My work presented me with the opportunity to go to Xi’an, China to oversee the production and commissioning of a new truck. I of course jumped at the opportunity, applied for a visa, got my Hep A&B and Tetanus shot, and grabbed the first 16 hour flight available.
I was fortunate enough to stay at the Golden Flower Shangrila Hotel (work has its perks) and I had a blast. The staff was very nice and after work they would show me and my co-workers around town.
First stop, Dayan Ta (Big Goose Pagoda). I wasn’t sure what someone could see in a fountain by a tower until i went there.
It is the biggest fountain I’ve ever seen!
We arrived a bit early, well if you call after 9pm early, so we took a stroll around the pagoda. Even late at night, it’s filled with families, couples, street performers, and booths filled with random trinkets. Like any other touristy area in the world, but regardless, it’s nice. And when the music queued, well this happened:
Our next excursion was downtown. Downtown Xi’an is very unlike Vancouver, it’s filled with people, and it seems to always be bustling with energy. It’s unique also in that it is enclosed by a large city wall.
Located next to the Muslim district (the oldest Muslim district in China) are the Bell tower, and the Drum tower. I decided to hop into the drum tower as it seemed more interesting (the bell tower has a big bell …. ZzZzz, whereas the drum tower has a selection of giant drums surrounding it!) The tickets were 35 RMB which is roughly 5 CAD,
Though the tower itself isn’t very large it was worth seeing. It allowed for a nice 360 view of downtown Xi’an, well as much as the pollution would allow.
To better understand just how hard it is to see past a few blocks, here’s an example of me trying to look past the bell tower while standing at the drum tower roughly one block away.
I needed to stop staring at drums which I was not allowed to bang on, by scuttling off into the Muslim district right beside the drum tower. This is possibly one of the most interesting parts of Xi’an.
The streets are filled with food stands and each side street is packed with merchants selling the most random of things.
Don’t be taken aback by the fact that every place is packed with people, just sit down at an empty seat (even if the table is filled otherwise) and enjoy a great meal. This is also the only place in all of China where you can order pao moa. It’s a delicious dish only found in the Muslim district and I can’t stress how good it was. Though our mandarin was limited, we managed to navigate our way through the menu and get an order of lamb pao moa. We received a very dense flat, bun which we were instructed to tear into tiny, tiny pieces. When I say tiny, i mean tiny, as in a quarter of the size of a dime. Once your bowl is filled with torn bread crumbs a fuyan (waiter/server) takes your bowl and fills it with delicious broth. The bread crumbs instantly swell up and you end up with one of the best broth dishes I have ever had.
Food is a large part of Chinese culture. Every person we befriended seemed very happy to go out for food and drinks as it’s a great way of socializing and spending the day.
The second favourite pass-time for the locals is shopping. If you’re a girl in Xi’an, well you’re in shopping heaven. Head to Luo Ma Shi and you’ll find an endless sea of shopping opportunities. Even I enjoyed it if just to see the throngs of people everywhere.
You could easily spend a few days exploring the various stores, stands and malls in Xi’an and keep surprising yourself with the unique things you can find as well as the prices. Also, don’t be afraid to barter. Keep some smaller bills in one pocket and you can always use the excuse “this is all I have”. Though don’t attempt this technique at more reputable stores or restaurants.
Since I’m on the topic of food, I should mention we had the treat of being brought to Hai di lao. It is a famous hot pot restaurant in Xi’an and I miss it already. It was by far the best hot pot I’ve yet had (sorry for the focus in the video).
Since I was in Xi’an for work, i did not have time to really see the outskirts till I was done my commissioning work. However, the moment we were done, the first thing we did was hop on the bus to Hua Shen (Hua mountain) and begin our journey one of the must sees in the Shaanxi province.
As it was a stat holiday (tomb sweeping day) there were lots and lots of families at the site. Most people who go to Hua Shen intent to start the ascent at night in order to be rewarded with a beautiful sunrise in the morning (I still thought it sounded crazy to climb in the dark, but I see the appeal). It was interesting to see some hikers decided high heels or full suit attire was ideal for hiking.
After a three hour stair-master exercise, we made it to the North Peak. The summit was filled with families and we realized then that some opted to take the cable car to the top of the first peak instead of hiking it (this would explain the recurrence of high heels).
At this stage we tried pushing onwards onto the infamous South peak (there are 5 peaks in total) which is known for it’s “dangerous route”, where in the past you would have to hold on to an old rusty chain while carefully placing your feet on a 3 inch deep ridge on an otherwise sheer vertical cliff. Unfortunately however, the weather had other plans for us as the wind picked up quite impressively and we were treated to hail and a lightning storm. Some families seemed unaware that the metal chain-link rail to which they held on to also acted as an antenna, but maybe that was just the engineer in me… We realized it was already 3 o’clock and the last shuttle back to Xi’an was at 7, so we decided to take the cable car back.
My last day in Xi’an I went to see the Terracotta warriors. This was the most tourist-like area I had seen in my stay in Xi’an. It is filled with tourists, tour guides and merchants trying to get you to buy memorabilia (as any other tourist attraction i suppose). The area is developed beside the infamous tomb which covers an area of 56 square kilometers. The warriors themselves are housed in separate tombs, which today look much like airplane hangars. I will admit that the sight of the warriors was impressive (8000 figures) and hearing the gruesome history added to the effect. I’ll save the history lesson for Wikipedia, as it would be better suited for the task.
I wish only my stay in China was longer and that I had more free time. But I was grateful for the opportunity and I have a feeling I will be back soon enough.
To anyone considering going to China, or even Xi’an, I say go for it! Don’t be afraid to be a bit dirty, don’t squirm at cultural differences or spicy food, as it’s all part of what makes the experience so wonderful.