Upon waking up, we learned 7 people in total had gotten sick and had been taken to the hospital. They would have to stay in Beijing with Liliana and our program assistant while the rest of us rode the high-speed train to Xi’an. It was in a somber mood the group boarded the bus and headed to the train station. I was sad we were leaving friends behind and concerned that we didn’t know how they got sick. Nevertheless, I was excited to ride the Bullet train. The train station in Beijing was very busy and we had to fight crowds of people to get to the platform. Something I’d been noticing about China was an interesting contrast between order and chaos. The government is trying to impose order, on display in the train station in the form of soldiers and ticket gates, but there is still a lot of chaos and disorder. In the train station this takes the form of everyone ignoring the line and pushing to the front. On the road this takes the form of chaotic merging and aggressive driving. As we headed out of the city, the smog became worse. It was so bad I could barely see the buildings around the rails. I learned this was because wind pushes smog west of the city, as well as this being the location of many coal-fired power plants. The train was an impressive feat of engineering. It went incredibly fast, almost 200 mph, without feeling fast at all. The entire line was elevated and cut through towns, rivers, and mountains. I realized again just how far behind the US is. We’ve made no significant infrastructure investments since the 1950’s but the Chinese have connected most of their major cities to a high-speed rail network in only 10 years. America does not have a single bullet train. I split an airplane-food style train lunch with Alana; it was surprisingly tasty but expensive. After a quick nap, the train rolled into Xi’an.
Entrance to the Muslim Quarter
The first thing I noticed about the city was the weather. It was very sunny and for the first time in almost a week I saw blue sky. The air just tasted cleaner than the air in Beijing. We met our new tour guide, Rocky, and immediately headed into an area of the city known as the Muslim Quarter. This is what I thought all of China, and especially the Silk Market in Beijing, would be like. The Muslim Quarter was made up of narrow streets where bikes, cars, and people all mingled. It was packed with people traveling and shopping. Vendors cooked and sold food that was completely foreign to me; I had no idea what any od it was, but it looked and smelled delicious. Shopkeepers yelled out to try and sell us things. I loved it. We walked through the market to the Drum Tower. As its name implies, the job of the Drum Tower was to hit a drum at sunset. The Tower was amazing. We went up to the second story balcony and were treated to an amazing view of the square and of Xi’an. For dinner, we went to a restaurant near the Drum Tower where we were treated to a dumpling banquet. I had no idea how much I loved dumplings before this trip, but now I can’t get enough of them. We walked back to the hotel and, exhausted after a long day of traveling, took it easy and played cards in the hotel. More fun things planned for tomorrow!
View from the Drum Tower
The Muslim Quarter