Where we are


China , 中国(Zhong guo, middle country) has always considered itself to be the center of the universe.  For most of the last 3000 years, China has been #1 in the world. China invented civilization; its contacts with other cultures have traditionally been limited to accepting tribute.  The Chinese are very proud and apologize to no one about reclaiming their rightful position as a superpower.


A few miles from the modern city of Xi’an, 西安 (west peace) is the neolithic village of Banpo, which goes back to 4500 BCE.  The Chinese are one of the few people of the world who have no creation myth of any tradition of having migrated from somewhere else.  They  have always been there.

Xi’an (then called Chang’An) was the capital of the Qin empire, founded 220 BCE.  It was larger than the Roman empire. The first emperor was a ruthless totalitatian.  He burned most non-pragmatic books and executed the scholars who knew them.  Thus written Chinese history before this time is sketchy.  Xi’an is a much older city than Beijing, Paris or London.  It goes back to about the same time frame as Rome and Athens.  The first emperor’s tomb is on the outskirts of the city.  It has not been excavated, but one of the four entrances has been.  The terracotta army of individually stylized, life-sized horses and soldiers guarding this approach has become a major tourist draw.


During the Tang dynasty, abour 800 CE, Xi’an (formerly spelled Sian) was the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the world. It had more than a million people and was surrounded by thick walls. It was the model on which Nara was founded as the capital of Japan.


Northwest University, 北西大学(west north big school) was founded in 1912.  It has 18,000 students and occupies a campus just outside the southwest corner of the city walls.  The walls are still intact and there is a bike path around the top of them. NWU is a top school, giving BS, MS and PhD degrees.  We feel privileged to be teaching here. Xi’an is a university city, with six or so major schools.  It is also a high tech center, with facilities for manufacturing integrated circuits.  The population is 5,000,000.


How we got here


Our friend Gary Anderson kindly gave us a ride to the airport in his pick-up truck.  This is the heaviest we have ever travelled: 11 pieces of luggage with four carry-on and seven checked.  Those include 3 for books, 2 for our folding bikes, a lap-top computer and 5 for clothes and stuff.



China time

Lv Seattle

5/2 10:00

2004/5/3  1:00

Ar San Francisco



Lv San Francisco



Ar Beijing

5/3  2:05


Lv Beijing



Ar Xian




That’s what was supposed to happen.  The Air China flight was three hours late leaving San Francisco and we missed our connection to Xi’an. We sent an e-mail from San Francisco to alert our welcoming party.  The 747 wasn’t full and we were able to change to extra leg room seats.  Not a bad flight,, but 12 hours is a long time to spend on an airplane.  We did not sleep on this flight in order to adjust to the new time zone.  Our overnight in Beijing went smoothly, though we did have to take our 400 pounds of luggage to the hotel provided by Air China.  We got though entry formalities quickly and found the ticketing counter to check in for the 7:30 flight for Xi’an the next morning.  We were on the hotel bus by 9:45 PM, an hour and a quarter after landing.  It took about 20 minutes to get to the hotel on the outskirts of the city and we got a good night’s sleep, though we had to be up for the 6:00 airport bus.  Tyler had a dim-sun type breakfast at the hotel while Fran caught a bit more sleep. We had good help from Air China personnel and some Chinese-American fellow travellers in re-loading our 11 pieces of luggage onto the bus and transporting the load through the Beijing airport.


Arrival in Xi’an


Sometimes Plan B works out as well as or better than Plan A.  Staying overnight in Beijing had two advantages: we made a new friend and we entered Xi’an by daylight.  Xiaojing Shi was a fellow overnight sojourner and was on our flight to Xi’an, where she was excitedly anticipating a visit with her parents and brother after 10 years of living in the U.S.  We enjoyed talking with her and she gave us her parents’ telephone number so we can get together with her while she is in Xi’an for six weeks.  The 90 minute flight from Beijing to Xi’an was very pleasant; we crossed a mountain range and green agricultural land to the plateau on which Xi’an is located.  Since our contacts at NWU did not meet us at the airport this morning (it turned out that they did not receive our email from San Francisco, had gone to the airport last night, and were worried when we did not show up), Xiaojing offered that her brother and best friend would give us a ride to NWU.  However, once we had loaded all of our luggage in the friend’s car, there was not enough space for everyone.  The friend and brother offered to take the bus into the city so that we could go in the car.  We were very touched by everyone’s generosity.  This was a warm welcome to Xi’an.


The warm welcome continued.  After a pleasant and interesting drive from the airport to Xi’an (25 miles away), the driver located the NWU campus which is just south of the city walls.  Xi’an looks more developed, modern, and prosperous than 20 years ago, with many more cars.  However, many people still ride bicycles and there are separate bike lanes.  We look forward to exploring the city and environs on our bikes.  Another difference is whereas few people had telephones in 1984, many people now have their own cell phones.  We used the driver’s cell phone to call Gao Yuan, a computer science graduate student and instructor who has been our main email contact at NWU in arranging the logistics of our trip.  She met us at the university library, and helped us to check into the “foreign experts” hotel on campus, which will be our home for the next three months.  We have a pleasant apartment that includes a bedroom, living-room, bathroom, and kitchen.  Living on campus will give us a community.  Gao Yuan, Professor Zhou (chair of the Computer Science Department) and another computer science professor treated us to a delicious lunch at a nearby restaurant.  There were some familiar and new dishes from Shaanxi Province (where Xi’an is located) and Hunnan Province further south.  Everyone was very friendly and we had a lively conversation in English, accompanied by numerous clickings of all of our drinking glasses to welcome us to NWU and wish us a good experience here.