Last summer I had the pleasure of accompanying my father on one of his trips to Xi’an, located in the heart of China. Ah, what a beautiful perk standby is!
After snagging some business class seats for the twelve-hour flight, I landed feeling generally refreshed, yet tired. However, to fight the jet lag, my dad encouraged my family and me to get cleaned up and walk around the area we were staying in. Let me tell you, this was such a wonderful experience for me! We had dinner with another pilot at a local brew pub/bar and I scarfed down half of a burger and fries (gotta love that Chinese food!).
Surprisingly, the super intriguing thing about this area of Xi’an was the nightlife! In this square right below the restaurant, there was a concert being played by a local artist (I presume) with groovy lights and amazing energy by both the musicians and the crowd. Everyone seemed really into it and it even perked me up after a long day of travel from the states.
Before we went back into our hotel, we stopped in another little square and looked around. In this area, there was music playing and numerous couples were dancing with each other. Naturally, my sister and I (who cannot dance to save our lives) joined the couples and started to dance. Now, I realize it was absolutely horrible and embarrassing, but it was a huge culture shock when every single couple stopped dancing and started filming the two of us! HA, maybe the two of us are on youtube somewhere!!
After the filming subsided, two elderly men came up to my sister and me and motioned for us to dance with them. Step by step, they taught us a dance and for me, it was truly a touching cross-cultural moment! Now I can say I know how to dance properly 🙂
Giant Wild Goose Pagoda
Located near the heart of Xi’an (just south of the city wall), there exists a 7th century pagoda built during the Tang Dynasty. It also happened to be right across the street from the Westin hotel where we were staying, making for a quick hike to the top of the structure!
After paying a quick admissions fee, visitors are allowed into the area where the pagoda resides, a relatively peaceful place lined with buddhist temples and religious sites. I found this as evidence that the buddhist religion is still extremely prevalent in the world seeing as how a multitude of people flock to this site to worship and show their respects. Beautiful temples full of statues and traditional Chinese architecture gave me a true feel for the culture, something I love to experience in order to better understand both the people and their country.
After looking around, we finally made it inside the pagoda; internally, it was obvious the pagoda had been renovated and reinforced to support the amount of people who choose to climb to the top every day. There was a somewhat narrow staircase that wrapped around the side and allowed visitors to stop at 6-7 levels along the way. Each level has very unique views of the city, and I highly recommend taking your time to stop and smell the roses (especially if you’re out of shape like me and need a breather haha).
The view at the top is magnificent! We got lucky in that the day we went it was very clear with no clouds and/or smog visible. Although there may be several people climbing the staircase, at the top it doesn’t feel too crowded because there are lots of windows and viewpoints to look out of.
I was surprised when the Terracotta Warrior site was not directly in Xi’an, but about thirty minutes outside of it. I would highly suggest hiring a tour guide/company to take you because 1) any tourist trying to drive in Xi’an would have a heart attack and 2) it is just easier. Our family went with a woman named Victoria and she was extremely informative and accommodating. She told us she does 2-3 tours a days which is crazy to me!
When we were there, we met the man who discovered the Terracotta Warriors back in the 1970s. After getting kicked off his farmland so the government could preserve the artifacts, he was given a pretty good deal in which he sat in his shack and took pictures with tourists while also collecting cash by selling souvenirs. However, after recently passing away, his souvenirs are still available to purchase.
Even though there are four pits where the warriors are housed, the primary one holds over 6,000 figures! The detail on the soldiers is nothing short of incredible; each one is unique according to its rank and either has different shoes, hair, or uniforms.
At the second main pit, there are more horses and chariots to be seen. The detail in these is also impeccable; it is crazy to think how much time must have been spent creating the army without modern technology. This pit was less crowded and boasted more exhibits along the side with facts about the history and purpose of the warriors.
When you go to any big city in China, be prepared for people to be EVERYWHERE! Holy crap, you can certainly tell this is the most populated country in the world! In addition, most people do not seem to have a sense of personal space like we do here in the United States. If you want to get in line or at the front of a crowd to see something, you have to be somewhat aggressive. It is not considered rude because it’s just how life functions with that many humans!
I cannot believe I didn’t realize this, but in China the public bathroom situation is much different than in the rest of the Western World. Instead of formal toilets, there is just a hole in the ground and little to no toilet paper.
Lost Plate Food Tours
One night, we decided to do a food tour through the company Lost Plate Food Tours. Once everyone arrived at the meeting place, we all boarded tuk-tuks! I had never ridden in one before so this was a highlight of the trip for me. They provided complimentary alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks which you could sip on while riding from restaurant to restaurant.
The first stop was located in the city and we set up a tiny table in the middle of the sidewalk and the nine of us ate steak kabobs around it. From there, we traveled into the Muslim Quarter where we ate dumplings, noodles, and meat at two different places. The shops tend to be very small with most vendors cooking and selling their food along the street. I was there during Ramadan, making the streets especially busy after the sun went down.
After exiting the Muslim Quarter, we hit two more restaurants that had very unique looking (and tasting) noodles . . . the last place we ate at served green noodles which I must admit were surprisingly delicious!
The very last stop was right along the Xi’an City Wall at a hookah/drinking bar. We were led into the back room away from the smoke, but the smell was still very pungent. After everyone being served a glass of beer of their choice, I had to step outside because the smoke smell was just too much for me.
Overall, the food was delicious and we had a wonderful guide and drivers to help us experience one aspect of Xi’an’s culture. I would highly recommend this tour to anyone who is somewhat adventurous when it comes to food and/or open to trying new things!
*The only part I did not like about Xi’an was the smog and overall smoky smell present everywhere in the city. Even the hotel lobby smelled like cigarette smoke (luckily the rooms didn’t) and since I’m very sensitive to this specific smell, it was difficult for me to adjust to it. While we were there, the smog was not visible which was very nice because we could do outdoor activities. However, the smog settled in the day we left and the nastiness of the pollution was clearly seen from the airplane window.