We started our last day (yesterday) in Xi’an by sleeping in and enjoying our routine hostel American breakfasts and lattes before heading out for another day of adventuresome walking.
For our final day, we decided it was a good time to go find and see the Temple of the Eight Immortals somewhere in the midst of downtown Xi’an. Though our map said it shouldn’t be that far, we got sidetracked down the wrong road/alley and it took us a little longer than expected. We enjoyed the walk, though, and eventually came up to the temple from the back and walked around it to the front, passing by vendor after vendor pandering to us to buy their wares.
The temple, like all Chinese temples, has mastered the art of creating an air of tranquility and peace and, even when smack-dam in the middle of a metropolitan city of eight million like Xi’an, once you pass through the stone walls and into an inner courtyard, everything is suddenly very calm and quiet. A passerby, whose footsteps would normally go unnoticed amidst the crowded chaos outside the walls, is startling inside the temple’s safe silence. This is one of the reasons I love wandering around in Chinese temples. They are almost all exactly alike – with the same general architecture and layout, a few people trickling in and around the incense pits and praying, an occasionally monk sitting in a prayer room or wandering across the grounds – but they are all, nevertheless, beautiful and refreshing to be a part of simply by being there.
This temple was strangely deserted considering its central location and it being the second day of the new year (year of the horse, by the way), but I didn’t wander into any of the individual temples out of respect for the people who were there praying. Instead, I was fixated, as usual, by the tremendous amount of burning incense in the center of the courtyards and by the stone calligraphy wall insets.
We headed back to the hostel for an hour or so (entertained by the constant Marvel Comic movies playing on Channel 1 of the TV in the hostel) before heading back out again for one last meander around Xi’an at dusk. We took the subway (have I mentioned I love subways in China) down to the Southern part of the city and found ourselves again in the area of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda again (not unintentionally). We made a stop at Maan Coffee (where I got a really amazing burger) before continuing on to see a different section of Paradise Park (what the area around the Pagoda is called). Though once again strangely void of people, the area is absolutely beautiful and, much like the temples, is simply a joyful and relaxing part of town to be in.
This morning we woke up early to enjoy one final breakfast, hop on the subway, and find our way to the high-speed railway station to begin our journey back to Baoding. It was a very easy process (completely worth the extra money for a fast train, in our opinion, especially compared to the stress and chaos of the regular train – not to mention a regular speed train from Baoding to Xi’an would be about 20 hours long) and we made it back to our apartment all according to plan. Now, with over a week of no responsibilities, no teaching, nowhere to be, and nothing we have to do, we are excited for, if not a bit whip-lashed by, the change of pace. Soon enough we’ll be on another adventure of a lifetime and a few days of relaxation now sounds wonderful.
In review, Xi’an was nothing like we expected it to be. The metropolis Xi’an has become, with a population in the multi-millions, fails to feel like an ancient city and is certainly not like what we were expecting. In all reality, Xi’an is a high-class Western mega-city, much like NYC, with coffee shops and Western food chains such as McDonalds, KFC, and Pizza Hut on every corner, designer retail malls, and skyscrapers that are forever reaching higher into the sky (and, of course, with the ever-present construction cranes).
But Xi’an has preserved some of its history and antiquity in an inspiring, and often beautiful, mix of modern and ancient China. Though buildings are constantly appearing, they are often designed to emulate more traditional Chinese architectural designs, even if constructed out of glass and metal rather than painted tile and stone bricks. Traditional Chinese buildings, such as the Bell and Drum Towers and the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, may be in the middle of an urban downtown area, but they are not washed away in glamour by the city. Instead, we found that these ancient buildings have been enhanced by technology and the changing city around them and continue to remain the centerpiece and focal point of the city. The Drum and Bell Towers, for example, are surrounded by skyscrapers, shopping malls, and a massive, continually moving intersection of roads, yet you cannot tear your eyes away from the well-lit beauty of these ancient structures – once the heartbeat of an ancient city, they are now the city’s jewels with life moving around them. Also consider the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. Though there is an astounding display of modern art and technology, exemplified by the nightly water show, directly in front of the pagoda, there is no way you can debate the importance of that structure as essential to the picture.
As we continue to discover, there is very little, if any, of ancient China still remaining untouched, but that does not mean the history is not still there. The history and beauty of ancient China still exists, but as time passes, the antiquity becomes enveloped in the modern world to form a new kind of beauty unique to the interaction between thousands of years of history and the fast-pace brilliance of the modern world.
Thank you for reading and until next time,