On this trip, Tony & I have been walking the delicate tightrope that balances visiting the well-known tourist attractions with trying to uncover the sides to the countries and cities that often get overlooked. As much as we love a UNESCO world heritage site (or most of them, at least), we’ve found that they often provide a very different perspective than one simply gains by spending time in a place, observing the local people going about their daily lives.
But sometimes time simply isn’t on our side and we just can’t immerse ourselves organically in the culture as deeply as we’d like. Such was the situation we found ourselves in while in Xi’an – for the first time since entering China, we were legitimately interested and enthusiastic about exploring some more of the city’s cultural roots, but with a flight booked out bright and early after our second night, we knew we’d be hard pressed to do so in any meaningful way.
And then we saw the poster in our hostel’s lobby promoting tickets to a nightly dinner theater spectacle, the Tang Dynasty Show. One of the things we had really wanted to do prior to Beijing sucking the wind from our sails had been to sample some Chinese opera. This variety program promised to feature traditional Chinese music and dancing in a bid to familiarize its audience with the Chinese performing arts. Though this type of attraction — a hostel-initiated one at that! — is rarely the kind of thing we go in for as we know it’s targeted mainly at tourists and can only offer at best a superficial glimpse of the culture, we decided to throw caution to the wind and just go for it.
It’s certainly true that the show was touristy, but that didn’t detract from our overall enjoyment in any real way. In fact, we wound up being impressed with just how decadent a display we were treated to as the costumes and sets were incredibly elaborate and sumptuous, and clearly the show aims to provide a fun yet classy night out. Though certain performances were not to our tastes (for example, most of the dance routines seemed mostly to just be graceful walking and twirling of long flowing sleeves) or potentially were significant in a way we could not fully appreciate (many of the dance routines were apparently based on well-loved Chinese folklore), the skill and showmanship of all the performers was still really enjoyable to behold, as the talent on display was undeniable.
Mostly, it was fun to treat ourselves to a night out and while it’s not really something I think either of us would do again, it was still nice to get this snapshot into Chinese culture & the traditional arts scene. My words can hardly do justice to the production, but thankfully photography and recordings were allowed, so if you’re curious, check out the video below to get a taste of the Tang Dynasty Show! With all the coughing and people walking in front of our camera, it really makes you feel like you were there… 😉 Just be glad we weren’t recording when of the older ladies at our table took a phone call that lasted 10 minutes, and resorted to shouting (rather than simply excusing herself) to be heard above the performance that was interfering with her conversation…