By Leah Eades
January 19, 2011
We were in Xi'an, at the heart of China's vast interior, one of its most ancient capitals and now most famous for being home to the Terracotta Army. And we were feeling flat. We'd been to see the army in a painfully hungover state then returned to get the sleep we'd missed out on, and it was now nearing night time. We were in that dazed and bleary mindset that follows an unexpected nap. Someone mentioned that if you head outside the city walls and find the Big Goose Pagoda as evening set in, there would be a music and fountain show. Soon we were on the bus looking for signs of large deified poultry.
We did not find oversized geese, but nevertheless the pagoda was hard to miss. It was giant, and floodlit so that it shone ethereally in the darkness, reminding us of just how far from home we were. Its base was crawling with locals, and it seemed that a fairground had been set up for the show. Young families hooked ducks, and children screamed over candyfloss.
Hunched old women pushed trolleys around selling unrecognisable delicacies, which we bought be indicating the size we wanted with our hands, and the price in Yuan with our fingers. The vendors smiled at us with a benign twinkle in their eyes: O! Poor ignorant foreigners! Look how they try! As we struggle to pronounce “Thank you” in Mandarin they laugh outright, and we join in: Yes! We are hopeless! We know!
We wander. Around one corner we come across a male voice choir practicing. The lined faces of wizened old men, who look like they could have stepped straight out of a folk tale, are dwarfed by those of the taller, concentrating youths, but all have the same identical look, eyes shut, mouths spread into wide “o”s. Their women watch proudly, gossiping amongst themselves and giggling. The melody is incomprehensible to us, but rises and falls in a way that one never hears in English churches or glee choirs.
Another corner, and here we stumble across some sort of mass exercise dance workout; it seems the whole town and its dog fill the square, children with their parents and old biddies together, stretching and turning as music blasts out all around. Who leads and who follows, we can’t tell.
But this still wasn’t the fountain show that we were looking for. Not that we knew what we were looking for. We continued our way through the crowds, and eventually we heard it: strains of classical music carrying on the breeze. We followed, and the crowds became thicker. And suddenly we had tumbled straight into it: fountains embedded at the base of the pagoda shot jets of water high into the velvety sky, illuminated so that the very water looked alight. The classical music swelled and as it did so so did the springs, and together they danced. The crowd was hushed here, just watching. As were we.
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