Cooking Lessons at the Linden Centre

On the second day of our stay at the Linden Centre, we were given the opportunity to have a cooking class with Michael, one of the Linden Centre’s chefs. Our group of 15 was broken into two groups. Group One would take a tour of the markets in Xizhou and purchase their own ingredients to be used later that afternoon in the cooking class. Group Two, my group, was chosen for the morning class where all of the ingredients were already purchased. The recipes my group and I would be cooking consisted of two traditional Bai dishes, the Bai people being the predominant ethnic group in Xizhou.

The first dish we prepared was a type of mashed potatoes with leek and green onions cooked in dark soy sauce. The potatoes were already boiled in water and we proceeded to peel and mash them by hand. One of the immediate differences between my experience with western cooking and eastern cooking was how o ften the hands were used to help cut and mash the various ingredients. After the potatoes and related ingredients were prepared, we proceeded to combine them into a stir fried mash potato delicacy.

The second dish was along the lines of a more traditional plate of chicken stir fry. Some of the unique ingredients used were sichuan peppers, cinnamon bark, potato starch, light and dark soy sauce, and Chinese peach flower wine. The peach flower wine used in this dish was the same kind that could be bought at most wine selling stores in the Yunnan province. It is a common drinking wine with a taste similar to rose tea or rose wine which also doubles as a perfect cooking wine. As we started to combine all of our ingredients into the wok, we had the liberty of choosing how much spice to use. Those of us who prefered our food to be spicy used more sichuan pepper than those who liked to maintain the sweeter flavor of the peach flower wine. Even those who enjoy spicy food need to be aware of the dangers possessed by sichuan pepper. Too much sichuan pepper can lead to a numbing sensation in the mouth which is only worsened by drinking water.

Both groups concluded the cooking classes with a late afternoon feast for lunch. While group two made mashed potatoes and chicken stir fry, group two used the ingredients they bought to make a pork stir fry and a spicy rice cake dish. Chef Michael had one last surprise for our lunchtime feast. Michael prepared a soup of his own recipe which consisted of rice wine, sugar, gogi berries, and cheese. The final product was a sweet, yet savory soup which was very filling.

The feast was a satisfying conclusion for a group of tired, amateur chefs.

Pieces of History: The Terra-cotta Warriors

The Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum Site Museum is the home of China’s largest and richest burial tomb. Day after day, thousands of tourists come to this site to see the world-renowned Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses. Remembered as China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang ruled from 246BCE to 221BCE. He is most famous for unifying China, linking the different sections of the Great Wall, and creating the Terra-cotta Army to protect him in his afterlife.

Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum was one of the main stops on our program’s trip to Xi’an. Before visiting this site, I knew very little about the Terra-cotta Warriors and Emperor Qin. I had only seen brief sections about the Terra-cotta Warriors on television programs or the warriors photographed in textbooks. When I walked into Pit One, the largest excavation site, my jaw dropped at the scene. The warriors were truly breathtaking. In Pit One there are an estimated 6,000 warriors, and only 1,000 have been recovered so far. Hundreds were lined up within Pit One’s archeological site, and no two figures were the same. Each life-sized soldier had his own unique facial features, clothing style and body build. During our time at the museum, our tour guide, Allen, told us about the history of the Terra-cotta Army. He was able to answer all of our questions and point out details we should not overlook in the archeological sites. Below are some things I learned from at Qin’s mausoleum.

  • In 1974, local Xi’an farmers discovered the Terra-cotta warriors while digging a well near Qin’s mausoleum. They reported the artifacts to the local officials, but they never imagined a whole army underground. I thought the warriors were discovered long before the 1970s. It is hard to believe such a spectacle was hidden for thousands of years. Allen told us that there were no records of the Terra-cotta Army, so there was no reason to search the land around Qin’s burial site.
  • According to Allen, there are stories of other farmers finding parts of the soldiers in the soil before 1974. When these farmers discovered the Terra-cotta Warriors, they only found pieces of the soldiers in the soil. Due to the deep superstitions, the farmers were initially afraid of their findings. They believed that the pieces they encountered were actually demons, monsters or ghosts wanting to haunt them. It is said that one farmer even tied the terracotta soldier parts pieces he found to a tree and shattered them to avoid bad luck and fortune. These farmers wished to erase their findings and did not report the artifacts to local government.
  • When the Terra-cotta soldiers were placed underground, a wooden structure was built on top to hold the ground ceiling from caving in. This structure did not withstand time. According local history, the wooden ceiling was burned and destroyed by looters thousands of years ago. Thus, almost all of the soldiers and horses uncovered and displayed at the museum were broken and had to be restored by archeologists. Only a few of the 6,000 soldiers were actually found in tact. This surprised me. For some reason, I thought the Terra-cotta Warriors were discovered in relatively good conditions inside a large tomb, like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie. But, in hindsight I should have expected the clay warriors to be broken after all of these years. Some untouched sections of the pits were on display to show the original state of the findings. I saw that some of the terra-cotta pieces were larger, such as a whole leg or bust, but most of the pieces were smaller and embedded in the dirt. Allen told us that the restoration process takes about two years. Each piece must be carefully separated from the dirt mounds, cataloged and placed in the right position.
  • The Terra-cotta warriors were all painted when they were first buried. The mono-colored warriors on display were already a spectacle to me. I had a hard time imagining the warriors covered in rich reds, blues, yellows and greens. Over the years, the paint has faded due exposure to light, temperature, and humidity. Some of the soldiers were found with remnants of paint on them, but painted parts faded even more after the pieces were removed from the site. The scientists and archeologists are still researching for better preservation techniques. For instance, the covering on Pit Two did not allow as much light into the excavation site as Pit One. This decreased the artifacts’ exposure to sunlight and humidity. Until a restoration process that protects the paint is perfected, soldiers still buried will remain untouched and underground.

Seeing the Terra-cotta Warriors was an experience I will never forget. I now understand the historic greatness of this archeological find. I look forward to following the progress of future extractions and the development of restoration technology. This historic wonder should be shared with future generations, so keeping the Terra-cotta Army alive and close to their original state is important. I enjoyed my time at the museum so much that I even bought two decorative Terra-cotta Warriors from the museum gift shop. Now, I can enjoy this piece of history when I go home.

Reflection on Xi’an

Our group’s most recent trip to Xi’an was a great opportunity to experience the  many historical sites the city has to offer. The most notable locations we visited were the terra cotta warriors, of course, along with the city wall and the Great Mosque of Xi’an.

The terra cotta warriors were truly a spectacle. Our tour guide, Dong, insisted that they were not the only remarkable historic landmark of Xi’an, but one cannot deny the global fame they have brought to the city since their discovery in the mid 1970s. The sheer scale of their production is unfathomable, especially given the fact that they are all unique models. Dong explained that the typical terra cotta warrior had a round face, high cheek bones, big lips, and single-eylids (just like him, he said!). Hearing the explanation about how the warriors were built to provide protection for the Qin Emperor in the afterlife made my mind harken back to times when I’ve studied ancient Egyptian history. It seems like these two ancient civilizations had remarkably similar theories in terms of the path of the spirit after one’s passing. And even today, many people in China burn offerings in the form of paper cuttings, what I now see to be something of a heavily watered-down version of the thousands of terra cotta warriors we saw.

The city wall was an unexpected joy for many of us on the trip. Dong informed us that it was a popular tourist activity to rent bikes and ride along the wall, and we did not hesitate at the chance! Besides the excitement of finally riding a bike again (something I haven’t done in probably a year) it was also a great opportunity to see the surrounding city. Dong told us about how the city usd to be contained by this wall in addition to a moat that runs along its outer border. In ancient times the bell tower would ring, signaling all the farmers out in the countryside to return to the city, and another bell when they should wake up and get to work. Since then, of course, the city has grown to a size that doesn’t permit such a small border. But I loved experiencing this historic site on two wheels, even if it was a bit of a touristy move.

Last was the Great Mosque of Xi’an. This was a remarkable place because of the juxtaposition of Chinese-style temples with Arabic text written on their signs. What stood out from this place was that the nature of Chinese religions is such that the synergy of multiple ideals and traditions is not only permitted, but is commonplace. The best part of the mosque was the fact that it was still active, meaning that we were able to see those (men) who chose to worship there on a daily basis. It was also the most quiet and serene place we visited on our entire trip in Xi’an, which was a great chance to catch our breath after a wonderfully full day in the city.


Hotels in China

Hotels in different cities are always a hit or miss. A hotel may be rated 4 stars or 3 stars, but the actual place can turn out to be totally different from the ratings. One must start with the level of the city. If the city is a level 3, one would expect the hotels in the city to be extremely well done and be considered of top-class quality. In Beijing, the hotel the Davidson in Shanghai group stayed at was a 4 star hotel. The hotel turned out to be the palace of a previous prince in Chinese history and had been renovated to be a hotel for tourists. The hotel was actually small due to the architecture, but the place was clean besides the snow, the bathroom was built western style, Wi-Fi and a computer were included, and the whole place was well-heated. Heat is important because it is extremely cold in Beijing and considering that Beijing winters can be brutal. Also, the breakfast was a traditional Chinese style with some Western foods. Everything was fresh and cooked instead of being heated up. The hotel was deserving of the 4 stars it received.

However, in Nanjing, the hotel was not deserving of the 3 stars it was given. The place had the decorum of the 80’s or 90’s. There was a western style bathroom but the rooms were not heated and there was no Wi-Fi or computer for guests to use. Nanjing’s temperature is not as cold as Beijing, but there should still be a functioning option to heat the rooms, and although the thermostat had the option, the heat did not work. Furthermore, the hotel was actually very dirty and needed to be cleaned. The breakfast was not worth eating and many students ended up going to McDonalds or KFC for breakfast because the food looked inedible. This hotel was not deserving of 3 stars. An argument could be made that because the hotel was not meant to be as great as level 3 city hotels, but next comes the case of a level 2 city that had a hotel that was deserving of its 4 stars.

In Xi’an, a level 2 city, the hotel was definitely deserving of 5 stars instead of 4 stars. The hotel had great décor and the architecture was beautiful. The rooms were spacious, had Wi-Fi, Western-style bathroom, cleaned very well, heating and a TV that had English channels! This hotel was a franchise, which could explain that a lot of money was poured into it. Still, the Xi’an hotel had great service, an impressive dining hall for breakfast that served Chinese and Western style food as the Beijing hotel did. The city was not as technologically advanced as the hotel. This is how impressive the hotel was.

Lastly, Suzhou is also a level 2 city that also shows a hotel that deserves 4 stars instead of the 3 stars it received. The hotel is also a franchise and was actually brand new. However, the style of the hotel was a Western style room with everything the Xi’an hotel had to offer and some great amenities. For example, there was an ironing board and iron for guests to iron their clothes and look great.

Therefore, hotels ratings should not be trusted, but instead a person should scout out the place before deciding to book the place because of Web reviews. A friend who has actually stayed and enjoyed the hotel should be found instead of just trusting reviews. A tour guide is also helpful, if the company has been reviewed well and even though it may be more expensive, the quality is worth it.

Pedaling Through Xi’an



This past weekend we traveled as a group to Xi’an.  Xi’an is not only a vibrant modern city, but also has thousands of years of history.  Xi’an was the capital of the first Chinese dynasty and served the same purpose for 9 other dynasties.  One of the biggest cultural and historical sites in Xi’an is the Terracotta Warriors.  While we were there we not only visited the Terracotta Warrior museum, but also had the opportunity to see and tour all three pits where the warriors have been found.

Seeing the warriors was an interesting experience.  They were buried underground, in battle formation, to stand guard and protect the body of the emperor.  A few years after the emperor’s death, however, people unhappy with the way things were being handled in China, broke into the area where the warriors were and smashed them into little tiny pieces.  They then set the wooden roof on fire so that it would collapse and destroy any warriors they had missed.  Following this incident, the warriors were forgotten about and not discovered again until the 1970s when a few farmers were digging a well and found broken pieces of the warriors.  The men were not sure what they had found but believed it to be a body of a god and were scared that they may have angered him.  When the news of the warriors was finally passed on to a higher official, the hole was expanded and the warriors were uncovered.

The intact warriors on display today have all been meticulously put back together. Although today the warriors are all brown and a little dull in color, they were once colorfully painted and decorated.  Pieces of warriors have been found with red, yellow, green, blue, and even purple coloring.  Unfortunately, when the colored pieces have been exposed to open air the color begins to fade and very few pieces have retained their color after being removed from the ground.  Scientists are working on developing a way to preserve the color but, thus far, nothing has worked.  It is estimated that between the three separate pits there are over 8,000 Terracotta Warriors.  Despite the large number of warriors though, there are no “twins” as our tour guide called them – each warriors is unique.

After visiting the warriors we all went to the Old City Wall.  While the view from the top of the wall was pretty good, the real attraction of the wall was the ability to bike on top of the wall.  While our entire group did not want to bike, a group of us happily rented bikes and set off to explore a portion of the 8-mile city wall loop.  With a mix of both tandem and single bikes we knew we were in for a wild ride.  After a bit we stopped to snap photos of each other on the bikes and chat about how this semester has flown by.  We all had a great time riding on the wall and remembering childhood afternoons and family vacations filled with bike rides.

There are so many things in China that are different from the US, but some things are universal.  Riding a bike on the Old City Wall in Xi’an was one of those moments where it hit me again that no matter how different we think that China and the US may be, there are ways in which they are exactly the same.  The feeling of freedom and joy I get from the wind whipping past me on a bike is universal in any country!