I barely just got comfortable with Chengdu (成都), and already it’s time to leave and fly northwards to Xi’an(西安), in the province of Shaangxi (陕西). Whilst Chengdu (成都) buildings are all modern, it’s quite the opposite here. I was greeted by this so called ‘clock tower’ (钟楼) right in the center of town, used to announce the time way back in history:
It’s obvious that Xi’an is an ancient town, which was the capital of China for quite a period of time over thousands of years. It was home to about 12 emperors, to begin with! The center of town (or the CBD, if you like) is actually surrounded by a massive ancient wall 13km long rectangular wall. Think a mini Great Wall of China surrounding the Melbourne CBD square, and you begin to picture what it is like. To better illustrate this, here’s a map of the wall running along the center of town:
The wall is 12 metres tall, and 15 metres wide at the top, wide enough to run a 5 lane highway around on the top of entire wall! It’s hard to picture just how big this is given that we only get to see little sections of it at a time, simply because there’s so many building around it. Here’s just one of the smaller gate/entrance:
The current city wall surrounding Xi’An was built during the Ming dynasty (明朝) during the 1370s, and is apparently a lot smaller than the Tang dynasty (唐朝) wall built several hundred years earlier! Unfortunately the Tang built wall was destroyed over time. As a tourist destination, you do get to climb the top of the Ming city wall to get a feel of the grand scale of it all. But to get the full ‘feel’, you need to hire a bicycle to cycle around the entire 13km length of the wall. It is only then that you realise just how damn long this wall is! It took me just over 1 whole hour of non-stop cycling to complete the entire length! Plenty of huffing and puffing after that!
As ancient as the city is, there is no stopping of new buildings popping up within and outside the city wall though. Plenty of half-finished buildings and cranes in sight, and I hope they don’t destroy the character of this city along the way while they’re at it!
There’s a hint of wealth here and there, for example this rarely seen Ferrari parked outside a trendy department store:
There’s still many parts of town that retained old character (fortunately), for example Shuyuanmen (书院门) which loosely translates to Classic Academy of Learning Gate.
Here you will find just about every implements relating to Chinese Calligraphy, paintings, name stamps etc etc.
And then there’s Muslim quarter (回民街), which showcases multi-cultural diversity of China at its best. You start to see people in prayer caps (or Taqiyah) going about their business on this busy street, which gives you completely different atmosphere compared to the rest of town:
Given there is a strong influence from the local Muslim Hui minority, this results in an interesting combination of Muslim and Chinese food. For example, 泡馍 (Pao Muo), which is literally pita bread and noodles soaked in soup! What a combination!!
There’s a ton of other food on offer, some of which I had below:
裤带面 （Biang Biang Mian or Belt Noodle) 馅饼 (Pizza bread)
肉夹馍 (Pita Bread with Beef/lamb) 狗头枣 (Local Red Dates)
This city definitely is a huge contrast to modernised cities like Shanghai and Chengdu. Xi’An has a certain allure about it that, that makes it China’s main tourist destination. As if the city is not already interesting enough, most people actually come here to see what lies near the surrounding neighbourhood of Xi’An, which I will talk about in the next post!