The half marathon took place on Xi'an's city wall, which gives you an idea of its stature. You'd walk 8.5 miles to circumnavigate it's 40-foot high and 50-foot thick walls. The original wall was built in 4 years and contained 14 sq miles of land, but the current version began construction in 1370 AD and is the most intact city wall left in all of China and arguably the world. Upon hearing this past summer that Paul and Meg were planning on making it over to my neck of the woods, I told them I'd definitely come see them as it's not too often that friends and family can get a week off work, let alone are able and willing to come to China! So, I wanted to make it happen, but I hadn't shored up my plans and, in fact, wasn't sure if I was going to make the 1 hour flight there because of other plans that arose. But, Paul's timely email and hope that I could come see them warmed my heart, so I canceled a few things on my plate, for they'd be there when I got back. But, this was a rare and unique opportunity to see friends in what was their first visit to the Middle Kingdom. I bought the air tickets 32 hours before I flew out, and reserved a $6/night bed in a 6-bed hostel room.
Tourist season has waned here late in the year as it is, so it turned out that I got the whole dormroom to myself the duration of my stay! Further provisions arrived in the form of a student I met in the airport who lives in Xi'an and was headed home for the weekend to visit his parents. Though our flight was late and arrived just past midnight, he assured me they wouldn't mind taking me to my hostel as well! As we drove thru the darkness, rain pitter-pattering against the windshield, I anticipated what the morning would bring. I made it to bed at 2AM and slept in til 9. Upon recommendation from my hostel desk worker, I went to the Shannxi History Museum as it proudly displays the history of all the dynasties in China along with some samples of the Terra Cotta Warriors of much fame here. There was an impressive display of architecture, memorial tombs, implements for various uses, art and cultural relics, and more modern achievements. After a while, it began to look the same, but I got to thinking that if I were Chinese, I'm sure it'd hold a little more significance as I'm sure the ethnocentric view that we all hold to some degree took effect after a few hours of browsing (just to be honest!). Though I can certainly say that the accomplishments and advances for the given time periods were impressive. I left the museum to meet up with Paul and tour the 'old city' streets of the Muslim quarters.
The scurrying tourists, the ever-present street vendors, aromas spanning the breadth of human experience, neon lights making it seem like we were in Hong Kong or Bangkok all gave form to the excitement and novelty of a city yet to be explored . And though we did some exploring, we did take some time out to be "Western" and enjoyed catching up over Starbucks coffees. In the afternoon, we headed back to the 5-star hotel Paul and the group stayed at. Meg ingested something (perhaps it was some tap water she'd not been warned not to drink!) and its effects laid her up for a few days, so she wasn't able to make it out with us for this outing. Dinner provided a great time to get to know some other KC folks with ties to China, and later that evening we parted ways so we could all get a good nights' sleep. The next morning brought a breeze and cloudy skies, and minus my dream where I overslept and missed watching the race, it worked out in reality as I arrived in time for a 70-year old runner show me how to get to the right gate. Wearing running shorts and looking like I belonged was good enough to get through the gate, and I was able to do a little warm-up with Paul.
Race time was as chaotic as rush hour here. There's not really another race where, as a spectator, I was unsure what was happening....could've been that I'm in China! No one else really seemed to be concerned, and after all was said and done, it turns out that my concern that Paul started in the wrong wave was unfounded. And, my next biggest worry was that he was not going to be able to finish the race without running over a lot of people who were haphazardly blocking the course was only slightly valid after they employed barricades for the last 50m of the race. All in all, Paul ran a great race and gave all he had to give. He was eclipsed for the win, however, but can't complain about a free trip to China, an unforgettable vacation and experience for him and Meg, and some prize money.
In the end, we were mutually encouraged and blessed that we could meet up together and get to know each other better, talk about the the struggles and trials, the joys and victories of life abroad and dream of what may come for each of us. Though our time was short, I look back upon it now a week later and am reminded of the simple truth that those with whom I have long-standing relationships--family, friends, coworkers--are the ones who can most influence me and help me refocus and 'be of good cheer' as I continue on running this race of life abroad!