Peachy in Xi’an

by Ant Stone on August 11, 2007

in China

It’s maybe slightly ironic, but sometimes the joy of ‘travelling’ is actually staying in one place and not ‘travelling’ at all. For the last week I’ve been doing just that in the Chinese city of Xi’an. As soon as I stumbled off the night train from Pingyao, I knew I’d end up staying a while. The city was fresh, it had that big city feel but was surrounded by one of China’s most charming additions; the city wall. I like the freedom it allows me, the ability to just drift off knowing that before long an ancient wall will snap me out of an everlasting day dream.

On paper, Xi’an had a splattering of things to keep me out of trouble and over the course of the week I slowly covered them. Another appealing aspect to Xi’an was that almost immediately after dropping my backpack in the Shuyuan Hostel, I met my comrade for the next few days in the delightfully American form of a young Oregonian lady, with a delightfully American name, Erin. If that weren’t enough, another major plus point that Xi’an offered compared to my Chinese experience thus far, was sunshine. Glorious, glorious sunshine. ‘Would you like some sunscreen’ Erin offered, without hesitating I responded brightly ‘no thanks, I want the sunburn. As a memory’. It really felt that good. Our first evening we made our way to the Muslim Quarter, a dimly lit district buzzing with tacky street stalls and food sellers deriving from the thriving Muslim population of Xi’an. We strolled (or rather rolled) our way through the alleyways, eagerly fending off any hunger that dared surface with kebabs, pancakes and numerous other spicy treats washed down with an all important, warm beer. The next day however, I succumbed once more to the good old Travellers Diahoerra (TD), and my diet recoiled to little more than 1000mg of Ciprofloxacin, gallons of water, my pillow and rolls and rolls of toilet paper.

I’m used to the illnesses by now, and take them in my stride (albeit a cautious one) so the next day I made it my mission to conquer an army of fearsome Chinese warriors. The famous Terracotta Warriors. Erin joined me, and with our wits about us we shot them down with our cameras leaving no pot unturned. Built by the Emperor of Qín, Qín Shǐhuáng líng (an apparent control freak) during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) the 8,099 warriors are believed to have been constructed to continue his reign in the afterlife but alas, they were spectacularly defeated by an uprising of peasants leaving Old Qin to fend for himself which was humorously played out in a 360 degree movie shown on site, Oscars all round in my opinion. Of all the Chinese tourist attractions I’ve seen so far, the warriors are among the best they captivated me and the sheer scale of what was achieved gave it the wow factor, the only negative, was the inescapable throngs of Chinese tour groups. Later, reveling in our victory we celebrated by conquering yet another guidebook suggestion, Li Shan (Black Horse Mountain). It took a couple of hours before we reached the summit, with Erin looking somewhat more healthy than I (due to the illness, obviously!) but we were rewarded with fresh air – another rarity in China – and a relatively pleasant view of the city.

The more time I spent in Xi’an, the more I became attached to it. I could pop into a local shop and buy water, acknowledging the shop keeper (who I named Alan). If I needed to go shopping, it was but a short stroll down a lively street to a shopping centre and if I needed a cultural fix, the city walls would smack me in the face as soon as I left the comfort of the hostel. Life was rosy in little Xi’an, as new people came and went through the courtyards of the hostel, time flew by with little effort. Laying roots is a philosophy that I’ll carry through along The Trail, if I like somewhere I’m staying there for as long as I feel I need to. I’m glad I learnt this relatively early in my journey but it does make me aware that maybe I left Mongolia, a place I adored, a little too early. But then again, in the back of my head I know I’m heading for Tibet and Nepal and for each day further I leave that, the colder and subsequently more difficult that pass becomes- Mother Natures way of keeping me mobile?

There’s many minor events to say about my time in Xi’an, so much so that it would take a whole new website, and many thousands of words to do the place justice. The Big Goose Pagoda. One+One nightclub. The hostel pets. The horrendous drivers. The Mao paraphernalia. The American political debate. Being labeled “Shuai Gie” by a Chinese lady- apparently meaning “handsome boy”! Yearning to speak the language. The abysmal Shaanxi History Museum. The McDonalds. The KFC. The poker game. The Austrian rendezvous. The DIY haircut (!). The food, oh the food.

So many little things contributed, but I’ll leave you with a dilemma I hope you’re never faced with. Upon my hesitant arrival at Xi’an Train Station, I took a seat in the waiting room clutching my one way ticket to Beijing. Shortly after, a small boy pulled up in his wheelchair and looked at me doe-eyed, both our brows were sweating so we communicated through mimicry. He wiped his brow. I wiped mine. He sighed. I sighed. His legs were wooden, and stuck proudly out though he seemed to deal with it remarkably well. Although rarely smiling he just looked at me, a face full of intrigue. Soon after, he span around and reached into a plastic bag and produced a large fuzzy peach, offering it to me, with the brightest smile imaginable. I took the peach. The dilemma, if you hadn’t guessed it, was that my recurring illnesses were caused by various things, including eating unwashed fruit or even fruit that had been washed using the tap water. Holding the peach, I nodded in appreciation, I raised it up, maybe to show him I was holding it and was grateful while urgently conjuring up a diversion tactic. Reaching into my bag, I found a solution in the shape of a silver fifty pence piece, coins are rare in these parts (they mainly use notes) and I’m pretty confident this kid had never seen British currency. His face lit up, he mimicked me by raising it up in acknowledgement and shortly after we went our separate ways, both clutching something new and both smiling from ear to ear, content at our brief encounter in our final moments that day, in sunny Xi’an.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Thoms August 18, 2007 at 12:51 pm

50p for a peach…? You were ripped off dude! Hahaha…just kidding buddy, a lovely heartfelt tale!


Amanda and Jez August 23, 2007 at 2:09 am

Great reading. We have reached Xian atlast and are off to see the warriors today! Cheers for an uplifting intro. I’m really looking foward to it now. (A bit tired and will follow your ‘rest and chill’ advise) How is your tibet visa going?



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