Day 11 Xi’an

Today we woke up in Xi’an to a steady, drizzling rain and cool weather.  I had packed the night before and brought my luggage down to the lobby.  I would not see it again until we were at the hotel in Beijing.  I was sad we were flying back to Beijing in the evening because it meant that our trip was coming to a close.  We decided that today we would not go to ride bicycles on top of the Old City Wall in the rain, or visit the Drum and Bell Towers as we were scheduled.  Everyone was starting to wear down by this time, so instead we decided to make it a day of relaxing and shopping.

We first went to a market district that had one large mall.  This mall specialized in brand name knockoffs.  You could find any manner of clothing for men, women, and children as well as silk and purses and coats.  The interesting thing is that most of the knockoff items existed in a market that was at street level.  You walked into a market with stalls and shops packed tightly together.  There were no doors at the front, but the rest of the mall structure provided the roof and the market covered the length and breadth of the mall above it making it much larger than it appeared from the front.

Several of us were not really in to getting cheap clothes and shoes so we explored the street outside.  We walked up and down the block and did not really find anything of interest.  Then we decided to be really adventurous and cross the street.  That was possibly one of the scariest moments I have ever experienced.  We followed some other Chinese pedestrians out into traffic.  I felt like I was playing Frogger.  Stopping and going and constantly looking around for traffic.  The cars would bear down on you quickly and you were sure you were about to be hit when the drivers would stop short inches from you.  We made it across and felt like we had accomplished a great feat.  Here at the other side of the street there was a corner snack shop.

We poked up and down this new street a little using the snack shop as a base.  The girl behind the counter was interested in our doings and hopeful of selling some snacks.  One of the guys started trying to talk to her but the girl did not understand his poorly pronounced Chinese.  She gave him a sample though, something small and quite spicy.  We asked him how it was and he said he liked it quite a bit.  The girl was nice enough to give us samples as well.  It had an interesting texture but it tasted good and was fairly spicy.  I asked her what it was and she told us that it was duck neck.  Then I realized that we were eating the individual vertebrae of the duck’s neck and that once we were finished with our snack the part we were throwing away was the vertebrae.  There is a surprising amount of meat on the bone and it was very tasty.

Afterward we picked a direction and began to wander down the street talking and joking and looking for things of interest.  We came across an alley as we walked and glancing down because we saw people leaving and entering it more frequently than one would think for an alley.  We saw several food vendors that had set up carts and were selling noodles, soup, steamed taro and other food.  We walked down the alley and different vendors called out to us in very broken English of two or three words mixed with Chinese.  One man had a small tent with a table and chairs under it set up.  He invited us to sit which we did and joined two teenage girls who were eating lunch.  The food these vendors were making looked and smelled fantastic.  We wanted to eat here, but we had to meet our group soon so we could go to our scheduled restaurant lunch.  We talked to one of the girls who was very talkative and spoke some English.  The other girl kept her face buried in her noodle bowl.  Her cheeks were bright red and I asked her in Chinese if her noodles were very spicy to which she smiled and shook her head yes.  The girls finished their lunch and had to go and we decided it was time for us to go as well.

We crossed the street again, but this time we realized that it was so difficult last time because we did not follow the traffic lights.  We followed the people who walked out into oncoming traffic.  This time we waited and a large group of other people waited with us until the light changed.  This made crossing much easier and safer.  We met up with our group at the bus and it was off to lunch.

After lunch we went to a larger shopping area.  It had many restaurants, a large Mall and the Muslim market.  Everyone got into groups and headed off in different directions.  The women went with our guide Cindy to do some more shopping, some of the other guys went off to get another massage, and our guide Karen and I went to the Muslim market.  I still wanted to look for gifts and souvenirs for friends and family and the market sounded like the place to look.  Karen and I walked up and down the market popping in to shops looking around and occasionally haggling for items.  It was great wandering up and down the street.  I did not really see any other foreigners there so it was nice to be walking among the locals.  I felt much more immersed in the culture and the day to day life of the city.  Karen and I started to get a little hungry so she stopped and got us a few snacks.  It was some sort of dough that had been fried and had a grape mash inside.  It was warm and really good.  The grapes were naturally sweet and did not have any added sugar.  The warm snack hit the spot on such a gray dismal day.  Karen and I finished up in the market and decided to make our way over to the mall. We stopped in one store where I purchased a few gifts, it was a higher priced retail type store.  While I was checking out a younger guy said “Hey its a foreigner!”, in Chinese.  I turned to him and replied in Chinese, “Yes I am from the United States.”  He quickly flushed in embarrassment and put his head down and walked quickly out of the store.  I could not keep from laughing.

We headed from there to the mall. There is a large intersection that is too busy to cross so there is  massive underpass for pedestrians.  The underpass is a giant ring that has stairs going up to street level periodically from the ring.  It is a little confusing once you are down there with no real land marks, so Karen and I would guess how many stairs we should pass before going to the street to get where we were going.   We spent some time shopping in the mall.  The mall was massive and several stories tall.  Unlike Western malls, instead of each store getting its own storefront and closed off section, the floors were wide open with different stores next to each other where each floor was a department with similar items.  There was only one elevator that traversed the height of the mall so instead you had to take escalators up and down.  I got lots of looks while walking through the mall.  The girls would look at me and smile and groups of them would look at me as I walked past and would giggle.  Some girls would look and smile at me and then the guys they were with would glower at me.  One guy gave me a particularly nasty look so as they passed I said hello to his girlfriend in Chinese and walked on.

I wanted to repay Karen for the snack she bought me earlier so we decided to get some tea and rest from walking so much before meeting up with the group.  We went into all places a Pizza Hut.  I discovered that the Pizza Hut was also a tea and pastries shop during the afternoon.  We had some milk tea and talked, before hurrying out to meet up with the rest of the group.

We climbed on to the bus and made our way to the airport.  We said good bye to our guide in Xi’an Cindy.  Then we made our way through security and to our gate waiting for the plane that would take us back to Beijing.  We arrived at the Tian Tan hotel.  It felt a little like returning home since this was the same hotel that we had stayed in while we were in Beijing before.  I said goodbye to Karen before going upstairs to pack.  I was the latest to arrive at the beginning and was the earliest to leave so I would not see Karen any more.  The others would leave in two groups during the day and Karen would help them get to their planes, I would have no such help.  My plane leaves at 6am so I have to be there at 3am.  I’m sad that the trip is ending.  It feels like it has come to a close too quickly.  I need to retrieve some of the belongings that I left with the hotel when we left the first time and repack my things for the flight tomorrow.


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