Saturday, November 18, 2006

Xian - the city that never sleeps

Xian (a.k.a. Xi'an and pronounced Shee-ahn) is a large city in central China where we spent the first 2 days of our recent vacation. We stayed at the Melody Hotel in the heart of the city, with a room overlooking the central square, the ancient Drum Tower, and the traffic noise that was still going strong at 3 am. Xian is most famous as the base for journeys to the nearby Terracotta Warriors, but it's an interesting city in it's own right, at least for a few days of sight seeing. Xian has a long history and interesting architecture - it's one of the few Chinese cities to keep it's ancient fortification walls intact. These massive walls form a 13 kilometer rectangle around the heart of the city, with just 5 or 6 gates letting traffic in and out. We went for a stroll on the walls, which gave a decent view of the smoggy, crowded city. The best thing about it, perhaps, was the 40 RMB ($5) entrance fee that kept it nearly deserted and offered a rare respite from the throngs that one must face almost everywhere in this country.

The city has a sizeable muslim population concentrated in one section of the city center, offering a different variety of restaurants and shops than we're accustomed to seeing in china. The big mosque here is interesting primarily because it looks no different, from the ouside anyway, than the many Buddhist temples we've seen in China.

We also visited the Taoist Temple of the 8 Immortals, which outwardly is also nearly indistinguishable from the Buddhist temples. The visitors' rituals of incense burning, kneeling, and making offerings are similar, too. The subtle differences, though, made it a worthwhile visit. For example, several women were rubbing each of 8 stone lion statues surrounding a small pool of water.

Andrew enjoys playing with the lions, too.

It was also interesting to see the Taoist practitioners in their traditinoal garb and long beards, such as this old man.

The antique market, just outside the temple, is an unbelievable crowded affair where hundreds of individual seller display there wares on sheets of newspaper, laid on the ground, and crowds of shoppers jostle each other in the narrow aisles between these rows of goods. This market had everything from ancient Chinese coins (the ones with a square hole in the middle) to broken bits of dishes, to furniture.Many people pass right through Xian without stopping on their way to the Terracotta Warriors. If you have the time, I recommend spending one or two days in the city itself.

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