Thursday, September 14, 2006

Setting up the trip to Xi'an

I want to post this now because it's mostly negative, and I want to let my positive feelings about actually being in Xi'an come out when I get back.

Trying to get to Xi'an was hard.

I should mention that there is more than the Terracotta Warriors to see in Xi'an. Xi'an was the capital of China for a lot longer than Beijing ever was. It was the capital under the first emperor Qin Huangdi, it was the capital under the golden age of the Tang dynasty, and so on. Only after the Mongols invaded did the Mongols move the capital to Beijing.

Quiz question: When was the first Christian mission into China? If you're thinking of the Age of Exploration, the Jesuits, and the Portuguese, you're off by almost a millenium. You see, though we think of Christianity as beginning in Israel and moving west, Christianity also moved east at the same time. This was a Christianity that was not as colored by Greco-Roman thought (but it was probably influenced by Persian thought), and in the 600s, a Persian missionary named Alopen went to bring the gospel to China.

Evidence of this is the Da Qin monastery that was built during the Tang Dynasty and numerous artifacts including a large stone tablet with a summary of the gospel in Chinese, erected at the behest of the Emperor as a show of Imperial encouragement of the gospel. It was reported to the Jesuits in the 1600s, forgotten, then rediscovered several more times after that. The Japanese invasion of WWII led a Japanese archaeologist to find it, but he gave exactly the opposite directions to it, perhaps to throw others off the mark. In the Cultural Revolution it was forgotten again. Then Martin Palmer, a British archeologist, found it again in the 1980s.

The Da Qin monastery is in Xi'an.

Most books on Xi'an don't mention it. David Aikman's book on Christianity in China has it but he says when he got there, he was disappointed when he was told he couldn't go in, that if he had called ahead, they could have arranged a tour.

So I called ahead to arrange a tour.

It's hard to find anyone who even knows of it, much less gives tours of it. I eventually found via google the text of a lecture by its most recent discoverer, Martin Palmer, and found that he was associated with the Association for Religion and Conservation. I found their website, started sending emails, and eventually these emails reached Martin Palmer. He put me in contact with Peter Zhou who runs a lot of the operation for him in Xi'an.

Peter couldn't book me a ticket, but he told me to ask around Hong Kong to get good rates. Jay, who came with us to the airport to meet the Pepperdine students, is actually from Xi'an. He showed me a website to book tickets. It assumes you are not coming from Hong Kong Airport but Shenzhen Airport, which is right across the border in Mainland China. You generally can't get an E-ticket. It asks you where you want your ticket to be dropped off. If you say Kowloon (where we are), it gives you an error message in Chinese. You have to say "Shenzhen", even if you don't have an address there. The website is hard to use. At some point you have to say you want to pay "cash" (if you say "credit card" it lists a large number of Chinese credit cards, none of which is VISA or MasterCard) then specify you want to use a foreign credit card. You say you want to pick up the ticket at the airport, but it won't let you pick it up before 10 am or after 9pm. If your flight is at 8:30 am, you have to write an email to the airline and ask them, and they'll say you should just write in the comment that you're going to pick it up at 7am.

On top of all this, Peter tells me we have to pay cash (he doesn't take credit cards) and I should collect the cash first. He's quoted me the price in USD, but I don't have that much US currency on me. When I withdraw money from an ATM here, it's in Hong Kong dollars. I don't have that much Hong Kong dollars on me either, and there's a limit to how much I can withdraw. I still haven't heard from him as to how he wants to deal with this.

To get to the 8:30 am flight, it would require some travel on a train and a bus, but given how early we would have to start out, the train doesn't run that early. So we rented a private coach to take us there. Since most of us (10) are going on the early flight, that works.

Well, we're meeting at 5:30 am tomorrow, so I'd better get some sleep. Good night, and I'll report on Xi'an when I get back. I hope.


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