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Viewpoint: Xi'an embraces the old and the new

Datang Bu Ye Cheng or the Datang Everbright City is a mix of the modern and historical in Xi’an, China. Olivia Alberts / Rosemount High School student

Olivia Alberts will be a senior at Rosemount High School this fall. She is writing periodic columns during her six weeks in Xi’an, China.

This week marks the fourth week I, Olivia Alberts, will be in Xi'an, China, with the NSLI-Y program. Throughout these four weeks I've been so lucky to experience so many different aspects of Chinese culture, from centuries old temples to modern shopping centers and restaurants. The mix of rich history and cutting edge technology is, in my opinion, what makes Xi'an so fascinating.

An example of this captivating mixture of influences can be seen in the area of Datang Bu Ye Cheng or the Datang Everbright City. The dynasty from which it gets its name, the Tang Dynasty (大唐, or Da Tang, translates to the Big Tang), is put on display every night through magnificent sculptures and works of art through the middle of the long street.

Surrounding the street is a busy shopping and entertainment center. Paired with the works of art are brilliant light shows and technical effects (even various stages every so often along the path for bands to play on on the weekends), the area showcases Xi'an's modern side as well as its deep history.

You don't need to dig very far, however, to see Xi'an's uninterrupted historical landmarks. Due to the 13 dynasties who had called Xi'an their capital city, there is an abundance of real buildings and temples, all of which are standing with the same foundation they were built upon centuries ago.

The more famous landmarks include Dayanta and Xiaoyanta (The Big and Small Wild Goose Pagodas), the Terra-cotta Warriors, Cheng Qiang (the city wall surrounding the ancient capital), Daminggu (the site of the Tang Dynasty), HuaQing Palace, and the Green Dragon Temple. Each of these landmarks has its special history and each holds an important place in China's rich history.

My favorite story so far is the one behind HuaQing Palace. The tale, told in the performance of the Tang Dynasty poem 长恨歌 (Chang Hen Ge, or the Song of Everlasting Regret), follows the love story of Emperor Xuanzong and his concubine Yang Guifei. The emperor loves Guifei so much that he grants her access to a pool only emperors were previously allowed in. The actual pool is the site of the 长恨歌 performance, adding an extra flair to an already incredible performance. The plot tells of the couple's blinding love story and is later interrupted by the An Lushan rebellion, which eventually takes the life of Yang Guifei.

Legends like these are incorporated into many aspects of Chinese culture, and ancient influence is never hard to come by. For example, some buildings here don't have fourth floors; similar to the Western prejudice against the number 13, the Chinese word for four (四, or sì) sounds like the Chinese word for death (死, or sĭ). Instead of fourth floors, certain buildings will have a 3A floor and a 13A.

Likewise, the numbers six and eight are considered very lucky in China, for their names are synonymous with good fortune and the flow of wealth. Because of this, Chinese phone numbers will be slightly more expensive to buy if they have multiple eights or sixes in them, and slightly cheaper if they have fours in them.

It's impossible to capture all of Chinese culture in the six weeks that I'm here. However, thanks to NSLI-Y I've been lucky enough to try. I can't wait to finish the second half of my program and learn more about the Chinese language and culture!