Monday, April 20, 2009

Xian: High up and Personal

I've heard stories of people coming into Xian in the morning on the night train from Beijing, jumping on a bus to see the terracotta soldiers, then getting back in time to catch then train out later that night for their next destination.

What a shame. When I get back, I think I'll write a story about how much else there is to do and see in Xian. Biking around the city walls, for instance. Xian's 14th century walls, above, are still intact, forming a nine-mile long rectangle around the city center. It's easy to get the impression that all of China still looks like the scene in this picture, but of course it doesn't.

Much of modern China looks like this, and from high up, it's easy to get a sense of the whole picture including what's old and what's new.

Xian's walls were originally built on the foundations of an imperial palace, using earth, lime and glutinous rice extract. They were last restored in the 1990s, making it possible for visitors to climb them from several locations around the city. Bikes rent for $3 for 100 minutes (why 100 instead of 90, I don't know). It really wasn't enough time to take everything in, but it was quicker than walking! The bikes weren't bad - one-speed Chinese bikes with hand brakes and rear baskets.

There were some interesting views from the top. These women were exercising to music in a park below the South Gate entrance. It's a fairly typical scene most mornings and evenings in parks all over China.

The Chinese are trying hard to raise their standards to international levels. This goes for everything from public transportation to restrooms. I spotted this sign in a museum called Forest of the Stelae near the South Gate entrance to the walls. The museum houses ancient carved pillars and stone tablets containing writings of Confucian classics and other important documents.

Xian is an interesting mix of old and new, and getting a feel for both is a good reason to spend a few days here. Bicycle vendors selling fresh, sliced pineapple and watermelon show up on the streets every afternoon. It was fun to contrast this scene with the Datang Shopping Street where we ate dinner last night at the Cacaja Indian restaurant. The street was lined with ethnic restaurants - Korean, Maylaysian, Japanese etc. All the customers were young, sophisticated Chinese. It was our most expensive meal here so far - $17 for two- for chickren and spinach entres, green pepper nan, rice, rice pudding and beer.

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