Not Every Day Is Like Sunday

By Stephen Ewashkiw | October 21, 2013

In tribute to the release of Morrissey’s autobiography this week I give you a blog post with Moz themed headlines… It’s Monday and we are in Xi’an, a city of some 7 million people, and home to a large Muslim population, which is a bit odd in an officially atheist country.

Every Day Is Not Silent And Grey

China is a cacophony. There are so many layers of noise it is sometimes hard to handle. From beeps on phones, to bleeps of games, to honks of horns, and shouting shouting shouting. In fact, the only time Chinese people don’t seem to be shouting is when Western people would. When two vehicles almost collide in the street the drivers just look at each other silently, then move on.

Silence equals anger. Noise equals joy.

We walked from our hostel through the Muslim Quarter of Xi’an this morning, and it was just as vibrant as last night. There was different food on offer, shops that had been closed in the evening were now alive, and as we got closer to the mosque, the street turned into an alleyway, and then into a covered souk.

pots in xian muslim quarter

Pots and bowls, Muslim Quarter, Xi’an.

It was unlike any souk we saw in the Middle East. Instead of somewhere locals shop, this was purely a tourist market, with tourist items, from faux vintage Communist medals to faux modern Beats By Dre headphones. The souk was also less busy than any souk we have seen, this being a Monday in the off-season.

Did I mention that the streets are alive here? Car and bus horns, scooter bells, music blaring from shops, constantly repeating announcements from storefronts (which we assume are announcing a sale of some sort).

Mad streets of the Muslim Quarter, Xi'an.

Mad streets of the Muslim Quarter, Xi’an.

The skies were not cloudy and grey today for the first time in several days, which made for a fantastic change. ‘A breath of fresh air’ is not quite the right turn of phrase, but it felt less oppressive to be able to see that the sun still exists.

Hide Up On The Promenade

Jane wanted to ride bikes on the city wall this morning.

Entrance tickets to the wall cost more than most things we’ve done in China, and then the prices for bike rental were higher still, so we decided to walk.

Expensive bike rental on the Xi'an city wall.

Expensive bike rental on the Xi’an city wall.

The wall is an impressive structure, surrounding the original ancient city (which was the capital of a China for millennia), with views across the madness and noise that is modern day Xi’an. It was actually relatively peaceful up on the wall. The price must keep most people from venturing up and we were just far enough from the streets that the noise was dampened.

traffic in xian china

Traffic, Xi’an.

We found real peace in the museum housed beneath one section of the wall, where they have costumes from the days of the Emperors as well as sections of the immense ancient foundation of the wall.

Plus they have this great places to pose for photos:

How She Dearly Wished She Was Not Here

Jane was not having her best day. Some days she just needs to be alone, away from noise and people. On a trip like ours, especially in China, this can be a challenge. However, I had to meet up with Joyce from YamaYoga, the studio here in Xi’an where I am teaching, so Jane planned to have an afternoon by herself.

peaceful canal xian china

A peaceful moment in Xi’an.

As if the day wasn’t hard enough, at lunch we had our first unpleasant food experience. We had tried to find a pizza restaurant we’d heard actually had a proper pizza oven and made good pizzas. We failed.

Either it has moved or we were terrible navigators, but we could’t find it, even after we got directions from the staff at Howard Johnson’s (which is a fancy schmancy hotel chain here, a far cry from the utilitarian HoJos we remember from our youths). So, we had to randomly pick a place. After being turned away from several stalls because they did not have anything vegetarian, we found a spot where several locals were eating. The proprietors were happy to show us the few vegetarian dishes we could choose from.

Our vegetarian rice bowl was sadly not as vegetarian as we like. As I was scooping up a spoonful (it was served to us with spoons, as all their rice dishes were) I noticed my serving came with extra protein, in the form of a small, dead, cockroach. Um, yuck.

It’s not so much the cockroach as what it said about the state of the kitchen that bothered us.

I know this can happen almost anywhere, and the owners of the restaurant had been really nice to us, were making amazing looking fresh noodles, and well, in hindsight if we had had noodles I am sure all would have been fine.

Still and all… we didn’t finish our lunch.

After this dissatisfying experience, I headed off to my meeting and Jane headed off to what solitude she could find in a busy Chinese city.

Share Some Green Tea With Me

I met up with Joyce near the yoga studio, which is very close to the Shaanxi Province Stadium, a large sports arena primarily used for football, but also for other athletic events. The whole area around the stadium is geared towards sports, with endless athletic outfitters and several sports clubs, such as fitness centres, weight lifting clubs, and the yoga studio. I thought this was a brilliant use of space, and something I have not seen around British and North American stadiums, which tend to be dead areas when there is no event scheduled.

We went to YamaYoga for some tea and coffee and a chat. YamaYoga has a beautiful space on the 16th floor of a building near the stadium, and it offers incredible views of Xi’an. It was nice to get a feel for the space before I teach there later this week. Through a combination of doing our best to use the bits of Chinese and English we had in common, a translation app, and finally getting the translator for my class on the phone, we were able to plan the details of my class.

Strange Dust Lands

We went to an Indian restaurant called Delhi Darbar for dinner to give us a break from noodles. The restaurant is adjacent to the Big Goose Pagoda, the main tourist attraction within the city walls, so it also offered us the chance to see this all lit up for the evening. It was nice to be inside for a meal, away from the dusty streets, and street food.

Just after we ordered dinner, a group of about 40 Indian people came in and busily found spots to sit, filling the restaurant. They had prearranged a buffet, and had to line up next to our table to wait to fill their plates. In a very sweet, very loving motherly way, two different women said to us, as they watched us tucking into our samosas, “Oh, you’re eating Indian food! That’s Indian food!”

As if, somehow, we hadn’t realised we were at an Indian restaurant. I showed them my mala beads, and explained we were aware of this. It was quite adorable, and we think they were just surprised to see us.

We walked around the area near the pagoda after dinner, and it was a bit like a Chinese Disneyland. It has recently been modernised, with a tourist monorail (what’s it called?), large water and light show area, and beautiful brand new walkways and shops. It was filed with local youth cavorting and older locals doing the Chinese equivalent of line dancing.

It is a peaceful and beautiful place. Well worth a visit at night if you find yourself in Xi’an.  

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