Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Most Popular Sites In Xian

As I close in on one year living and working in Xi'an China I thought I would take a look at some of the more popular sites and attraction here. This city of 8 million is incredibly historic, a haven for lovers of noodles, beautiful, busy and at times during the winter it has horrible air quality. The Yin and Yang is alive and well here that's for sure.

A small observation I have made while in China or most other places I have been. I can talk to people or write on my blog about the many interesting thing I have experienced here, or anywhere for that matter. However it is the negatives that tend to hold peoples attention. Pollution in China, food poisoning in Mexico, getting robbed in Bolivia (The shitty story can be read here)  and guns in Latin America. Stuart Soroka suggests that "humans may neurologically or physiologically predisposed towards focusing on negative information because the potential costs of negative information far outweigh the potential benefits of positive information."  I am not advocating ignoring the negative things in the world and living behind the proverbial "rose colored glasses". It is always about perspective, and yes I am as guilty as the next person. Stupid human nature.

Back to the beauty of Xi'an. I have added links from China Travel Guide, my go to site for help on anything China. I have used them to book flights, train tickets and they organized my trip to Tibet. They provide the history, location, directions and pricing and some random information that I find helpful.

The City Wall
This is my "go to" spot when I want to relax. I have walked the 12 km around the wall, rode a bike around the top both day and night and have wandered the parks that surround every part of the wall. South Gate is the main gate and here you will find pubs, shops and hostels for travelers.

Big Wild Goose Pagoda
My other "go to" for wandering. The nightly waterworks and light show is cool but the crowds are annoying. It leads into the Qujiang and South Lake areas that are modern with all amenities and you can walk for hours. Night time is the best.

Little Wild Goose Pagoda
I did not find this hidden little gem until a month ago. I knew it was always here but never made the effort, you should.

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Li Shan
I did this hike early last year and am sorry I did not return. It had everything you could want. Ancient and modern history and fantastic remote hiking trails. I was surprised by one of my first large temple complexes here.

Da Xing Shan Temple
Speaking of being "wowed' by a temple complex, I was not expecting this. It is located in the heart of the main shopping district, Xiao Zhai but walk through the gate an all noise literally disappears. Quiet and peaceful. There were many worshipers coming and going the entire time I was there. An eye opening experience to religion that does exist in China.

The Green Dragon Temple
An odd location at Quinglong si subway stop and you would miss it if you were not looking for it. Be careful crossing the road here after you leave the subway and walk up the hill. It is a real life game of Frogger.

Expo Park
I actually stumbled onto this park while taking a random subways ride exploring the city. I was unprepared for how huge it was and it was the only park I have been to without massive crowds. Make sure you rent a bike to explore.

The Silk Road Sculpture and other Monuments
Trying to find this monument was a big challenge for me because sometimes I do not follow instructions properly. It is easy to find once you stop and do what you are told.  The Ironworks monument is in the West End (take bus 43) and represents the starting point of the silk road. There is a free museum here that I found interesting.

Muslim Quarter
This is always one of the first places anyone comes to when visiting Xi'an. Once you have lived here long enough and have had the "experience" several times you tend to avoid it..and then curiosity gets the better of you and you return, camera in hand.

Bell Tower
Located near the Muslim quarter and another of the first things you will head to. Always busy and the beauty at night will catch you off guard a bit. If you sit for a while it is inevitable that people will walk up to you and take your photo.

Da Ming Palace
This was another place to rent a bike and spend the day. It is huge, historical and lacked the crowds I had come to expect. That changed when I returned a second time in the summer. I walked through the gate, said "nope" and went for a beer.

Hua Shan
Surprisingly difficult at time considering it was all stairs. Steep sections of 70 to 90 degrees climbs but thankfully there were chain railings. There are 5 peaks and I climbed 2 in one day. This is home to the worlds most dangerous hike which I did not find. Watch this video and you will understand why I did not look very hard.

Terracotta Warriors.
A bit underwhelming considering the hype surrounding them but impressive non the less.

There are other places to experience that are not on this list. Tang Dynasty Palace, The Drum Tower, and The Shaanxi History Museum. There are numerous and crowed parks, museums and smaller temples to find and visit. There is the Qinling Wildlife Park which was a shitty as any other zoo I have been to.  Finally Xi'an is all about the food. The street food is great, just make sure you buy from a busy cart. There are Western fast food chains, local family run shops and Hot Pot everywhere. If you go hungry in this town it is your own fault. Toss is the Spring Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, National Holiday and all the insanity that follows along and you can not be bored here.

When you add trips to Nanjing, Tibet, Jiayuguan and Dunhuang and the interesting and fun teaching moments, this has been a great year of experiences. Now about that pollution thing China.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Year Of The Dog

Spring Festival/Chinese New year is here and the Chinese take it very serious. The Chinese zodiac is made up of 12 animals and 2018 is the Year of the Dog. I am a Tiger and more to the point, a Water Tiger , whatever the heck that is.

First things first. Stop saying gong hei fat choy as is not the same as saying happy Chinese New Year
Although you may hear it often, usually on advertisements for the Mandarin Restaurant, it actually delivers a wish for prosperity so in reality you are bestowing the wish that your recipient becomes wealthy in the year ahead. Gong hei fat choy is the Cantonese way of saying the phrase and in Mandarin Chinese, it’s gong xi fa cai (pronounced gong she fa tsai).

Happy Chinese New Year is Xīn nián (new year) kuài lè  (happy) in Mandarin -  Xīnnián kuàilè and with the tones of 1,2,4,4 it has to be right otherwise who knows what the heck you are saying. I must have said it 200 times in the last few days because I wanted to sound smart, but I still sound ridiculous. Chinese New Year is also known as chun jie, or spring festival, so you can also wish your friends a happy new year that way. So instead of saying xīnnián kuàilè for example, you would say chūnjié (spring festival) kuàilè (happy).

This is it, the big holiday of the year. Almost everything is shut down for two weeks, people return to their hometowns and anyone else in their right mind finds a flight and gets out of the country. I decided that since it is my first Spring Festival in China I would embrace the experience. I have made better choices in this life.

The celebration in Xi'an, and I suspect all of China, is about is all about lights and people, people and lights. As most businesses are closed it seems as every able body hits the streets. The most intense was Dayanta, home to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, a major tourist area. Holy sh**. The area is quite large and there were easily a half a million people milling about and that is no exaggeration. It is normally a busy location as there is a nightly light and waterworks show but this was over the top. There was music, food, lights, lights and oh yes people. Police were set up to direct the flow of people, a first for me. To many times I was a salmon swimming up stream and the Chinese are not know for their manners. People pushing, shoving, screaming and everyone staring into their phones or taking endless pictures.

It was actually quite beautifully displayed and as my pictures with my DSLR did not turn out great (still working on my night shooting) We returned a second night with my Sure shot. Still not the best pictures but you can see the chaos.

Next up was a trip to the Bell Tower. Wandering towards the subway was impossible and it was easier to walk one stop west to Xiao Zhai, a 10 minute stroll. Jumping on the subway there and returning to the Dayanta stop was an incredible experience. We stood away from the doors because we had an idea as to what was about to happen. There were a few naive souls standing at the doors waiting to get off the train and knowing the Chinese do not cue up like a normal society what we thought was going to happen, happened. The surge of aggressive yet giggling people boarding the train pushed the others who were waiting to leave the train backwards with no hope of de-training. They looked around "shocked" like this was unexpected. They tried to push through but nobody was giving way. It took 2 stops when they could get off the train and I suspect take another train back in the opposite direction to Dayanta. I wish I had a video or even of the madness but I was so jammed in that was an impossible task. I guess I could have just used my elbows or pushed people out of the way to access my camera but I am Canadian and do not have the Chinese "fuck you" gene.

The area around the Bell Tower (zhong lou) was a bit more sedate but no less crowded. I was not even going to attempt to enter Muslim Street or the area around the Drum Tower. I have been to this area to many times and going there to take photos of the madness had no appeal to me. So, what did we do? Naturally this being China we stopped to eat, biang biang mian which are big noodles with spices and two of the most difficult characters to write in Chinese.

I had almost 2 weeks off of work and under normal circumstances I would have take advantage of the time and jumped on a plane to south east Asia. I was considering Cambodia but chose to hang around Xi'an and "have the Spring Festival Experience" . That was just dumb.