Travels in China

Travels in China
Experience China: The Arts of China
Talks / Lecture

Photo of William Yang
Recording date: 
17 April 2016

Photographer and performer William Yang reflects on his recent journey through China.

After completing a Bachelor of Architecture at Queensland University, Yang moved to Sydney in 1969, where he worked as a freelance photographer documenting Sydney's social life. In the mid-1880s, he began to explore his Chinese heritage. His photographic themes expanded to include landscapes and the Chinese in Australia, and he made several visits to China.

Since then, he has expanded into performance art while continuing to exhibit his photography. His work in both formats has been viewed around the world.

Transcript

Transcript of Travels in China

Speakers: Margy Burn (M), William Yang (W), audience (A), Sophie (S)

Location: National Library of Australia

Date: 17/04/16

M:        Good morning, everyone. I’m Margy Burn, I’m the Assistant Director-General of Australian Collections and Reader Services here at the National Library of Australia and it’s really a great privilege to be introducing William today. One of the things I’m pleased to hold in our collections are many of his wonderful photographs documenting different aspects of life in Australia. As we begin I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land and thank them for caring for the land we now call home. I’ve lived in four of Australia's capital cities but this is the one where I think Aboriginal presence is still very strongly felt in the landscape if we have the eyes to see it. Scarred trees in suburban gardens at Wanniassa and in school playgrounds, rock art at the Yankee Hat Site just a short drive away from Canberra, the stone tools that are regularly found again if you have the eyes to see them on places like Mt Majura or Mt Ainslie. Even the annual arrival of the bogong moths reminds us that we live in the country of a very ancient culture I think in a way that it wouldn't be the case in other cities right in the heart of the city.

This weekend is the fourth of our Experience China weekends, public programs in support of the Celestial Empire exhibition through which we’re exploring all sorts of aspects of Chinese culture and civilisation. Of course I have to say that Celestial Empire is a major undertaking for the National Library and the exhibition and the accompanying public programs wouldn’t be possible without the support of many partners. It really has been a massive collaboration between government, commercial partners and individual donors. First and foremost we have to thank the National Library of China which really has been extraordinarily generous in sharing some of the wonderful treasures from its collection to be showcased along with those from the National Library of Australia. We’ve had many supportive private partners, Shell, the Seven Network, Wanda One, Optus Singtel, Huawei, Cathay Pacific, TFE Hotels and we’ve really benefited from the support of the Australian National University's Centre for China in the World and the Asia Society Australia who’ve supported many public programs. And of course the ACT Government and the Commonwealth Government through their various programs have also been helpful.

I’m glad that you weren’t held up by convoys of truck drivers and have been able to join us today to hear from William Yang. William is internationally renowned for his photography but increasingly also for his monologue performances accompanying his photography. I’ve known him when he first came to Adelaide for Jim Sharman’s 1982 Adelaide Festival of Arts as official photographer, and I’m a great admirer of his work since that time and I’ve really enjoyed seeing it take off in these new directions.

As is well known from his performance monologues, William grew up with little connection to his Chinese heritage but this changed in the 1980s when he learned about Daoism and began to embrace Chinese heritage as well as other aspects of his identity including visiting China several times which of course is what we’re going to hear about today.

William’s been performing his large-scale theatrical monographs creating a really quite unique form of performance art since 1989 and they’ve really found a ... touched a... the hearts of the many people in audiences who’ve seen them around Australia and around the world. And in recent years these performances have also been successfully translated to film and television.

I want to say that there’s a bit of a festival of William going on at the moment because he is currently performing at the Street Theatre, his piece, Blood Links and—

W:       Courtyard Theatre.

M:        Sorry, Courtyard Theatre, thank you, Courtyard Thea ... Studio at the Canberra Theatre. I was at the Street Theatre last night and confused. And it’s a really ... a wonderful story of Chinese ancestry and identity. Peter Wilkins described it in his review in The Canberra Times on Friday, I think, in superlatives. He called it mesmerising, captivating, engrossing, alluring, empathetic, beguiling, wonderful, powerful and gentle. And I found it really magical so if you haven’t seen one of William’s performances you have the chance in the forthcoming week, it’s on until April the 23rd. And you can also enjoy William’s photographic work which is on display at the Canberra Museum and Art Gallery. He’s been a fairly regular visitor to Canberra and unlike a lot of Sydney people he’s a big fan of Canberra and while he was an H.C. Coombs’ Fellow at the Australian National University did a wonderful series of photographs called ‘Breathing the Rarefied Air of Canberra’ and you can go and enjoy them at CMAG.

So for now let’s get on with hearing what William has to say. As part of the Celestial Empire programming he’s going to talk to us about his experiences with China. Thank you, William.

[Applause]

W:       My notes. I’ll just open them up. Okay. Travels in China. The dramatis personæ in this talk are ... well it’s me, me on the right but setting it up were Fenn Gordon who’s on the ... next to me who’s my producer in Sydney and in the middle is Alison Friedman who is an American entrepreneur and she’s got a company called Ping Pong productions and they promote or ... she’s an entrepreneur for Chinese and visiting companies. Then on the left is one of the main dramatis personæ, Sophie Zhu, and she’s she’s a producer with Ping Pong Productions and she had seen one of my pieces the previous year at a conference I did in Beijing and she had wanted to tour it in China, so she kind of set up this tour. And the other person is Natalie who is kind of like an intern with Ping Pong Productions and she’s from Singapore.

And we were all meeting at this Singapore restaurant, Shanghai restaurant it was, which served steamed food so it’s a kind of high-tech version .. see the steam is controlled by computer, the cooking and it’s a bit like steam boat but the high-tech version of it. And so Sophie had arranged this tour. It took quite a while to set up this tour and it was financed largely by Australian Chinese organisations. There wasn’t really that much money that came from China itself. The money came from DFAT and there was a bit of money from the universities. So after this meal was steamed, all the juices dripped down into this like rice kanji at the bottom which we ate so it was absolutely delicious and kind of Shanghai in its like cutting edge as well.

So here’s Sophie, Natalie and I in Guangzhou in the south and we’re about to ... we’re about to do a talk at Sun Yat-Sen University and so it’s on the outskirts of Guangzhou and so they’ve put us up in this hotel which is in a resort area, a very nice area. There’s a river nearby, one of the nicest rivers I’ve ever seen in China, you don’t see blue clear water like that much in China. And it had a kind of country feel there, lychees drying in the street. And you could walk up the side of the mountain and there was a statue of Guanyin there. It’s probably a poor area because ... although I have seen lots of shrines like wayside shrines in China but there’s like no big temple here. And the calligraphy carved in the rock is absolute kindness.

So here we are at Sun Yat-Sen University where we’re ... this is the student dormitory. The University has got about 20,000 students and I'm about to give my talk or the story only I can tell and it ... part of the University ... this university has got a course called Australian Studies and it teaches Australian culture and there are ... about 2,000 students who study Australian Studies and the important thing about this is that they all speak English and so I can do my talk in English although we also have surtitles as well.

And so the story only I can tell: we arrive at this lecture theatre, there’s a whole team of students and they’ve put out pot plants as decorations and we’ve got a staff of 20 students, technical advisors, to help set up but the thing is they’ve had no experience in technical matters and so they’re totally useless and so .. and not only that, there was a ... idiosyncrasy of this particular theatre where there are sound cues and the people who are operating the sound couldn’t see the screen to know when the cues come up so there had to be a relay of messages. It was just terribly complex and so Natalie who’s got experience in theatre production, eventually she just took charge ‘cause the whole thing was going nowhere for an hour. But to their credit the Chinese do the big set pieces like the welcome very well so here was the welcoming committee.

And 400 students crammed into the theatre, they had to put down extra blue chairs, and so the talk was a huge success and I did a question and answer after it. It had gay content, the talk and that had been a contentious issue with some of the universities, like they’d chosen not to take the risk and have a talk that had content. But anyway there was a person who asked a gay question and in so doing she kind of came out to all her friends and so that was fairly exciting. And then ... this is the kind of ... the rituals that I went through many times, there was the group photograph and in Chinese hierarchy the person in the centre is the most important person and the order of importance falls off to the right and the left of that. So if you’re on the end you’re not that important.

And then after the talk this not unattractive student kind of jumped on me and he said I really love your talk and ... loved your talk, I love your photographs, I want to see more of them. He couldn’t speak English or he could speak a bit, I can’t speak Chinese so I said well look, why don’t you come back to our hotel and I’ll show you some more of my work on the computer. So I went back to the hotel and in the foyer —I knew not to take him up to my room—and also I had to have Natalie and Sophie translate. So I showed him some of my work which he really liked and then he showed me some of his work, and they were female nudes, some were discreet and some were quite edgy and I really liked his work. And he told me that his teachers hated his work and they wanted him to stop, stop doing this kind of work. And almost on cue as he told me this, there was a phone call from one of his teachers who said, ‘oh we saw him get into the taxi with you and we’ve been terribly worried, he’s bad boy of the class and he’s under temporary suspension.’ And so Sophie said, ‘oh, I really don’t think William minds.’ But that kind of made me like him all the more because I could see that there is a kind of bureaucracy or authority in China and if you’re any way not in the mainstream it will crush you, it will relentlessly crush you. And so he left his card and so that was me, I wrote bad boy so I’d know who he was. But Sophie explained to me that his non de plume was something like Sickness of the Soul which ... China is so positively orientated, it was like a reaction to that and so ... yes so he was one of the most memorable people I met on this trip.

And so I did a workshop at the university, a storytelling workshop, and these are the teachers and they took us to dinner. And we’re in a semirural area and they took us to really the only restaurant in the place, which was a farm. And they did kind of like home-style cooking from produce in the farm and for example that roast chicken was really good and there was also this dish which was foo gwa, or bitter melon, stuffed, and my mother used to cook this dish so it was familiar, the food was familiar to me in the south. They had this kind of like brown cake which was slightly sweet, like a sweetbread that you ate during the meal and that was also delicious. But the greatest thing was the crimson dragonfruit which I don’t ... it’s not so common here in Australia but it is absolutely superior to the ordinary dragonfruit and that was to die for.

Next we went to Chengdu and we arrived quite late on a flight like this is 11 o’clock at night and these two students met us, ‘welcome, William Yang’. I don’t think they got my name right or perhaps some Chinese speakers here will tell me if that’s a translation of William Yang at the bottom in Chinese. Is it? What does it say?

A:         [unclear]

W:       It’s si ... yeah, they got my name spelt wrong is really the point that I was making. So ... but anyway they were gorgeous, their names were Rania and Alison and Sophie and I— who was travelling with me the time, Natalie had gone back to Singapore—we called them our angels. And so they took us to the university so this was the view in the morning where we were staying in one of the hotel dormitories. I had quite a spacious room and they arrived the next morning with breakfast which was kind of like buns, very nice savoury bun, bread, deep-fried bread which I didn’t care for that much and a warm soy drink and a boiled egg so that was great. Then they helped me set up for my talk to the students in one of the lecture theatres so this talk was kind of special because Australian studies is taught in 40 universities in China and the head of Australian studies, Professor David Walker, attended this talk along with the Australian Consulate in Chengdu. And it’s one of the headquarters of Australian studies, this particular university is very supportive. And after the talk David had a dinner, or the university had a dinner, for us at the university restaurant and that’s David in the centre and you know and I’m on the outer in this one. That’s David’s wife and his secretary and a person from the university. It was the biggest table I’d ever had dinner at. And the meal was really great, it had ... this was part of the entree but it was hot, spicy. This is very artistic and another hot meal because Sichuan—which is the place where we were at—is famous for its hot and spicy food and really it was too hot to be comfortable.

Then I was invited to a meeting with the university committee ... this is like Australian studies meets university heavies. It was fascinating, I didn’t really want to go to this meeting but it was just fascinating to hear the kind of polite exchanges between the two parties and what ensuring continuing support for Australian studies. And so the person in the blue suit is the Party Secretary and she is the most important person in the room. Next to her is the Australian Consulate, Nancy, whose other name I forget, a lovely woman, and on her ... on the edge is the President of the committee—and President is a lesser role than Party Secretary—and that’s David on the edge. And then I had at the meeting ... they’d asked me to introduce myself and I’d kind of ... gave a thumbnail sketch of what I was and what I did and I also threw in that I was gay ‘cause that’s one of my missions in China, is to be out. And so Nancy did a very nice thing, she kind of put me in a photograph where I was next to the Party Secretary and I’m not sure what the subtext was but I think that they were trying to say that Australia is a tolerant country.

Chengdu is panda central and there is a park like a huge park where you can go and view the pandas. They sit around most of the day eating bamboo leaves, which are very low in nutrition, and they eat it in this semi-supine position and they roll over to chew so they’re totally adorable. They even climb trees. And the baby pandas. So Sophie and I caught a fast train to our next stop which was Chongqing which is also ... well it’s part of Sichuan province or it was part of Sichuan province but it’s become one of the biggest cities in China and they reach such a size, you know we’re talking 30 million people, that they become their own protectorates and so ... or provinces so the city becomes its own independent province.

Tthere are masses and masses of skyscrapers, high-rise buildings. In fact these vertical buildings are all over China and they’re in rows absolutely, kind of inconceivable for people in Australia to think that there are so many people in China. But one of the things the ... I did a talk at a bookshop here but one of the things which we visited was called the Guild Hall and it was built not so long ago, maybe seventeenth century, and these guild halls, they’re quite traditional. That’s an altar in the fro ... an incense burner and I was ... I’m looking from the main ... well it’s not really a ... yeah, I’ll call it a temple which housed Emperor Yu. The temple’s dedicated to him.

Now these guild halls were built by visitors like merchants from the neighbouring countries and it was a place for them to stay when they were visiting Chongqing and so it’s a place for meetings. And there was a temple, theatres, there were three theatres in this place, places of entertainment. And there was also a museum. I was particularly interested in the theatres. This is one of them now. On the right there is the stage proper and there’s a kind of like courtyard in between which you could call the stalls and on the left is like the dress circle and I want to visuali ... The next photograph’s taken from the dress circle in a different theatre but it’s looking over to the stage. And this is another view from the dress circle. So people sat around watching Chinese opera, drinking tea and that traditional ... tradition still exists in China. Like, I went to a Chinese opera, I was taken to one in Chengdu and people still drank tea and watched the opera. And it’s been ... although they pointed out to me that Sichuan opera is very different from Peking Opera but they had ... through history they’ve had their own stars of the opera you know a bit like Hollywood.

At first I thought that this chair was a bit deep and that it wasn’t practical to lean back on it but then I was told that it was a chair for opium smokers where you actually lay on the chair. And this, Sophie pointed out to me, is a tablet that extols the Confucian virtues. They’re called the five virtues and they are benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom and fidelity. But Sophie told me that her grandfather was a capitalist and he suffered greatly during the Cultural Revolution because of his beliefs. He survived but during Mao’s time they bought out the five black categories and the black categories were landlords, rich farmers, counterrevolutionaries, bad influences and rightists, so those people were persecuted by the cultural revolutionists and her grandfather was one of them. And so I really like Sophie because ... she was an interesting person and we were interested in the same things, we were interested in art and culture and she was quite educated.

And she pointed out to me that this is a map in one of the rooms of the guild hall that ... it really showed all the famous families in China in that kind of pot. And my family name, Yang, was there as a major family in the southeast so I had no idea. Now in Suzhou we did a ... our main talks were at university but sometimes we did talks at bookshops and this was a bookshop in Suzhou. And it’s from a chain called Bookworm and it was a beautiful teahouse that we were doing it in but there was too much light in the tearoom, so we went to an enormous, enormous trouble to block out the light and set up. It was just like one of these ... the second most difficult setup that we did in China and all this for only ... three people came to the thing but it was partly because they charged ... I think it was like $10, maybe it wasn’t even that much, to come to the talk and at the other bookshop, there’s another chain of bookshops and the talks that we gave there were free and they had a much bigger turnover so we really got a lot of people at the free talks but not at this one. And I think that really ... I think the price of admission really countered to it ‘cause I don’t think the Chinese are that used to just paying money for a talk.

But anyway Suzhou is famous for its gardens. This particular garden is one of the most famous ones in the world and it was first built in the twelfth century and the person who designed it was inspired by the simple life of a fisherman, not a real fisherman but the life as described in philosophical writings. So twelfth century, that makes it pretty old but it was rebuilt or redesigned in the eighteenth century, more buildings were added and I think this furniture dates back to the Ming dynasty. And it was named ... although it was changed, it was in the same spirit as the original garden and it was called the master of the nets. And there are rooms all over the garden, they’re not big rooms and they’re connected by walkways. Yes, you get the impression that you walk from one space to the next. And there’s this Ming furniture in many of the rooms.

The main area is called the pond and there’s a pavilion there for viewing the pond and philosophically these gardens were built for pleasure, just the pleasure of being in a recreated nature and they were for meditation. Although they were quite noisy when I visited them but I guess it’s kind of a luxury to see a garden like this with few people. Another thing about the philosophy of the gardens is the view. None of the ... you look at views through different openings. This is the Moon Gate which is traditional among the Chinese. And another thing with the fenestration, the walls open up at times so that the inside and the outside come together.

Now we’re in Beijing and it’s a very modern city. It changes very quickly, I mean the last time I was in Beijing these buildings weren’t there. And there’s also this art precinct called 698, I think that’s the number ...

A:         798.

W:       798, okay, 798. And it ... it’s like a huge area with many, many galleries in it and some of them are really quite big although it’s a converted gasworks and sometimes they use traditional styles like calligraphy but they’re always trying to find new ways of presenting. This kind of reimagining of the old Russian-type communist sculpture was very popular about 30 or 40 years ago, I still like it but now it’s kind of changed to a kind of popular recreation. These types of sculptures seem to be all over the gallery at this period, art being fashionable and I think that this is peculiar to China because of its economics in that artists can commission artisans to make this kind of work fairly cheap ... more cheaply than they could in other parts of the world.

And I had my portrait sketched when I was in this precinct and it’s funny, I would never have this done in Australia but I didn’t feel self-conscious about being stared at in China. It’s quite funny that psychologically I can blend with the crowd in China and so I was quite happy and comfortable sitting there being sketched with everybody watching me. You can see that’s what the sketch looked like.

Now in Beijing we stayed at a hutang which is ... it’s in a special part of Beijing and hutangs are places which are built around a courtyard and in this particular hotel this was the courtyard in the hotel and this was a famous left-wing novelist, I think his name was Lim Bau or ...

S:         Lu Xun.

W:       Lu Xun, is it? Okay. Okay, thanks, Sophie. Lu Xun, okay. He’s been given the title of the ‘father of the modern novel,’ so he was in the courtyard. But to be honest the rooms are traditional but actually I found them a bit dingy and there was nowhere to put my computer and because the light was so poor I kept losing things so although it was a lovely aesthetic setting it was slightly impractical for modern needs.

Now this is ... I was doing a performance at this theatre called Penghao Theatre and it’s unusual ... this is the foyer of the theatre ... in that it’s an independent theatre in China. It’s a proper theatre like a western theatre, it had atmosphere and I did my talk here and I was thrilled to do it in a proper theatre rather than a university lecture theatre. So this was ... I did it with Chinese surtitles and these are my admirers after the show. Alison, me and Sophie. Alison came along—it was in Beijing—‘cause she’s the producer and the theatre was owned by this dentist called Mr Wong and he’s got a chain of dental clinics and he’s a bit of a character as well and they finance the theatre so the theatre is really subsidised by dental clinics. And here at the Penghao Theatre I did a workshop with some storytellers. They were kind of connected with the Penghao Theatre and I’d done storytelling workshops at the universities but the students felt that I’d exposed their lives in such a way that they didn’t want to perform them in front of their friends and so they said no, we’ll do the stories but we can’t make them public. But these storytellers were older and we made it a stipulation that they had to tell their stories in public and so they kind of self-censored themselves about what they could say.

Now Lily had a story about the Cultural Revolution and her story was interesting because it was how the legacy of the suffering of the Cultural Revolution had come down to her, and they knew that they could talk about the Cultural Revolution but they couldn’t talk about Tiananmen Square. And these people really wanted to tell their stories. Storytelling and identity are concepts that are kind of new in China and she had a story about her father that she ... it was a really psychodrama where she was coming to terms with her father who she had more or less despised and she was kind of coming ... her story was about that. And so collectively they called their stories ‘escape and embrace,’ ‘cause they were escaping a ... well I suppose that I’d call it a kind of suppression but that’s the way I read it. They were escaping a kind of suppression and they were embracing a new direction.

Now we’re going back a year to that original conference that I attended with Australian Studies in Beijing where I gave a performance. So it was at this conference that I met Sophie ... well I didn’t meet her but she saw my performance and decided it would be good to tour the story only I can tell. And so they have these conferences where they invite ... there were about 30 or it could even be 60 Australians at this conference and so they don’t pay anyone but there’s a banquet every night. And this one was about ... it was called the Big Picture and it was about visual art. After the conference, I was with my friends, the visual artists from Sydney, and we grabbed some leftover bottles of wine and drank them in the gutter in Beijing which was quite memorable. And this is another conference event, it is at M, capital M, which is a restaurant and the person in the floral dress is Michelle, Michelle Garnaut, who owns three restaurants in China and she’s quite a figure. And this one, capital M, that’s the view from the veranda, and behind that building is Tiananmen Square. But I just thought I’d mention Michelle ‘cause she’s quite a figure.

We stayed at the Friendship Hotel, which is a hotel which was built by the Russians, and then when Mao came into power China fell out with the Russians and so they left China or were kicked out of China. But this is a showcase hotel, this decoration is very similar to the decoration in the Summer Palace and so it became a showcase during Mao’s era and all the foreign delegates were housed in the Friendship Hotel. And it was also partly a way of controlling them, I’m sure.

Another one of the conference events was a visit to the South Gate. Now Beijing was a walled city. A lot of the wall or most of the wall has been pulled down but the South Gate is preserved. You walk up this long stair and this is the entrance to the South Gate which is now an art gallery, Redgate Gallery, and it’s owned by an Australian. And so the ... this is the interior of the thing. It’s on various levels but I ... and that’s looking up at the roof. But I guess the floor ... in having a gallery here which is totally, totally spectacular, the building rather dwarfs the artwork.

And this is also another conference event where we were taken to a restaurant that served Hunan food and so the food—there’s a lot of vegetarian food—is flown in from the south each day and it also is very fashionable in Beijing at the moment. So it’s not entirely vegetarian, this is a fish dish but as you can see it looks and was totally delicious. Kind of appealing to the western palate.

Now my favourite place in Beijing is the Temple of Heaven, and this is one of the entrances. It’s on an axis with the Imperial Palace and so it’s also set in a huge park so before you actually get to any of the buildings you walk through quite a big park and there are covered walkways like this full of people who are playing cards. It’s used very much by the people, they come there early in the morning, some with birdcages to give their birds a bit of air and people bring along recorders and they walk around. This one is kind of like a folk dance routine and then there are more individual people practising. The person in the red is practising with a sword and there’s Tai Chi and this person is actually stretching on a tree fork. And the tree fork is worn away. But not everybody is old.

So after going through many buildings ... this is one of the main buildings, the Hall of Good Harvest or something like that. Everything about this is symbolic, the rings here are symbolic of tiers, of ... well ... of what?

A:         [unclear]

W:       Oh, tiers of t-i-e-r-s, tiers of heaven, let’s put it that way, levels. And the Emperor would come here. It’s also called Sky Altar which I like and he would come here and he ... in procession once a year and here he would converse symbolically with the gods and it was all for a good harvest. He’d stay the night here, not in this building but his whole entourage would spend the night at the Temple of Heaven.

So Sophie and I travelled from Beijing to Xi’an by a fast train. Sophie was quite experienced in travelling and she figured that it was easier to travel by train than plane because it just takes so long to get to the airports. And there are something like 60 universities in Xi’an and I was at this particular university whose name I forget and these were my two helpers, Lucy and Walter. So again there was this setup where we had 20 helpers, none of whom knew anything and I particularly wanted them to change the format of the screen ‘cause it was a ... oh can you see it here? It was a stretch screen, that was the foremost, so I would have had to show all these photographs on a stretched screen which annoyed me, it just annoyed me so much. And that’s kind of characteristic of China, that it’s very set, it’s very difficult to do something else and so they just say to you oh it’s designed like this because the students up the back can’t see, it’s a big hall and the students up the back can’t see unless it’s a stretch screen. Which there are so many holes in that argument. You could actually get infuriated in China but in the end you just have to laugh it off.

So there was a question and answer after this, and there was a person who I’d kind of met accidentally in Shanghai and he was a student here and so he had a gay question for me. And the question was, ‘are you top, bottom or versatile?’ He had no idea how inappropriate that question was but fortunately his English was so bad Sophie said to Walter, ‘what’s he asking William?’ And Walter said ‘what’s William’s position in society?’ So anyway that was just one of the things you have to ... one of the minefields you have to negotiate. Anyway it was my birthday, see in one of those photographs, and so they all sang me happy birthday and we ate the cake later. And these were my minders at the restaurant. They took us to this ... the only place open was a kind of western canteen and we had sort of pizza for entree and a kind of steak for the main course.

Now Xi’an is most famous for the entombed warriors, and it’s one of the great tourist attractions of China. And it’s about two hours’ drive out of the city. The university arranged the visit for me and so they supplied the driver and the student, Lucy, she showed me around. I’d seen it before when I first went to China in 1989, but it’s very impressive and these photographs don’t quite give the scale of the thing. And when I first went there they only had ... one pavilion was open but now they’ve got something like five or six pavilions open. But this is the main one and this is in a new pavilion where they just show how the warriors were unearthed, the condition that they were in and so they’ve all been painstakingly put together ... not all of them but the broken ones have been painstakingly put together and this is Lucy who guided me around.

So it is extremely beautiful and well worth a visit and it’s now ... I could equate it in terms of crowd control with Disneyland. They have set it out so that thousands of people can pass through. This is actually the souvenir shop, so you can take home an entombed warrior if you can fit it in your luggage. And this also is like a photographic studio which I paid something like $2.50 to get my photograph taken here, which was well worth it. But the thing about it is this whole thing, apart from the first two rows, is it’s an optical illusion ‘cause the actual photo studio is quite narrow so the background is like an illusion.

So I really like Sophie on my travels and I thought while I was going around with her that perhaps I should adopt her as my daughter. But I’ve already got two adopted daughters in Sydney and so eventually ... in fact after we got back and we’d kind of done emails and ... what do you call it? Debriefing emails, and I asked her by email if she’d like to be my adopted daughter and she was thrilled to accept. And so China for me is is always unexpected and things happen, things happen to me that I suppose ... meaningful things happen to me and they are generally uplifting of the spirit. Thank you.

[End of recording]

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