Travel Journal

Xian 20-23 June

(Wednesday 6 July 2011) by Julia Bartholomew
During an evening with big bro before setting off for China, he reminded me of that bit at the end of Wayne's World where Wayne suddenly surprises everyone by speaking fluent Chinese (I think he could do Kung Fu as well) and we specualted as to whether that would be cousin Jack after a year in China. Actually, he was really good, chatting away animatedly with taxi drivers and waiters and he taught me the Chinese word for ’foreigner’ so I now know when I’m being talked about in taxis. In Xian even fewer people speak English than in Beijing and lots of the menus are only in Chinese characters so Jack’s food vocab was useful in avoiding any surprises.

Xian was a bit more earthy than Beijing. Back alleys were crowded with low tables and stools, impromptu bbqs set up outside shops and people knawing on bits of rat squewered on bicycle spokes (or so it looked like), steamy humid heat mixing with the smoke from grilling meat. Had an exchange with someone I met in the hostel in Beijing that went as follows: 'Have you had your hep A and B jabs?' - 'yes' - 'Well in that case you should try the street food...'. Not exactly encouraging, but I did have street food in the Muslim quarter of Xian- spicy lamb on skewers and fat noodles, served cold with spices and chilli. Foreigners are also a bit more of a novelty here. A common social exchange was someone calling out at us "HALLO", us calling back "Hallo" and then the caller and his pals falling about laughing. On one occasion when I took a taxi on my own the driver called his pal, wedged the phone above the driver's mirror and I was flattered with his cries of 'boootiful, ha, ha, ha' screeching out of the phone repeatedly for the entire journey.
Same total disregard for one's own personal safety in Xian: drivers driving as though posessed, builders with no hard hats, welders with no safety goggles, pneumatic drill operators in flip-flops. No word for 'elf and safety in Chinese. Apparently it's not that easy making up new words in Chinese anyway thus the very literal expressions for newish words like computer (brain machine) and mobile phone (hand machine). The English names people choose for themselves are occasionally ill-judged. We had a waitress with 'Jason' on her name badge. She told us she realized this but didn’t mind. Better, in any case, than the names of some of the kids in my cousin's English classes like 'Automan' and 'Monkey King'.

Tons of fake tat for sale in Xian, which I mostly resisted. Not a good idea to get a fake designer bag I thought, and risk my future employers thinking it's real and thus that I don't really need the job. Nor did I buy a t-shirt with the body of Chairman Mao with Obama's face beaming out, which probably wouldn't go down that well outside China.

The terracotta warriors are Xian's big thing. Very old (over 2000 years), they were discovered by a lucky farmer in '73, who now still sits in the gift shop, half blind and a bit beleaguered, still signing autographs. They are most impressive though, these cartoony chaps, thousands of them, bigger than life size, all stuck in their eternal poses in lines in great pits, forever frozen in anticipation of the on-coming enemy.


Home | Features | Sign Up | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms & Conditions | © 2006 - 2020
Note: Javascript is not active