part 3

So now you know all about the hunt for the Deathly Hallows in China, but what about the movie itself? Well Z and I both thought it was spectacular! As the one who hasn't made it to the seventh book in the series yet, I am normally far more sympathetic to the movies than Z is, but I have no doubt that Z was thrilled with what we saw on the big screen too (big is a relative term!). Here are a few of my favorite highlights...

When Ron, Harry, and Hermione break into Gringotts, particularly the safe of Belatrix, and everything they touch begins to multiply. Well done to the special effects people!

The dragon that the trio rode out of Gringotts was adorable, especially when he couldn't fly at first and crashed through the rooftops!

Professor McDonagall's excitement regarding the upcoming war at Hogwarts. (Z's favorite line in the whole movie was when she said, "BOOM!")

Neville accidentally taking out all of the werewolves and barely surviving.

Ron and Hermione destroying the horrorcrux in the Chamber of Secrets.
When Ron kicked Ravenclaw's Diadem into the Room of Requirement just in the nick of time.
Neville's heroic speech to Voldemort and his killing of Nagini.

Voldemort and the death eaters laughing hysterically moments before they realize Harry Potter is still alive.

Snape's touching memory of Lily Potter.

Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Malfoy saying goodbye to their kid on the Hogwarts express, looking almost the same as they looked nineteen years earlier.

And many, many more...


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

It All Ends: Part 2

One morning while walking to a bus stop in Datong, Z and I turned the corner to find that there was a "movie theater" (see the accompanying picture) right around the block from our hotel! Leaving Mommy and Daddy in our dust, we took off to find out the movie times for the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows--Part 2 in 3D...all of which turned out to be in the middle of the day. Z told me to ask if it was showing in English, but I was afraid of the answer and pretended to forget.

That afternoon, we showed up for the 2:50 p.m. viewing (the latest one of the day), bubbling with anticipation. We made it to the ticket booth with a minute to spare, and found a lobby bustling with the biggest crowd Datong could muster...about 40 people. Before we could enter the theater, we had to leave a 100 kuai deposit for each pair of vibrant red 3D glasses, which were so bulky they almost broke our noses.

Not knowing what a Chinese movie theater could possibly be like, we entered what looked like a grungy theater where one might go to see acrobats. On the stage was a relatively small movie screen that reminded me of the pull-down screen we use at school to show PowerPoint presentations.

And then, all of the sudden, the movie started. Period. There were no advertisements, no warnings to turn your cell phone off. Not even the green screen that tells you what the movie is rated. We were suddenly just staring into the face of Severus Snape, desperately hoping that the movie was in English. But, to our dismay, the Chinese had apparently spent the two months since HP came out in the rest of the world translating and recording like crazy because Luna started speaking in tongues.

Despite our disappointment, Z and I had a great time in the theater. With the Mandarin we have, following along was no problem and Z could fill me in on the topics I hadn't read about yet. We certainly missed the English accents, but getting a taste for the movie theaters of China was worth the sacrifice. That old lady who yelled at me for eating candy when we saw that lion movie in DC would certainly despise all the chatter that echoed through the seemingly empty theater! But it did not at all take away from the spectacular defeat of He Who Must Not Be Named!


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It All Ends: Part 1

July 15th, 2011 came and went, but Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows--Part 2 did not...At least not for me. In fact, the most populated country in the world was taking a casual lunch break while practically everyone I know was lined up at midnight outside a movie theater dressed up in robes and scarves for the grand finale of the greatest series since The Lord of the Rings.

"So why was there no sign of Harry in China?", you may ask. Z and I spent months trying to answer this very question. We searched the magazine stands and the subway advertisements, the DVD markets and the Beijing movie theaters, all to no avail. No one seemed to care that Harry had already defeated Voldemort on the big screen and no one in the nation had seen it. We started to worry that HP had been banned from China and were resigned to the fact that we would just have to wait until late August when we returned to the States to catch up with the rest of the world.

Luckily for Mommy and Daddy, we discovered Hermione Granger on the cover of Movie Magazine before Z and I died of anticipation. Beneath her rather weathered face, written in Chinese, was the date August 4th. So, with our fears quenched about Harry's absence in China, we were forced to accept the fact that we would be a month behind the rest of the world while the Chinese translated and recorded the movie for the Harry Potter fans on this side of the world.

We waited patiently for the 4th and occupied our excitement by trying to figure out what scenes the pictures in the magazine showed and looking for a movie theater where we could see it in English. One day, after eating lunch in a local mall, we even saw the movie theater staff building the giant cardboard advertisement of Harry facing You Know Who.

But as the date approached, Z and I realized we would be spending the 4th on a fabulous trip to Datong. Now, while Datong may be the second largest city in the Province of Shanxi, it is no Beijing, so the prospects of finding a movie theater were not looking too good.

But China never ceases to surprise me...


Monday, September 12, 2011

The Holy Cross Mixer

The first dance of the school year went off this past weekend without a hitch. And it was a Balla family affair, with Desi and I chaperoning the event, and Julie and Z among the nearly 1000 high schoolers in attendance. Yes, Z has started high school...More on life at Georgetown Prep to come in future posts...



As you have read in previous posts, one of the main attractions in Datong is the Yungang Grottoes. Like many tourist stops in China, we had to pay a (relatively speaking) huge fee to get into the park (which, by the way, is under renovation).

After buying our tickets, which happened to be a foot long each, we entered the expansive park. We were directed through a newly built temple, suspended above a man-made lake. After crossing an imperial looking bridge, we walked along a long, winding, tree lined path. At the end of the path were the grottoes.

Built into and around the rock face, the grottoes are an impressive sight. The rock face is dotted with windows and doorways leading into the rock statues. However, these historical rooms are so old that the rock around them has suffered wear and tear. One large statue is completely exposed because its walls and roof collapsed. Many of the grottoes have holes in their walls connecting one room to another.

Many of the grottoes are higher up on the rock face and cannot be seen or touched by tourists. One of these untouchable grottoes had a hole in its wall leading into a ground level grotto. I did the natural thing (!) and jumped up and pulled myself in. Inside was a Buddha surrounded by thousands of tiny Buddhas. Many of these Buddhas still had color and were untouched. Seeing these helped me to visualize what the grottoes looked like in their heyday.