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Xi'an

CHINA | Monday, 14 November 2011 | Views [1253]

Although Xi’an is a place with a long history, at the first sight it feels like another big, busy Chinese city. However, Xi’an has something different. If you would be dropped off inside the old city walls in the narrow streets north of the Drum Tower, you would think you’re in a busy, Moroccan village, rather than a bustling, 2 million city. This is a Muslim quarter of Xi’an.

Lively and loud with its local market, that smelled like soya and deep fried sweets ,it was definitely our favourite part of the city. We cycled through a busy local market where muttons were an essential part of a street traffic (and a traffic jam) together with rickshaws and cars. In the market people were selling tropical fish, parrots and birds, turtles, frogs, fruits and other food, including the poor muttons.

Although, or maybe because it was so crowded that we moved in line, slowly (penguin style), we had time to enjoy all the colours and scents. Unless we found ourselves just behind a bicycle carrying a mutton tied-up on its trailer, then the ‘scent’ was rapidly becoming a ‘smell’. However, the stew that this animal was destined for (called paomo) smelled much nicer, and was indeed really tasty. You first crumble the bread (pancake?) into a bowl, and then the stew is poured over it. You can then garnish it yourself with chillies or pickled garlic, obviously spitting off the remains on the floor, as locals do.

The best food was behind our hostel, which was far south from the centre near the Big Goose  Pagoda and a beautiful autumn park. Tiny streets (resembling back alleys from the early Jackie Chan films) hid local bars and stalls, where we tried noodles and beef, Chinese hamburger, steamed dumplings and steamed buns (really cheap and good for breakfast).  Notably, most places didn’t have the kitchen: the woks on the coal stoves outside, just beside the entrance, played its role, which was pretty cool as you can see what you can eat inside and how it’s made.

We also immersed ourselves in the world of Moroccan- like sweets, and we tasted the Xi’an speciality, the “Eight Treasure Pudding”, which looked pretty much like a rice lollipop, coated with sugar and sesame, steamed in pots by old women in more touristy streets.

Inside the market madness, there was an oasis of peace, inside the gardens of the Great Mosque, which was quite hard to find and easy to miss in narrow streets, where you usually watch your feet or look at the food and antiques, rather than rising your head to see what’s just above you.

The touristy stuff: we did see the famous Terracotta Army, and we were quite impressed with it, especially when zooming in with our camera to see the expressions on the soldier’s faces. They really differed from soldier to soldier. We heard that people complain that the site is nothing as they imagined, as you’re not really close to the figures (unless to those exhibited in the museum, like a kneeling archer or a figure of high- ranked, fat general), and you see everything from the top. But I think we enjoyed it nevertheless, as the whole site is still an actual archaeological site at work, and it made it somehow more interesting for us. You can see the desks with papers and plans, computers and pieces of terracotta lying everywhere, though you’re prohibited from taking pictures- maybe because it doesn’t look that representative anymore.

It is also quite astonishing view, when you look at nicely lined- up, reconstructed from hundreds of pieces soldiers on one side of the hall, and as you look further to the other side, the figures become more messy, with missing limbs or heads, finally turning into a long pile of terracotta pieces. Now look at it in reverse: it now totally looks like an undead army of thousands of terracotta zombies, rising from the grave and marching towards you.We just try to forget about the way leading to the site. It was just a long line of stalls/tourist traps, bad food places and touts running about everywhere, trying to convince you that the only way back to the city is in their cab for a heavy fee.

Coming back to the city- it was also possible to rent a bike and cycle around on the top of the mentioned city walls, which date back to the Ming dynasty (renovated in the 80’s), which takes about an hour and a half. This gives you an interesting overview of Xi’an.  On one side, you see new office buildings, expensive hotels and buisiness centres , while bit further there are massive buildings still in construction, and when you look inside the walls, you can enjoy the view of tightly packed blocks of flats (80’s style), though you can also see a Buddhist temple from here if you cycle long enough. Quite enjoyable ride, together with a relaxing tunes coming from the speakers, which provides a nice background music, making you feel as if you were playing a lead role in some Chinese soap opera.

So, our soap opera continues, with the next episode recorded in Chengdu, where we had a short but an enjoyable stay, and from where we later saw the giant Buddha, and climbed the Emei Shan mountain, though it is a bit of a stretch to call it climbing. There are two reasons for that, but be patient (we know we update slowly ;p) and stay tuned!

 

Tags: china, xian

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