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Reviews - Travel
Written by Pavel
Xi'an was a blast from the past, literally. It is an old city in China, full of history, yet modernized like all other industrializing cities in China and of course, home to the Terracotta warriors. A couple of hard facts in advance: Xi'an or Sian, capital of Shaanxi province, China, in the Wei River valley. Situated on the Longhai RR, China's principal east-west line, it is an important commercial and tourism center in a wheat- and cotton-growing area. It has textile and steel mills, food-processing establishments, and plants making chemicals, cement, electrical machinery, and fertilizer.

The city has numerous Tang dynasty pagodas and is noted for its history museum, housed in an 11th-century Confucian temple containing large stone tablets from the Tang dynasty; one (781) commemorates the establishment of a Nestorian church. The city wall, dating from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), is still visible in places. In Xi'an are botanical gardens and Northwest Polytechnical Univ., Xi'an Jiaotong Univ., and many other institutions of higher learning.

So far a couple of facts. But how is it really like in Xi'an. I visited it and here is what i think:

Things I liked about Xi'an

1. People were quite helpful when I was lost and generally quite nice. In fact, when I was walking around the Bell Tower, people would ask others if they didn't know my destination or point in the right direction or simply tell me they did not know, nicely. The exception of course applies to taxi drivers, with the exception of our Terracotta Warriors and Qin Hot Springs cabbie, Mr. Li, who spent the whole day driving us around, waiting for us and not taking us to tourist traps or leaving us stranded anywhere, for 220rmb total. I tipped him for being so nice.

2. The tap water did not stink of minerals and pollution. When walking down the streets, I did not constantly smell trash and sewage.

3. People seemed happier and more relaxed there. Kids were playing and running around in the streets. Couples generally seemed happier and smiled more. Girlfriends were arm in arm with big smiles on their faces. Older couples took strolls in the cold arm in arm.

4. There wasn't that much unnecessary honking by cabbies, buses, or cars. People spoke more quietly.

5. Things were cheaper. The cabs started at 6rmb compared with 12rmb in Shanghai. Cost of living is lower there, that was pretty obvious.

6. There is so much history there. You can feel all the old dynasties converge there. From the Terracotta warriors, the Qin hot springs, the Qin mausoleum (which we didn't see), the Drum and Bell towers, Muslim street, The Great Mosque (another thing we didn't see), Big Goose Pagoda, City Wall, and old Bar Street, you can really feel the history there. The Qin, Tang, Han, Zhou and Sui dynasties all had empires there. Imagine life there during the 3 kingdoms.

7. People try to speak English there and can do so quite well. This was probably mostly due to one of us being caucasian. In fact, one worker at the Shanxi Provincial Museum asked us to help her complete her English homework. Another old man came up and asked us what some English medical terms were that he had on a piece of paper, all in English. The hotel staff greeted and spoke to us in English. And the tour guide at the old Gao House spoke splendid English. I was rather surprised given how low the expat population is in Xi'an.

8. Light construction. I think I feel this way b/c right now in Shanghai, construction is the rule not the exception. There were splotches of construction here and there interspersed with old old homes, cool long lines of streets, untouched areas and urban planning that seemed like a throwback to old china days.

My first dislike applies to China in general. Nothing specific to Xi'an:

What I didn't like about Xi'an

1. Food and smoke. I am not a big fan of lamb and because of the presence of a large Muslim population there, lots of lambs have been sacrificed for food. There were many Muslim restaurants and vendors there, selling both lamb and beef but I smelled lamb everywhere. I couldn't stop smelling lamb. Aside from the Qing Zhen (Muslim) eateries, we ate at other Chinese places and people smoked SOOO much and the stench of the food oils and grease was overwhelming. And the food wasn't all that great. There were also fewer food options there, it seemed, mostly because it isn't drowning in expats.

2. Cold and aridness. We originally really wanted to go to Xi'an to see some snow in addition to the Warriors. We didn't get any but instead got some frigid below 0 weather. Brrrr...I had to wear my long johns under my clothes for most of the time. Because of the dryness of the area, our skins were literally peeling off, I grew hives and rashes, and was itchy and quite uncomfortable most of the time. I think the cheap hotel shampoo, soap and HYPERallergenic lotion didn't help. I still have some residual hives.

3. There is sorta a podunkness to Xi'an. To me, it's the type of place I would visit, soak in the history, see all the surrounding sights and mountains and scenery, then get the hell out of there. Ideally, I would like to live in a metropolis but visit historical places, not the other way around. I grew up in the burbs. It would seem I have that set-up right now, however, Shanghai has been far from my ideal metropolis. For now, it will do.

4. Industrialization. Although IMO still sorta podunk, Xi'an definitely is starting to become quite industrialized. In about 10-15 years, I speculate it will be quite similar to Shanghai, without the large expat population. You can find large malls, franchises and fast food eateries in Xi'an, which is sorta sad to me. Along with the beginning stages of overcrowdedness, people are starting to become pushy, impatient and inhumane. Soon it will lose its somewhat small town feel and become like the rest of modernizing China.

Our valuable Editor Pavel has been with us since Sunday, 04 April 2010.
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