City Life

Friday, March 21, 2014
Xi'an, Shaanxi, China
Today we visited the Goose Pagoda in Xian, a 700 year old structure which is now the centrepiece for a modern park with cafes, shops and a fantastic fountain display. We then finished off the day by lying about our ages, hiring bikes and cycling round the city walls.

We have now spent a week in China living in the big cities, are beginning to get the hang of things and are enjoying ourselves .
Neither the hotel in Beijing or here in Xian have been noisy which was a surprise although this may just have been luck. Getting around the cities has been easy with a combination of walking and the metro. Like all cities everyone is in a rush but not threatening in any way, no one actually stares at us Europeans but we do stand out (pale skin, slightly taller, very old, scruffy clothes). Far fewer people seem to smoke than we expected which pleasantly surprised us but I am afraid we will never get used to the horrid throat clearing and spitting which goes on all around you.

The amount of building work going on is phenomenal, everywhere you look there are cranes. Our 2004 Beijing guide (always up to date us Lucas's) shows two metro lines for Beijing, there are now 15. London manages a new line every 20-30 years, Beijing have built 13 in ten years.

I mentioned in an earlier entry that the driving was not as bad as described in Country Driving, that is true except when it comes to pedestrians. The black and white stripes we call a pedestrian crossing they call a killing zone. There is no way a car, taxi or bus is going to give way to a humble pedestrian so crossing a road, and most roads in the city are four carriages wide, is something of a challenge. Pedestrians are not safe on the pavement either, there are not as many push bikes as we expected but there are thousands of electric motor bikes . These stealth machines zoom up behind you at alarming speed and to save power they never have their lights on at night.

We have had difficulty buying simple things like tea bags, coffee or cans of beer. There are plenty of supermarkets but they are hidden away inside office buildings so unless you know where they are you can spend ages looking.

Food is always an important part of our holidays, in Beijing we found some smashing restaurants, here in Xian we are staying close to the Muslim area which seems to be the in place to eat. On Wednesday night we ate in a large restaurant spread over three floors which seemed to specialise in hot chilli dishes and non English speaking waitresses. With the aid of the picture menu we managed to order without resorting to animal noises although the vegetables proved a bit of a problem. Last night we ate street food, there are lots of street vendors and you buy a skewer of meat from one, a pot of something from another and so on down the street. It seems to be a Muslim speciality we have met a similar arrangement in the main squares in Marrakech and Stonetown, Zanzibar. Each dish cost between 50p and £1, I don't think the meal for two cost more than £5, on the way back we called in at the Haagens Das ice cream cafe for two ice creams and two coffees - £20.
In some ways that captures city life in China, the new and the old side by side and the people moving from modern/trendy/expensive and old/traditional/cheap without thinking about it as they both seem familiar.

Tomorrow we fly to Shanghai for a couple of nights before moving into the country.
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