Happy New Years everyone!
We started out New Years Eve by having a real American breakfast in the hostel – scrambled eggs, toast with butter and jam, bacon, sausage, hash browns, and American coffee. It was really one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Minus the occasional visit to Pizza Hut or CNHLS (lovingly referred to as “Cankles” because of the font on the shop), a knockoff but much better version of KFC, we’ve been eating Chinese food for literally every meal for the past four months. And though most of it is very delicious, there’s just something to having a meal that tastes like home. Here at the Han Tang Inn Hostel they have French, Swiss, American, and Chinese food all prepared pretty closely to how it would be prepared in those countries and we’ve watched the Americans get American good and the Chinese tourists get Chinese food. Starting your day off with buttered bread (after four months of no breakfast and very little butter), just warms the soul.
After our heart-warming breakfast, we decided it was time to head towards the famous Muslim Quarter of Xi’an, also known as Hui Fan Dang (Muslim neighborhood). We spent a couple of hours just wandering around old streets noticing all the different kinds of street food and shops and generally just enjoying the feel of the district. After a bit of lost perusing down a somewhat dark and sketchy alley we found ourselves at the site of the Great Mosque – an important relic of the influence of the Silk Road. It’s dilapidated in a way other Buddhist, Confucian, and Daoist temples in China are not but it was fun to wander through the ancient courtyards and ponder the fact that the Hui Chinese gate we were standing under was ten times the age of the United States.
After our meandering through the ancient (but touristy Muslim Quarter) we found ourselves heading towards the historic Bell and Drum Towers and then towards a very modern shopping mall that could have been found in Dallas. It even had a Dunkin’ Donuts, Burger King, Baskin Robbins, McDonald’s (not unusual for China), KFC (also not unusual in China), WalMart, Happy Lemon (we first found this in Shanghai), and a Pizza Hut (a very, very fancy one at that). Celebrating the end of 2013 and continuing to enjoy our taste of American food we decided to check out Dunkin’ Donuts and Burger King – the Chinese versions. They did not disappoint.
Having seen most of the major tourist attractions within the city of Xi’an by 4pm (we’d seen the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and surrounding area the previous night; the Muslim Quarter and the Great Mosque during the day; we passed several other big sites during our walks around the town; and Chinese museums are notoriously bad despite all the advertising), we headed to the hostel for a short nap and stopped at Starbucks for a pre-New Year’s Eve caffeine run. We wandered around the beautiful Drum and Bell Towers enjoying the night-lights (and the underpass beneath the giant intersection which is how people cross the street) for a while until we headed towards South Gate where there are a lot of bars and couple of other hostels. We stopped at a bar called Tribe Bar, enjoyed a couple of drinks (with so little alcohol in it we questioned it’s presence), listened to some really bad karaoke, befriended the bar owner’s dog, and enjoyed a fairly quiet night out on the town. As we were walking back from the South Gate we noticed some lantern in the sky and followed them until we found their origin – the shopping enter across the street from the Drum and Bells Towers and home of many, many coffee shops (like much of downtown Xi’an). We watched people set off traditional Chinese lanterns for a few minutes until the clock struck twelve and fireworks started going off (illegally) right in the square we were in. The show was exhilarating and comical as we watched two traditional Chinese lanterns find their way right through the middle of the fireworks show without a problem and continue their way into the atmosphere. What a wonderful and memorable way to ring in 2014 – a wonderful show which clearly represented the mix of traditional and modern China in the ever increasingly Western ancient city of Xi’an.
We woke up early this morning to catch another American breakfast in the hostel before it was time to join our tour group (with our leader whose Chinese name is Jia Jia and whose English name is Lady Jia Jia) on our way to the Museum of the Terracotta Warriors. Though we easily could have done the tour on our own, we decided to splurge and enjoy a stress-free tour in which our only responsibility was meeting the group at 9:20am. Since the Museum is an hour and half out of the city, and travel arrangements for famous tours can be expensive and stressful, we decided this was a good decision – and what a good decision it was. Joining a group of 10 people, including us, we boarded a mini-bus, made our way to the Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum (a man-made mountain home of the tomb of the emperor responsible for the Terracotta Warriors, the Qing Dynasty, and for uniting China during his reign which can not be opened because of extremely high levels of mercury), and onto the Museum of the Terracotta Warriors. First we saw Pit 2, which is fairly large but mostly ancient roof beams, and then we stopped by Pit 3, which is the smallest excavated pit and was mostly destroyed at the end of the Qing Dynasty. Pit 1 was our final stop and is the most impressive and famous pit holding 2,000 pieced-together Terracotta Warriors. It was absolutely thrilling to be in a place I’ve wanted to visit since I was a child. The details and enormity of the Warriors are astonishing and I just wish I could participate, somehow, in the excavation of this fascinating archaeological site (some pits are expected to take at least 40 more years to finish excavating).
We stopped at a delicious, but deserted, Chinese restaurant for lunch and had a traditional lazy-susan group meal before making our way back to the hostel. We wandered a bit more around the city and plan on spending the rest of the evening in a way we normally have no access to be able to do – laying in bed watching TV and fully appreciating our vacation (along with resting our legs and feet after quite a bit of walking since our arrival Monday).
I hope you all had a wonderful New Year and I can already tell this year will be as packed and eventful as the last.
Thank you for reading!