Daily Archives: April 7, 2014

Tales from Xian, Xi’an or Sian – Take your pick (She Ann): Day 1

Well, we have seen the warriors and returned home to write about it – eventually.

First of all, though, we had many Chinese adventures (Ed. Note: Henceforth these will be referred to as TICTIT – This is China This is True – thanks to Martin). Terry and Geoff’s flight got off to the usual one hour delay once we had boarded. We should have know that would occur since the sign above the neighbouring boarding gate read as follows:

isn't Flow Control a rather personal issue?

Isn’t Flow Control a rather personal issue?

We paid just over $800 for the two of to fly to Xian – a flight of 2 hours. Once on the plane we were served – nothing. Terry even had to ask the cart person to come back so she could buy water as the “flight attendant” just went right by as if she was invisible. Lynne and Martin, however, that’s an entirely different story. They paid $1600 (total) to fly Vancouver to Shanghai, Shanghai to Xian, Xian to Beijing, Beijing to Shanghai and Shanghai back to Vancouver. And what did they get on their Shanghai to Xian flight? A choice of a chicken or shrimp hot meal, a dessert, and wine or beer. Who says money buys luxury?

We caught the Airport Shuttle into Xian – a trip of, supposedly, 45 – 60 minutes. 90 minutes later, all due to traffic, we arrived at the hotel. The congestion was unbelievable. (Ed. Note: Well it was unbelievable until we saw what we saw the next day.) On the trip in we saw more and more in-progress apartment buildings. Xian is a “middle city” according to our driver George. There are “only” ten million people. Who knows where it will end? We had left Jiaxing at 11 am and arrived at the hotel at 7pm – a two hour flight taking 8 hours. Unreal. To say we were in need of a drink is an understatement.

Terry writes: Fortunately, Martin and Lynne had laid in a supply of cold beer and potato chips at the hotel so we were soon restored.  The hotel itself required some getting used to.  Martin had booked it but failed to notice that it would be under renovation for an extended period, including the time we were staying.  The good news was that the work did not start until 10:00am when we were long gone; the bad news was that only one lift was in order and posted beside it a sign that discouraged use of the staircases which “could be cluttered and dirty.”  Hmmm.  Let us hope there is not a fire. The first morning when I came down for breakfast, the doors opened to a surly crowd who had obviously been waiting for some time. There were clearly more than would fit and I didn’t stick around to see how they decided who would take the first ride.

Buffy Ste. Marie, Jimmy Buffett, All You Can Eat Buffet and Buffee Breakfast - No wonder our kids are having problems learning English

Buffy Ste. Marie, Jimmy Buffett, All You Can Eat Buffet and Buffee Breakfast – No wonder our kids are having problems learning English

Back to Geoff: After refreshing ourselves with a few beer at the hotel, we ventured forth to find dinner and found it at Tongshenggxiang – supposedly one of the top Muslim restaurants in Xian – and it lived up to its billing. The dishes: a huge leg of “lamb”, (Ed. Note: the consensus is that it was really goat, not lamb),

Just because it is says it is lamb, doesn't mean it isn't goat. Either way, it was good.

Just because it is says it is lamb, doesn’t mean it isn’t goat. Either way, it was good.

sliced beef of some sort, eggplant, pickled cabbage, lotus root and – Yangrou Paomo – a traditional soup that is made with mutton and broth and then has crispy flatbread broken into it, creating a porridge type consistency. You then add pickled garlic to it and eat everything. Being afraid of vampires, Terry added four large cloves to hers and ate them all. As I said the food was good – except that it seems Xian Muslim cooking adds only one spice to its dishes – and that one spice goes into EVERY dish. (Ed. Note: On one hand it is one more spice than is added to food in Jiaxing, but on the other, c’mon guys try something other than cumin.)

From there it was off to visit the four streets of the “Muslim Quarter”. These consist of mostly food stalls and wagons – hundeds of them serving everything from squid on a stick to a lovely looking but bad tasting yellow cake. They also make various forms of peanut briitle. This is a laborious process where two muscular individuals use a 25 lb. mallet to pound the mixture into a 18″ square flat “pancake”, fold it over and start again, doing it several times. These determined, serious men have incredible strength and stamina and are to be admired. Here’s one of them.

I cannot imagine doing this all day. After 10 minutes by wrist and back were screaming "STOP IT YOU FOOL!"

I cannot imagine doing this all day. After 5 minutes my wrist and back were screaming “STOP IT YOU FOOL!”

After pounding the mixture for hours on end (Ed note: Well, maybe five minutes, but it seemed like hours), they take it away and break it into pieces, just like peanut brittle. Then it is packaged and sold. However, if you buy it don’t pack it in the outside compartment of your suitcase if you are on Spring Air.

Left: Powder Brittle - will be good topping for ice cream Right: Actual pieces

Left: Powder Brittle – will be good topping for ice cream Right: Actual pieces

There were also the stalls selling all the typical tourist trinkets, clothing and artwork. (Ed. Note: Everywhere one goes in Asia the majority of what is sold is exactly the same with only a few things thrown in for the regional specialty. Not surprisingly here it is the warriors.) 

The centre of the old city Xian is the Drum and Bell Tower Square, so named because of these two temples.

The appropriately named Drum Tower (look closely at the first lit level to see the drums, which go all the way around the building.)

The appropriately named Drum Tower (look closely at the first lit level to see the drums – you can just see the tops of and which go all the way around the building.)

and

The appropriately named Bell Tower

The appropriately named Bell Tower

They love to fly kites in China. Martin and Lynne were convinced that there was something other than the wind holding these up – like maybe a bird?

Look up - Look wwwwaaaayyyy up!

Look up – Look wwwwaaaayyyy up!

 

Remember I mentioned the 4 cloves of garlic Terry had? Terry writes: On our walk over Lynne and I stopped to watch some older couples in traditional costumes dancing in the square.  Standing in the second row of the audience, we were talking and laughing when the couple in front of us turned around with their hands covering their noses and terrible frowns on their faces.  We guessed that the garlic, even though pickled, still packed a punch.  Honest mistake, wasn’t it?  Do those little pickled cocktail onions leave your breath stinking of onion?  I think not!  Still, it was a hilarious if embarrassing  moment.

After a couple of hours, we cruised back to the hotel and got to bed at 11:30 – incredibly late for two of us – regular weekend hours for the other two.

Coming up: Days 2 and 3 – Traffic – what traffic; Sit down!, The bikers and, of course, The Terra Cotta Warriors. Stay tuned.

Our Grand Tour of China – Part 2

This is another Jiaxing Express Guest Post by Martin and Lynne, who are visiting us (Ed. note: Still) as part of their Grand Tour of China.

Well, after a busy week, involving walking hundreds of kilometers, eating lots of dumplings and guzzling lots of TsingTao, we spent today with Terry, while Geoff very kindly stood in for her at school as the vice–principal. (Ed. note: Just to clarify not vice-principal, just a warm body occupying a chair – don’t want to get in trouble with the union…) Today’s trip was to the Communist Party Museum in Jiaxing and the Southern Lake.

It seems that the Chinese Communist Party was founded in Jiaxing in 1921 because, as they were meeting a few days earlier in Shanghai, they got busted by the police. Hastily repairing to Jiaxing, by train, they met on a junk in the middle of South Lake to sign the final founding document – clever, no? Hence the Museum in Jiaxing.

Although many of the Chinese people are on the shorter size, the chairs are HUGE!

Although many of the Chinese people are on the shorter size, the chairs are HUGE!

Said Museum is a monolithic, Stalinesque building in the middle of a huge square/park, overlooked by a spanking new soccer stadium (no Jiaxing soccer team yet, though).

How big is it? BIG.

How big is it? BIG.

So figure this, we march up to the entrance where a guard points us towards the ticket office, where we duly go. At the ticket office, they give us tickets at no charge – the people must be allowed to see the Museum, after all. So, back to the entrance where they punch the ticket and in we go. Get that? No charge, but you need a ticket. Anyway, having been forewarned by Terry about the audio guide, we go up to the desk and ask for two guides. There is a large sign in Chinese and English stating the cost – 10 yuan and 200 yuan deposit, which will be returned at the end. So far, so good. Turn on the audio guide. Chinese. Whoa – can you switch this to English? Blank stares. Finally, they open the drawer and remove the money we gave them and return it. A young Chinese lady offers to help – but no, despite the detailed English sign, there is no English audio guide available. So, we go around looking at old pictures and lots of patriotic Chinese captions, understanding nary a word. We did postulate that the large steam train on the third floor was the one they escaped to Jiaxing from Shanghai in.

From there we take a lovely trip on the South Lake; there is an island in the middle with the above referenced junk still moored in the water. From there to the other shore, and up the Hangdu Pagoda for spectacular views of the old part of the city. Jiaxing has lots of trees and canals, giving the flavor (in parts) of an old Chinese city. Off to the city centre for lunch and home.

Martin went to the local electronics store and bought an 18 yuan ($3.50) card adaptor for a PC. Three people were summoned to unlock the security device (!). Then we proceed to a till where a computer screen is filled out with much typing and theban A4 size receipt is printed. This receipt and Martin  are then taken upstairs by a sales clerk, across the store to the back, to another clerk. More typing (is Typing a province?), hand over 18 yuan, receive unsecured item. Ah well, it’s full employment I suppose…..

These past few days have been interesting from a military perspective. Practically non-stop overflights by fighter jets, even until the early hours of the morn. We have been checking the news daily to see if some international faux pas has occurred, such as one Korea shelling the other, or vice versa. Our children claim it is the elite of the Chinese air force trying to spot Lynne’s red hair on Jiaxing’s streets.

So here we sit blogging and watching Survivor, sipping wine and eating cheese. Alas, no interesting signs to photograph today. Tomorrow takes us to Xi’an, the First Emperor’s Tomb and the Terracotta Army. Stay posted!