A pleasant surprise.
28.02.2009 - 03.03.2009 4 °C
After the not so great period we spent in Pingyao, Xi'an was superb. I really enjoyed myself there, its another big city but it had a lot of character, the city itself was China's capital in times past and as such has a lot of history about it. For a start the main city is surrounded by gargantuan walls on all sides with a perimeter of something like 8km and 8 metres wide, it also has a sizeable moat surrounding it.. Its possible to walk (or bike) the whole city along the walls. We walked the length of one side and it took a good hour. In the very centre of town there are a couple of large towers that are the focal points of the city. The Bell Tower and the Drum Tower, formerly used by monks to ring out the time of day for the city. They offer good views of the city in each direction, or at least they would do if it weren't for the smog that chokes the city during the day (a running theme of everywhere we have been so far).
One of my favorite highlights of this place was easily the Muslim quarter, a group of side-streets and alleys containing countless stalls selling anything from halal meats, nuts and dried fruits to pipes, flutes, Chairman Mao watches and even fake Gucci handbags. It was incredible on the senses all kinds of smells emanating from every which way, superb. Topped off by a visit to the Great Mosque, apparently one of the largest in China, it was a serene, calming place but obviously forgotten by the government in favour of their countless Mall and expressway projects. It was in need of renovation, in a big way. Which is a shame because its a beautiful mix of styles, a traditional Chinese Pagoda sits in the middle of the complex flanked by Islamic structures inside the buildings. It was almost as if it was at odds with itself or like it was fighting to retain its own identity in this crazy country.
We also got a chance to see the biggest Musical fountain and light show in Asia here, in a large square. It truely was epic with bursts of water shooting 30 feet into the air. In the shadow of a huge seven storey Pagoda, brillantly lit up in the night sky, I'll get some pictures up when I can.
Whoops, I almost forgot about the Terracotta Army, yes we went to see the Army and to be completley honest I came away from it feeling slightly underwhelmed. I feel bad about saying this about a 2200 year old site of undoubted historical importance but I was expecting more. Dont get me wrong it was impressive in its scale and magnitude, but there really isn't all that much to see there and we were done with the whole complex within a couple of hours. Sorry dad.
Wandering around the main drag was fun, but there are still too many carbon cppy shopping malls everywhere, there was a scarily upmarket mall too, which contained Gucci, Prada and Chanel shops, amongst others. I cant imagine they do much in the way of business.
It has come to my attention that China must be like the Wild West for multinationals and conglomerates, the rapid development and new real estate appearing everywhere must have chains fighting over the prime spots or even future prime spots, as the cities are only going to keep growing. A shop in the centre of a tourist hotspot must be literally priceless. Its actually a pretty scary thought, Ive even seen a couple of Wal-Marts here too, complete madness.