Day 6: Welcome to Xi’an!

After a very long day 5, today was the earliest we’ve had to wake up yet. We had to be in the hotel lobby at 6:00 AM to take our bus to the train station so I woke up at 5:15 AM to pack my things and shower. I didn’t have to worry about getting breakfast, as the hotel was kind enough to pack all of us breakfast to go. Unfortunately, not all of us were able to make the journey to Xi’an. Over the course of the night, 7 students needed to be taken to the hospital due to illness. That left only 17 of us traveling to Xi’an and the other 7 students will be reunited with us as soon as they are healthy and able. After about a 45-50 minute bus ride we arrived at the station. Upon arrival, Jane gave us each our ticket and we headed to security. Their security is much different than what we are used to. We were allowed to bring in as much liquid as we wanted, even if the bottles had already been opened. It felt as though they weren’t checking for much when we put our bags through the scanners. Additionally, we didn’t even have to empty our pockets to walk through the metal detector. The train ride was about 6 hours in length, but it wasn’t too bad. It was nice to look out the window, work on my blog, and even start to see some blue skies (because there wasn’t as much smog). One thing I found interesting was that the bathrooms on the train were all squatty potties. This was a little strange to me and I was expecting to find regular toilets because I felt that it would be challenging to attempt to use a squatty potty while the train was in motion. The train arrived in Xi’an at just about 2:00 PM. We left the station to find the bus that would be driving us to our new hotel.

The drive to the hotel took approximately an hour. During our ride back, our new tour guide for Xi’an introduced himself to us. His English name was Rocky and he made sure to tell us he meant Rocky from the movie “Rocky 3”, not 1 or 2. Rocky had his own way of getting our attention. He would do so by saying, “Hello hello” and this easily became everyone’s favorite part about him, myself included. We even found ourselves saying it to each other, Dr. Li, and Jane. We were given some time to settle in when we arrived at the hotel and Dr. Li decided that we would meet back in the lobby at 4:30.

When 4:30 came around we left the lobby to walk through the local neighborhood known as the Muslim Quarters to get to our dinner destination. Before coming to China, I imagined as something like what I experienced in the Muslim Quarters rather than what I experienced in Beijing. The Quarters were loud, full of vendors selling souvenirs and food of all kinds (I didn’t know was most of it was), crowded, colorful, and dirty. Honestly, it may be one of the coolest places I have ever seen/ walked through in my life. Rocky told us that we could barter for the things that we wanted to buy here, but due to our schedule, we did not have time to do that today so we’ll be doing it one of the next 2 days. After walking down the long, main street of the Muslim Quarters we came to the Drum Tower at the end. We would be stopping there after dinner. We went into the restaurant which was about a 2 minute walk from the Quarters and the Drum Tower and Dr. Li told us that we would be having a dumpling banquet. This was something where we would eat a family style meal and many different kinds of dumplings would be served to us throughout the meal in addition to the regular dishes. We tried dumplings of every kind, including fish to mushroom, and these were all easily the best dumplings I’ve ever had. However, my favorite were the last ones served. They were actually free dumplings. You could order as many as you wanted. They were filled with meat (which I believe was beef) and a green vegetable (which I believe was celery). Maybe their simplicity was the reason I liked them so much. I ate them with soy sauce and Dr. Li told me I was ruining them by doing that. He suggested to all of us at the table to try them using the vinegar sauce and said it was the best way enhance the flavor and make them very good. To be honest, I wasn’t a fan and to Dr. Li’s dismay, I continued to use the soy sauce. During dinner, I also learned that dumplings have existed in Xi’an for 1,300 years.

We left the restaurant and walked over to the Drum Tower. The architecture was just as impressive as everything else we have visited, but my favorite part of this site visit was the view from the balcony that went around the tower. From there we could see the Bell Tower across the city square and a magnificent view of some of the city of Xi’an. We spent about an hour in the Drum Tower and then left to walk back through the Muslim Quarters to get to the hotel. Walking through the Quarters at night was very different. All of the signs glowed and changed colors and it was much louder as there were many more people present. Many of the vendors were yelling out in Mandarin, and although I couldn’t understand them it was still pretty cool to experience all of those sounds at once. I hope to come back and barter with some of them for gifts/ souvenirs.

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