AsiaChinaXi'an

Day 207: Chinglish and shycring the shitty walsh

Xi'an Travel Blog

 › entry 243 of 260 › view all entries
Ancient city walls in front of the train station - converted into a viaduct

The next morning I was rudely awoken from my sleep when the phone in my room rang. It was the reception manager. When I had checked in last night I had not handed over my passport and they feared I could actually be a spy or a wanted criminal, so they were sending someone up to my room to make a copy of my passport for security. OK, I made the last part up. I had no idea what the issue was, but shortly after someone knocked on my door to pick up my passport.
I cursed the hotel staff for waking me up this early and decided I wouldn't stay in this dump any longer and check out immediately and go to another hotel. Only then did I actually look at a clock and noticed it was 11:30 - I had slept almost 12 hours straight! I thought I had had enough sleep on the train, but apparently not!

I had completely missed breakfast in the hotel, so I headed into town for a brekkie Chinese style.

Breakfast: Fast food Chinese style - beef noodle soup and a coke!
I found a nice fast food place opposite the train station, where they served only one thing: beef noodle soup (or maybe it was the only thing the waitress knew to say in English). It was excellent though. I could so get used to eating noodles or rice in the morning. Much better than eggs or baked beans and sausage.

 The most important thing for me to do today was to get my next train ticket, to Chengdu, for tomorrow. I had not been able to buy this in Lhasa, and I was worried the train might already be full. I'd heard bad things about ticket availability on Chinese sleeper trains. Having said that, I had also heard bad things about the ability to buy tickets for trains in general for non-Chinese speakers, with attendants not being able to speak English and being as unwilling to help as last night's taxi drivers.
Chinese lanterns

As it turned out, I need not have worried. I had written down the destination of my train as well as the departure date, departure time and train number (what would one do without the Internet?) and handed that to the clerk. Two minutes later I was holding the minuscule train ticket in my hand (did I already mention Chinese train tickets are tiny and very easy to lose?).
Not only was I able to secure a bed on the train to Chengdu for tomorrow night, I also bought a ticket for my next train without any incident.

With that out of the way, it was time to explore city. As I didn't have any guidebook for Xi'an, I stopped at the local tourist office to pick up a free map. The map also included some information about the sites (in the usual hilarious way).
My first stop of the day was the Great Mosque.
Great mosque
Xi'an is home to one largest Muslim communities in China and the Great Mosque is said to be the oldest and largest in the country.
That said, it didn't look all that much like a mosque. The house of worship had been cleverly disguised as a Chinese temple, as to spare it from religious clashes. I suppose it works, as the 1250 year old building is still standing.

At the entrance I was given a booklet with information which was an absolute goldmine for lovers of Chinglish (like me). Not that it contains many misspellings, but it is just that the wording of some of the explanations is absolutely hilarious.
It starts with a genuine bit of propaganda: “Especially after the founding of New China, and owing to the correct religious policies for the minority nationalities by the Communist Party and the People's Government, the authorities concerned allocates special funds for the renovations of the mosque every year.
Men praying at the Great Mosque
So that, the mosque has gradually become such a large and brilliant complex of the historical architecture.”
Erm, yeah, I suppose that if it hadn't been for the founding of New China, and Mao's Cultural Revolution, there wouldn't have been so much need to restore and rebuild the mosque in the first place.

Anyway, I continued my tour around the truly beautiful gardens and marvelled at the temples, which, once again, did not look anything like a mosque at all. “In the first courtyard, there is and old wooden archway standing opposite a huge screen wall decorated with the clay - brick - carvings. It has special upturned eaves, many layers of brackets, and glazed rooftiles, so that it is very magnificent.”

A proper mosque needs a minaret though, but I didn't see any.
Great Mosque
I checked in my little guidebook: “In the middle of the courtyard, 'The Introspection Tower' sreves as the minaret, which is the tallest building in the whole mosque for calling Moslems to pary. With two storeys, three layers of eaves, and an octagonal roof, it stands high and solid so that it is very impressive.” Ah, yes, the pagoda sreves as minaret. That is impressive indeed.

In front of the large prayer hall stands a small Chinese pavilion, the 'Phoenix Pavilion'. Why phoenix? Well, let's find out, I consulted my little guidebook once again: “It is a very special building with a combination of the Chinese traditional archway and a pavilion. The pavilion as the main body in the middle is shaped in a hexagon with its eaves upturned and its top protruded.
Great Mosque
While, both of itrs side parts are shaped in triangles and are upturned like archways. The whole architecture seems to be a beautiful phoenix which is opening its wings and is about to fly. As it is vety lifelike, that is why it is also named 'The Phoenix Pavilion'.”
Brilliant! I had trouble not to laugh out loud, which I suppose would have been extremely rude since it was Friday and Friday prayer was in full swing. Hundreds of elderly Chinese men wearing white skull-caps were busy doing their prayers. Well, at least that looked the same as the mosques I'd visited before.

The area around the Great Mosque is where most of Xi'an's Muslims live. The neighbourhood itself isn't particularly interesting from an architectural point of view (people live in ugly, concrete apartment blocks), but the life on the streets certainly was.
Souvenir market in the Muslim quarter
Much like in Kashgar (or most of the countries I travelled through this journey) all life seemed to happen in the street, with a perpetual street market providing locals of food and gimmicks. The area immediately surrounding the Great Mosque mainly targets tourists, with fake designer watches, chess sets, underwear and souvenirs, but two streets down you reach the real local market. Here they sell mostly fresh or dried fruits, lighters, orgasmotrons (the worst name for an innocent massage device EVER) and street food.


Ah yes, street food, I LOVE Chinese street food! It seems that Chinese eat pretty much everything, preferable skewered on a little stick. Like a guy I had met on the train had remarked “if it has four legs and is not a table, the Chinese will eat it”.

Street food
Very true, but not complete. Chinese eat six and eight-legged creatures too, or non-legged, like larvae or snakes. So basically anything that moves will end up being cooked somehow. There! If it moves, a Chinese will eat it.
But again, that is not complete. Chinese eat vegetables and mushrooms too. Hmm, let's just say that whatever Chinese can barbecue or deep fry on a skewer is edible. Even fried eggs - and how do you put fried eggs on a skewer? Simple! Just fry them on a special pan with shallow indentations (much like the Dutch poffertjes pan), which has a special hole to stick the skewer in while frying the eggs.

I really was in my element here. Everywhere I looked I saw food I wanted to try. My whole lunch (and more) consisted of various street food snacks. From little tasty kebabs, to spongy pineapple cake and my favourite: pumpkin fritters!

My ventures through the city brought me to one of Xi'an's most famous sights, the Bell Tower.
Bell tower
It didn't look all that different from the Bell Tower in Beijing, so I didn't bother going in. Instead I walked on towards the south gate of the City Walls.

The area around the Bell Tower has a very nice vibe. This is where most of the shopping malls are, as well as the nightlife. Many of the city's hostels are in this area and I am sure this would have been a better area to be in than up north, where my hotel was located. However, as far as transportation is concerned, my hotel was still the better option. The centre of Xi'an is choking with traffic and getting to and from the train station would have been a nightmare.

Xi'an's 14th century city walls have been fully restored and circle all around the city centre.
The modern city just outside the City Walls (well, inside the city walls too actually!)
Well, ok, fully restored might not be the correct term, since the original walls enclosed an area seven times the size of the present city centre, but at least the present day city walls look like the 14th century ones and they form a closed closed 14km perimeter. In order to not disrupt the traffic several gates have been built to let the traffic pass through and in front of the train station the walls resemble a viaduct rather than medieval city walls, but evenso, it is a nice city feature.

A colleague of mine had recommended to hire a bicycle and cycle the entire perimeter of the walls. This was good fun; a good bit of exercise coupled with interesting sightseeing, all in the golden glow of the setting sun.

After my trip around the walls I walked into the 'old centre' near the South Gate.
Bicycle ride on the old city walls of Xi'an
This is a small selection of streets with restored medieval houses and a few hundred souvenir stalls. It all seemed a bit fake to me. The buildings have all been well restored, and the whole neighbourhood looks like it was built yesterday. In fact, some of these buildings WERE built yesterday!!
That's the problem I have with Chinese architecture. While it is good that heritage is preserved and old buildings are restored, they are often restored in such a way that they look brand new. And to make matters more confusing, new buildings are often made to look like old buildings. So if you see a Chinese building that looks like a temple of some kind, it could be a restored 800 year temple or it could just as well be a brand new hotel or museum.

While walking through the old centre I was approached by a Chinese man who actually spoke a few words of English.
Sunset over Xi'an
He looked at me, smiled and said “Harrow!” I struggled not to burst into laughter, he spoke just like the Chinese characters in South Park do. It never struck me just how accurate their parody of the Chinese is (both the way they portray Chinglish and the Chinese language).

I must say that my first day in China had been wonderful. It had been a lot of fun just wandering around in the streets and watching Chinese life go by. Like the Indian culture, the Chinese way of life is absolutely unfathomable, but nevertheless intriguing.
And the food, ah, the food. Dinner was once again a feast. I sat down in a small restaurant which didn't have any English menu. Again no idea what I had ordered, I just pointed at a pretty picture, but it was delicious. And spicy!

Biedjee says:
That's because everything is called different in China!
Posted on: May 04, 2011
edsander says:
> pumpkin fritters

They're great .... but they're not pumpkin as Kexuan informed me. ;-)
Posted on: May 04, 2011
edsander says:
Cool ... I could live here I think. ;-)
Posted on: Dec 31, 2010
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Ancient city walls in front of the…
Ancient city walls in front of th…
Breakfast: Fast food Chinese style…
Breakfast: Fast food Chinese styl…
Chinese lanterns
Chinese lanterns
Great mosque
Great mosque
Men praying at the Great Mosque
Men praying at the Great Mosque
Great Mosque
Great Mosque
Great Mosque
Great Mosque
Souvenir market in the Muslim quar…
Souvenir market in the Muslim qua…
Street food
Street food
Bell tower
Bell tower
The modern city just outside the C…
The modern city just outside the …
Bicycle ride on the old city wall…
Sunset over Xian
Sunset over Xi'an
Xian Great Mosque
Xi'an Great Mosque
Dried kiwis at the market
Dried kiwis at the market
Market in the Muslim quarter
Market in the Muslim quarter
Quail eggs - just how do you stick…
Quail eggs - just how do you stic…
Need any pepper?
Need any pepper?
Pineapple cake - on a stick of cou…
Pineapple cake - on a stick of co…
....Simple! Just fry them with the…
....Simple! Just fry them with th…
Pumpkin fritters!
Pumpkin fritters!
Central Xian
Central Xi'an
Small pagoda
Small pagoda
Entrance to the old city
Entrance to the 'old' city
South Gate
South Gate
Watchtower on the city walls
Watchtower on the city walls
Old alarm bell on the City Walls
Old alarm bell on the City Walls
New buildings being constructed ev…
New buildings being constructed e…
Cycling the city walls
Cycling the city walls
City Walls
City Walls
City Walls
City Walls
Watch tower
Watch tower
Square in front of the station bei…
Square in front of the station be…
Xian central station - quite like…
Xi'an central station - quite lik…
My hotel, seen from the City Walls
My hotel, seen from the City Walls
The congested streets of Xian
The congested streets of Xi'an
Sunset over Xian
Sunset over Xi'an
Smog makes great sunsets!
Smog makes great sunsets!
Meeting one of the Terracotta Warr…
Meeting one of the Terracotta War…
Sunset over Xian
Sunset over Xi'an
Sunset over Xian
Sunset over Xi'an
Sunset over Xian
Sunset over Xi'an
Xian Old City
Xi'an Old City
Street stall in the old city
Street stall in the old city
Bell tower at night
Bell tower at night
Chinese love Christmas! (or maybe …
Chinese love Christmas! (or maybe…
Xi'an
photo by: Deats