I’m done with another city! Three nights in Xi’an have left me exhausted, blistered, sunburned and hungover. I’m heading for the hills now – the Yellow Mountains and villages of Huangshan beckon, after a stop in the south easterly city of Hangshuo.
But what a blast I’ve had these last few days! My hostel in Xi’an was good and clean. The city was absolutely booming, I met dozens of lovely people and even managed to squeeze in a night out. I saw the army of Terracotta Warriors, the tomb of Emperor Jingdi, I made dumplings, ate street food, visited a mosque, walked the city walls and befriended a Glaswegian. All that in three days! I know right – bloody hell!
You’d think the highlight would have been the Terracotta Warriors. And yes, seeing one of the most important archeological finds of the 20th century was fascinating. But being honest I was left a little underwhelmed by the whole thing. I guess it just felt a bit like a massive tourist theme park, which put me off a little. Its not just a historical excavation anymore: they’re cashing in, and in a big way. I know they’ve got to do something to accommodate the literally millions of people who want to come and see the warriors for themselves, and they’ve done so in a way that will protect these priceless historical artefacts. But I don’t know. It just all felt a bit too shiny, a bit too plastic, if you know what I mean.
Rather, I’ll remember Xian for the countless and quite wonderful people I’ve met here. Variously, I met two Dutch girls, four Americans, a Glaswegian bloke, two British girls, a Swedish couple, a Brazillian lad, an Australian lad, three more American girls, three Norwegian-Irish girls (that’s a thing, apparently), a 55 year old Indonesian lady, a Russian girl, a German guy… I think that’s everyone? It was pretty hard to keep track, but you get the point.
We all got together last night for a dumpling party at the hostel, where some pleasant Chinese women let us try our hand at making dumplings. Its actually easier than you’d imagine – mix flour and water, set your dough, chop it up, roll out a little disc of pastry, put some filling in the middle, wrap, seal, boil, and serve. They were rather tasty though I say so myself.
Thus buoyed by our success with the dumplings our sizeable group shared a beer, which turned into a few beers, which then morphed sometime around 9pm into a night out. One of the lads – an amiable American named Rhys who inexplicably wore his socks rolled right up to his knees all night (a trend setter if ever there were one) – said he knew a bar that served free beer between 11pm and midnight. This seemed like a remarkably good deal, and thus we wandered off into the Xi’an night in search of potential nirvana.
Alas, no such bar was forthcoming – we couldn’t find it. People we asked seemed to all wave us in similar directions, but try as we might there was to be no free beer that night. Instead we headed into the first random bar we could find, and my memory from that point on, shall we say, lacks clarity.
It all ended sometime around 3am when we stumbled from the bar and convinced a street food vendor to relight his barbeque and cook us some peppered mutton steaks. We bought a few more beers from a supermarket, and sat drinking happily in the street, chewing the slightly fatty but ultimately delicious mutton, ranging over the amusing cultural differences between us (although it took us until the following morning to reach the thorny issue of the fanny pack).
So Xi’an has been a blast. But alas, as the hangovers calm, a sleeper train beckons (from where I am in fact writing this blog. Everyone in my cabin has gone asleep. I’m on a top bunk. The girl opposite me is snoring and has long arm pit hair). I’m hoping for an altogether more sedentary experience in the next couple of stops of my tour. I’m trying to get out of the big cities and away from the smog, into the hills of Huanshan and the villages of Guilin. Plenty of time to reflect, read, contemplate and drink tea.
Sounds terribly nice to me…