Our first full day in Xi’an was a busy one. As we took the bus out to the children’s village, we noticed how different this new city was than Beijing. It’s less spread out, so it feels more like a normal city, but it is also older and gives off a more foreign vibe. We left the city and passed through the countryside, which was covered in cherry tree orchards. After a while we arrived at the children’s village, which is a non-profit founded by a police officer that provides a home for children with incarcerated parents. We started with a tour of the facilities and a presentation by one of the leaders of the organization. There are currently 55 children living in the village, and since its founding in 1996, they have served over 700 in total. Out of all the good they have done, perhaps the accomplishment they are most proud of is the fact that none of the children who have lived in the village have gone on to become criminals. The time then came to meet some of the kids, whose ages ranged from around toddler-age to maybe 15. They were a bit shy at first, but quickly opened up when we brought out huge bags of Hersey Kisses that we brought with us.
Some of the older boys then led us down to their basketball court, where we taught them knockout and played some soccer. It was great because we didn’t need to speak the same language to have fun. We joked around with the boys and even taught them how to dap us up.
I’m not sure how much time passed, but eventually we had to say our goodbyes and leave the village for our next destination, the Wild Goose Pagoda. This visit was really cool because the Pagoda is a part of a complex of Buddhist temples, so there were intricate and beautiful statues and shrines to different deities. Liliana even showed a few of us how to plant incense and pay our respects to the Buddha for good luck.
Later, we all sat down for a class about Chinese calligraphy, where the instructor demonstrated the basic strokes and phonetically translated our names to Chinese. So after that, we returned to the hotel to prepare for a night out in the Muslim quarter, which was prefaced by a delicious dinner that Dr. Li treated us to. The Muslim quarter was definitely the most surreal experience of the trip due to the sheer sea of humanity that we were met with (and the smells… so many smells). I think Chris described it best when he said that it felt like the opening scene of a James Bond movie. The narrow streets were lined with vendors selling all sorts of sketchy-looking foods on skewers (which they later scavenged from the trash cans for reuse). We were surrounded by people, cars, and scooters all trying to move in different directions, which produced traffic so bad that we couldn’t even walk at one point.
After maybe half an hour of shoving, dodging scooters, and holding my breath to avoid particularly rank odors, we found what we were looking for: the counterfeit market. For the next few hours, we all had some fun haggling with the vendors there for fake designer products and other souvenirs. I personally acquired a Louis Vuitton belt along with a Supreme duffle bag and fanny pack. Eventually, everyone found their way back to the hotel, thankfully without being pickpocketed in the crowd. I doubt I’ll find anywhere else quite like that in the future.