One of the most amazing things about travel is just how quickly you adapt to your surroundings so things that would seem unusual at home seem perfectly normal to you. China, for example, has this strange habit of taking a city of 4 million people like Xi’an and making it seem small and manageable to you because it doesn’t have twice as many people and sprawl to cover the size of Belgium.
The thing is Xi’an doesn’t sprawl as much as the average Chinese city, and this is due in large part to the city walls over a thousand years old that stretch for 17 unbroken kilometers around the city center. Perfect for biking around-
My favorite though was it was a slightly blustery day, and a breath of wind in China is enough for several kites to pop up in the sky. My favorite type of kite seen is actually several miniature kites made of tissue paper and wood as thin as toothpicks all lined up on a string, and they were on sale here! The price was right enough that I couldn’t help give it a go-
Conclusion: miniature kites on a string are very fun, but tangle quickly and break even quicker when there’s a strong gust due to their fragile nature/ Chinese construction. But hey, how would we know that unless you do the experiment yourself?
Moving along from the wall, and into the city, there’s an awful lot going on in the streets that one can’t help but watch-
A Chinese calligrapher. I don’t really know enough about calligraphy to know how good or bad this guy was but he certainly attracted a crowd, so there’s that vote of confidence… I also found it interesting to note that when he finished a new character, everyone who was looking at the page upside-down had to turn their heads sideways in order to read it properly. I suppose Chinese has so many characters they’re too difficult to recognize when upside-down unlike a fixed alphabet?
My favorite area to wander around in, however, was the Muslim Quarter. Partly because I wasn’t expecting there to be a Muslim Quarter in the middle of China, but mainly because there was so much to see in the stalls and on the streets-
This last picture is, of course, a picture of the wooden frogs instantly recognizable to anyone who’s traveled in Asia because everyone and their mother tries to sell them to tourists and there’s a perpetual cloud of wooden frog croaking noise in places tourists congregate. Honestly it always makes me wonder a little because I’ve never actually seen anyone buy a wooden frog, but apparently a lot of people do?
There is of course one thing that is more interesting than looking at goods on the street, and that is the street food! The Muslim Quarter was far and away the best place to sample street food anywhere in China: fried quail eggs with spicy sauce (pictured above), spicy meat kebabs, thin fried bread with onion relish, fruit teas, all for pennies… My favorite were fried sweet potato pancakes that were more akin to donuts in all honesty which had a fruit paste filling- kiwi was my favorite. (Fun fact: the kiwifruit was known as a “Chinese gooseberry” until a New Zealand company decided to rename them in a marketing campaign.) The only problem with street food is your favorites haunt your dreams forevermore, because where else will I ever find fried sweet potato pancakes with kiwi filling? Perhaps I will someday, but they’ll definitely cost more than one yen a pop.
Trust me, even if Xi’an didn’t have the terracotta army nearby it would be worth a visit for the excuse to wander. And if you can do both on the same visit, well!