Riding a bullet train is a wild experience. Barreling through the country side at over three hundred km/h, the view changes so rapidly it’s as if everything outside is turning. You’ll look down and back up only to see the scenery has changes completely. When you pass another bullet train making the return trip, the train is pushed to the left by the air pressure between the tow and the whole interaction takes only a few seconds. We took the bullet train six hours from Beijing to Xi’an, a drive which would normally take fifteen hours. A nap and finishing some blog posts and the trip is done.
Our first stop after the hotel in Xi’an is the Muslim quarter and the Drum Tower. The Muslim quarter is a stretch of city where a majority of their Muslim population (which is significantly higher than the rest of China) lives. Many of the roads consist of long stretches of roadside stands with flashing neon signs that are much fancier than the shops themselves. We walked down a main stretch of street that ended at was essentially a bazaar: a section of roads that had been roofed over and even air-conditioned. Here we found the knock-offs and cheap gifts that many of us had been waiting for. It was so large we planned to come back the next night too.
At the end of this long road was our next stop: The Drum Tower. The drum tower is the second half of ancient Chinese “clock” towers. Every two hours during the day a bell would be tolled and then at night drums would be beat. These two tower, drum and bell, made up the city center of many older cities. The tower was as expected: large and had a lot of drums.
The next morning, we tried this new hotel’s breakfast. It was still traditional but a lot more hotel-y, not as fancy and much busier than Beijing. We were then off for our service learning experience for the trip: a visit to the Children’s Village. The village was started by a police officer who found that there were many family’s where both or the only remaining parent was in prison. These kids often lived on their own on the street and had a very high rate of falling into crime themselves. She founded the first village as a place for these kids to live and go to school from until their parents got out of prison or they could take care of themselves. Currently there are nine villages and the one we visited had seven hundred. We were given a tour and then met the kids. We handed out enormous amounts of American chocolate to the kids who were very eager and kept shoving more in any pocket they could find. The older kids would not take any from us but the younger kids would pass them out to the older kids. We played basketball and ping pong with them and preformed a shaky rendition of “Baby Shark” to the young ones. We ate in their dining hall and I was very impressed by the children helping each other, passing out food, and cleaning. The food itself was pretty good, even better than our own dining hall at Pitt.