Our first full day in Xi’an began with yet another great breakfast. To my pleasant surprise, in addition to the steamed pork buns that I love, there were pork dumplings! I told myself on the train from Beijing that I would get some form of dumpling every day while in Xi’an, so it looks like I will be fulfilling that promise.
We met up with our tour guide again after breakfast. On the bus ride to the Children’s Sun Village (a facility set up to care for children whose parents are serving prison time and would otherwise be on their own), Rocky taught us a lot about the history of China’s name. Basically, the word “China” came from four things:
- The Qin dynasty (emperors during the beginning of the rise of popularity of the Silk Road
- The Chinese name for tea, “Cha”, which also became known through the Silk Road
- Fine porcelain exported from China, which was known as “china”
- The original name for Xi’an, which for hundreds of years was the capital of China, “Chang-an”
We also learned the origin of the Chinese characters for Xi’an, which are “west” and “peace” (Xi meaning west, and an meaning peace). Originally, the name meant Eternal Peace (from Chang meaning long or forever).
When we got to the Children’s Village, we first were given a tour of their facility, including the dormitories, the cafeteria, and a central building with an auditorium. After the tour there was a performance of sorts, with a couple of groups of kids performing dancing and such.
Our group was split up after this; the boys were told to go play basketball, and the girls stayed to do origami.
There was some sort of camp group doing team games on the basketball courts, so we quickly gave up on trying to shoot hoops. Instead, the kids led us to the ping pong tables. We quickly discovered that Alec was the best out of all of us. One of the kids, who was 12, was definitely on track to be a pro; he could outplay all of us, and all of the older kids there too. After a little while, one of the other kids brought out a rugby, and David pulled out his frisbee, so there were multiple circles of sports going on.
We eventually were told to head to the cafeteria building for lunch, which was noodles and soup. When we were about ready to leave, we got roped into taking a picture with another volunteer group there.
After we said our goodbyes to the kids, we headed to the Great Wild Goose Pagoda. Rocky led our tour, teaching us a lot about the history of the building as well as a background in the beliefs of Buddhism. A few neat things we learned: first, the “Wild Goose” in the name of the place does not actually refer to the birds, it refers to Buddha. Second, Chinese Buddhism differs from the original faith in a few ways, but most majorly in how reincarnation is imagined, and in the number of “levels” of beings there are. Third, the Pagoda is actually where many Buddhist monks are buried, some underneath the Pagoda itself and some in separate graves surrounding the area.
After our tour, we got a quick lesson in calligraphy, and had a chance to look at (and for some of us, buy) pieces of art.
For dinner, we walked from the hotel to a restaurant where we ate multiple Xi’an traditional dishes. These included a take on fried chicken, a tofu-like food made of corn, a noodle soup, and bread. The bread, known as a golden cake, was every bit as good as its name implies. The bread was thick but also airy, crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside, and it just melted in your mouth. I’m more than a little sad that I don’t think I’ll be able to find this bread anywhere else in the world.
Later, a group of us went to the market with Jane to help us barter. She turned out to be invaluable to the people who bought stuff, as she seemed to be a great negotiator. Since our group had eight people, it could get tough for us to stay together while walking. So of course, we used Rocky’s favorite phrase as a call when we would get separated: “Hello hello!”