Most people come to Xian to see the terracotta soldiers. We did too, and we'll get to that on Wednesday, but we spent our first afternoon exploring one of Xian's lessor-known attractions, the Mulslim Quarter.
The people living here are the Hui, descended from 8th century Arab soldiers. They live and work in an area near the Drum Tower where the alleys and low buildings contrast with the wide streets and massive new shopping malls that have changed the character of most of the rest of downtown Xian.
The centerpiece is the 1000-year-old Great Mosque, a park-like complex of stone and wooden buildings built in the style of Chinese temples. A tower in the middle called the "Introspection Tower'' serves as the minaret. The quarter is a hectic area, and it was a surprise to experience a place as quiet and peaceful as this in the middle of it all. In fact, we had a hard time finding it due to some construction going on, so we hired one of the three-wheeled carts that people in the quarter use as taxis to get around, and went on a wild ride with a driver who first quoted us a price of $3.50, and after some friendly bargaining, came down to 75 cents. Tom tried on several skull caps sold in the shop above, but they were all too small.
Afterwards, we walked from food stall to food stall, sampling the Islamic treats sold by vendors lining both sides of the streets. Mutton grilled on skewers is the specialty, but we passed on the meat and instead put together a movable feast of snacks made from dried fruits, bean paste, sweet potatos, rice etc.
Our favorite was "Eight Treasures'' pudding, a 20-cent disc of sticky rice flavored with dates, sugar, seseme, nuts etc., cooked in a tiny wooden box, then removed intact and served on a stick. Yum!
Tom has put together a photo gallery of more of our pictures. It's at http://www.china2009.puciello.com