We had an early start today to make our train to the next city on our trip: Xi’an. Unlike many of the trains I’ve taken in the United States, the train we took to Xi’an was a high-speed train and reached top speeds of 300 kilometers an hour, or roughly 180 miles per hour. Despite the high speeds, the train felt very similar to Western trains, if only slightly smoother on the tracks. From the train we were able to observe more of the countryside of China as we left Beijing and I was surprised at how different the houses were, with brightly colored red or blue roofs and typically only one story. The sky rise apartment complexes that I observed in Beijing spread far into the area around the city, and it took a while on the train for the complexes to disappear in exchange for the one-story block-like towns.
When we arrived at Xi’an I noticed some considerable differences between Xi’an and Beijing, including less traffic, more examples of “old China” in architecture as opposed to the “new China” seen mostly in Beijing, and more relaxed people. In the train station from which we left Beijing, I found that many people from Beijing did not know how to cue properly by Western standards and frequently pushed into lines rather than going to the end of them. I expect this is because people from the city of Beijing are more anxious and rushed, resulting in some behaviors that I would consider rude. In addition, upon arriving in Xi’an I found it considerably warmer and sunnier than Beijing but both cities still suffer from a substantial amount of smog.
Our first site visit in Xi’an was a trip to the Drum Tower this afternoon where drums would be sounded in ancient times to call people inside the city walls for protection when Mongols attacked. Unfortunately, we missed the afternoon drum performance in the tower but were able to tour the small museum inside the Drum Tower and climb to the top for unobstructed views of the center of Xi’an. The building we saw was both incredibly old and beautiful and captured exactly what I expected from architecture here before coming to China. When we walked around Xi’an later on we were lucky enough to see the Drum Tower and Bell Tower lit up at night, which was even more impressive than seeing the buildings during the day.
After our visit to the Drum Tower we were treated to a formal dinner at a famous dumpling restaurant where we were able to try 17 different types of dumplings, none of which I disliked at all. The dumplings varied from baby chicken dumplings to cheese dumplings, pork dumplings, duck dumplings, walnut dumplings, and many other different varieties that left us all feeling incredibly full after eating. The meal came with wheat tea and watermelon, and it seems that tea and melon are two staples to all meals we have eaten so far here in China.
Instead of taking our tour bus back, we walked back to the hotel through the Muslim streets, a prime example of old China. The streets are filled with food vendors selling everything from goats’ feet to ice cream to pulled sugar and other meats or sugary candies. With many flashing lights, noise, and a large number of people, the streets felt very alive and would probably have to be my favorite site visit so far on this trip. I hope to go back and try some of the street vendor food before we leave Xi’an.
Overall, Xi’an has already exceeded my expectations and I’m looking forward to spending two more days here!