Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Manila & Xi'an Summary

So I'm writing this during/after my last drunken night in Xi'an, China. S'been awhile - apologies - I've just had some serious drinking to do. ;)

Final thoughts on Manila before I move on to Xi'an: the Philippines was an amazing experience. Since I left y'all last, I went to Pagsanjan Falls (where they filmed the famous helicopter scene in "Apocalypse Now"), Lake Taal (where the shortest volcano in the world at 3/4 mile above sea level lies within a lake within an island within a lake within an island - you heard me), and closed our show in Manila. Audiences in Manila were fantastic, but I have to admit I was more than ready to leave when the time came.

I'd started to develop some kind of guilt complex due to the inescapable poverty enveloping this country. The majority of the population lives well below the poverty line, and after not being able to leave my front door without someone begging for money everyday, after countless bus rides to the theatre and seeing women washing their babies by the freeway in buckets, and countless families sleeping under street lamps and paint tarpaulins, I began to feel almost as helpless as they because I had no idea what to do about it. I'd been warned not to give money to anyone because of a huge crime syndicate that would take whatever you gave, so the little bit I might have been able to spare would have been feeding the problem, rather than helping any sick child begging for it. It was heartbreaking, and quite frustrating, to say the least. The Philippines has so much potential, and unfortunately seems somewhat crippled by it's own people.

Not to say it was all bad. I met some amazing people while I was there, many of which I hope to know again someday. My dresser, Ellen, was a widower and single mother, raising a daughter on her own who hopes to be an architect one day. I have great respect for single moms in the US - I've no idea how any of them manage - but Ellen honestly blows my mind for being able to do it under what seem to me like impossible circumstances. (And she's one of the loveliest people I've ever met in my life - commuting an hour and a half each way on a bus to do our show, and always ready to work VERY HARD while never lacking a smile or an easy laugh.) I miss her a lot. I also met 2 women in our hotel lobby one night - regulars, I thought - who invited me to dinner and spent several evenings talking and sharing with me a more intimate viewpoint on life in Manila. I found out later on they were prostitutes, and I'm proud to say this had no effect on our friendship. Having experienced the little bit I did of life in the Philippines, I have to say I don't know how any single/widowed/divorced mother (or woman, period) could support any kind of life for herself or her children without SEVERAL sources of income.

In short, life appears to be incredibly difficult for most people in the Philippines. But you'd never know it from the wonderfully warm and generous people that populate it.

On to Xi'an: this is now my last night in Xi'an; we leave for Zhengzhou tomorrow. My first experience in China has also been a bit of a shock, but mostly because of how strange it HASN'T been. I get a few stares here and there, but it only took a day or so to realize it's mostly curiosity and not any kind of judgement or rudeness on their part.

Xi'an is absolutely beautiful. It's a city of 8 million - not small by any standard - but very VERY clean and laid out in such a way as to seemingly include the land it's built upon. There's trees and parks and water everywhere, and the city has made a concerted effort to maintain the architectural theme of the Tang Dynasty. It's the first capital of China, and served as such for 7 Dynasties. Today it's considered the artistic and cultural center of China, offering hundreds of Universities and the 8th wonder of the world, the Terra Cotta Army less than 45 minutes away.

The people are much warmer than I expected. I think some of the US propaganda against communism had colored my expectations; even though China is no longer communist, technically, I can't imagine this place was ever as stark and barren as I was ignorant enough to be led to believe. There are a few buildings (unsurprisingly mostly government buildings) that fit the pictures in my head before I came, but they are the exception and definitely not the rule. Older generations still seem to be somewhat reserved and formal, but everyone I've interacted with for any length of time and especially children have been quite warm and welcoming, and while the language barrier has been difficult, I'm usually the one ready to throw the towel in before they are.

A couple of my castmates and I went into a Chinese-Tibetan restaurant and even had the manager/owner, who spoke maybe 2 words of English, invite us up to his shrine and show us how to honor the Buddha. He made us a traditional Chinese tea and with the help of his assistant (who spoke just barely a bit more English), we struggled through 2 and a half hours of conversation, tea, and apple slices. We tried to explain what we were doing here, but musical theatre appears to be very much a Western thing; they understood singing, acting, and dancing, but they never seemed to grasp that we did all these things in-one. I wish they could have come see our show, but we were never successful enough in our communication to tell them how, when and where to come see us. (Would have been nice to have a couple fliers printed in Mandarin!)

I've TONS of pictures of all my adventures - I've gotten so much better now! Uploading to websites is kinda' time-consuming, though, so I'm just uploading them to Facebook now. Shoot me an email if you're not my "friend" on Facebook and I'll send you a link to the albums.

I got the program Rosetta Stone for Mandarin; at this point in time, I know how to say "little boy", "little girl", "man", "woman", "car", "plane", "horse", "elephant", "dog", "cat", and maybe "with" and "under". I've also picked up "hello", "thank you", "how much is this?", and "see you tomorrow" and "see you next year" accidentally by mispronouncing the word for "tomorrow" one time. Round of drinks on me to whoever can make a sentence out of any of these words. :)

G'night for now. I used to know the Mandarin for "bye-bye", but it escapes me now. More later - MUCH more, I'm sure - I've got a week off after Zhengshou, and my bank account will no longer put up with all the spending I've been doing here, so I should have plenty of time on my hands very shortly! ;)

No comments: