Wednesday, March 21, 2012

...sounds of Xi'an...

Photos can't capture sound, but this morning I want to share some of the common sounds we've been hearing.  I should begin by saying that here in our apartment, we are fortunate to have a great deal of quietness.  This building only has a few occupants--all foreign teachers or students.  We haven't had to use our earplugs yet! 

I had expected a constant, undecipherable din of humanity.  In actuality, the sounds are very distinct and not really annoying.  There is the honking of car horns, for sure.  But they seem to take turns, as if in a conversation.  (And, usually, they are having a discussion that seems to be translated into something like, "Hey! Can't you see I'm coming?  Why are you obeying the green light and going anyway?" and "Helloooo!  I'm a truck with no brakes and you are a mere bicycle with just a little load of 55 crates." or "ExCUSE me, right turn on red and left turn on green give me license to ignore pedestrians!"  Regardless of the chaos this seems to convey, it really all works miraculously smoothly.  I have yet to hear the sound of tires screeching to a halt. 

While we are on the note of crossing the street, I might mention that I had to override my instincts the other day on my walk to school.  A little grandmother with some sort of cane or assistive walking device started to shuffle across the large intersection at the same time I did.  My tendency was to slow down and walk with her.  Then my brain took over and said, "Kelly, this woman has obviously lived long enough to be using a cane.  You have not.  She likely knows much more about how to get across these 6 lanes of regular traffic and 2 bus/bicycle access lanes on either side of the road than you do."  ...and I traipsed across as cautiously as possible.  One thing that really helps is that the traffic signals here all have timers on them and so you can see how many seconds you have left to cross the road. 

Back to sounds...there are water trucks that traverse the streets daily, except on rainy days, I suppose, to spray down pavement, in a never ending effort to reduce the dust.  For several days we heard them from the apartment, and assumed they were ice cream trucks.  Why?  Because they play tunes like Jingle Bells and Yankee Doodle.  Yes.  Here.  In March. 

And onto more unexpected musical sounds: When the 2 hour lunch/nap break at the schools ends, instrumental music recordings are broadcast over the school grounds.  Last week the wake up song was Danny Boy, which was definitely pleasant.  Yesterday to my surprise another familiar tune emerged: Amazing Grace.  Yes. Here.  Paradoxes abound.

The walkway in the park is a beautiful detour to the sidewalks along the city street.  In the evening, we hear Beijing Opera selections booming out of portable stereos and there are groups of women practicing traditional dances.  It is really impressive. 

Earlier this week I heard what sounded like military marches.  I got nearer the square and saw men in civilian clothes in formation, marching around the square.  The next day, on my return from school, I heard the same group.  The day before must have been just rehearsal, because the 2nd day they were in full uniform.  I took a video of them, and showed it to Xiaolan back at the office.  She told me they were not military.  They are security.  (These are different people than police.) I guess they must have monthly practices. 

This is one of the intersections near the school.  The dog looks just like Buster Tackitt, so we were sure to take the photo for Steve and Pat :).  The pet dogs here are obviously well cared for, but rarely on leashes.  They seem share their masters' instincts regarding traffic navigation.

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