Day 207: Chinglish and shycring the shitty walsh
Xi'an Travel Blog› entry 243 of 260 › view all entries
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!