Mornings are an exciting time in Xi’an – all the world can happen while the day is still waking. I learned this lesson, and I was so rewarded because the mornings were as memorable as the faces were beautiful. On my second morning in Xi’an, I woke earlier than usual and slipped out of the hotel to photograph the activities in the square across the road… I did not anticipate the magic I would find there. On the third and last morning, breakfast was followed by a trip to the Ancient City Wall. Here, rippling silk contrasted buildings that have seen emperors fall, and the city bordered the traditional structure.
Morning 1. In the far left corner of the square, elderly couples danced as the day came to life.
To the right of the dancing couples. a group of men played da chuan. According to Terry (our tour guide), this traditional game orginates from the rural districts, where it was typically played by farmers. ‘Playing’ involves a long stick with string ties to the end, which is then used to whip a large spinning top. A sharp CRACK sounds with every strike of the whip, and the spinning top continues to spin.
This lady had watched me photographing the group of men playing da chuan, and seemed rather excited about something. I don’t know what she said to the men, but I found myself being taught to whip spinning tops by a man who was whipping three tops simultaneously. I spent some time whipping spinning tops with the men and to the delight of this woman, before returning the stick to its owner, taking this photo and moving to the next adventure.
Tai chi has evolved from a form of martial arts to a traditional exercise involving deep breathing and slow movements. It’s like graceful yoga – and a group are blessed to start their days with a public session.
Serenity. That’s what I find in this corner of the public sqaure, surrounded by traffic and sounding with city life – a man stretching his fingertips and wearing the morning light.
This is the husband referred to in the next caption.
This lady had asked her husband to photograph her children and herself crouching alongside my funny-looking self. After he had taken the photo on his phone, and then a (rather blurry) photo on my camera, I snapped this photo of the mother still crouching with her children. Fun fact: her pony tail hung past her waist and I encountered the family again at the pedestrian crossing later in the morning.
This gentleman had been sitting beside the speakers, not dancing but enjoying the activity.
I handed my camera to him, asking if would please take photos. But he’d never used a camera before, and when I showed him how to take a photo, he didn’t quite understand the part about the button-to-shutter relationship. He simply held the button down – snapping some 600 photos that now make up a short motion picture of me dancing with the lady in the swishing white skirt as the fountains form collapsing pillars in the background. I will never be able to express my gratitude to this man for what he captured when he held that camera.
She was dressed so fantastically, that I couldn’t help but take a photograph. Little did I know that she was going to become one of my happiest memories. She had just set up her speakers, and began to dance in her strip of the public square.
Although neither of us could speak the other’s language, she took my hands and taught me to dance – and I swirled around the square with her as several songs traced the time.
She came to life for the camera: dancing, swirling, whirling and twirling with a man who had previously been dancing in the left corner of the square.
It was breakfast time, and I couldn’t afford to miss the bus to the next activity, so I left my newfound friends, and followed my feet to the next adventure.
But as I said, I bumped into this family one last time. We waited together at this pedestrian crossing for quite awhile.
Morning 2. At the Ancient City wall, our tour group received much attention and many curious stares – such as we see here.
This pair had led the tai chi lesson on the walls of the Ancient City, and traditional life was juxtaposed with the modern world.
They demonstrated movements that rippled with the same softness of the silk they wore, and the white morning light made it all the more magical.
(commercialised) traditionalism walks past tourism on the Ancient City wall in the middle of the city.
From the walls of the Ancient city, a man photographs the traffic that disappears in the horizon, and traditional lights look towards a future that I cannot wait to explore.