To Xi’an & beyond…

There is no beyond, we just went to Xi’an and back but it doesn’t have the same ring to it…

Second round of visitors (only 10 days after the first) arrived safely. After a 13 day tour of China, Joel’s parents Richard and Tracey, took a high speed train from Beijing to Guangzhou. They had a surprise greeting by us at the train station and we arranged a van to pick us up, hoping that some extra space would be appreciated for the hour long drive into the city. Unfortunately this was lost in translation (or something like that) and our vehicle was a sedan. Luckily the two suitcases fit in the trunk and three of us squeezed in the back. The in-laws took this in stride and had no complaints about the cramped conditions of this car ride (I had enough for all of us I think). After 2 days of rest at our apartment we headed off to Xi’an for a long weekend. Luckily our van was organised and delivered. No cramped ride to the airport. Smooth travels up (no delays) and easy taxi ride to our accommodation. This is where the fun starts. We decided to get an Airbnb so we had more space to spread out and room to hang out and play cards at night (which we did every night). We also wanted to be in a good location, able to walk around easily and not rely on taxis. The only positives to this stay. The apartment, while spacious, was a bit dingy on the outside, giving our guests some apprehension about where we decided to stay. Once inside we discovered an apartment with two decent sized rooms, a nice sitting area and a bathroom with an opaque window. How lovely for 4 people to share a place with a view into the loo. The beds also were misleading as they weren’t mattresses, they were the hard base of a mattress. While the window to the toilet could be covered with taped up papers, we had to suffer on the beds for 4 nights. Again, our fellow travellers took it in stride and had very few gripes and groans (mine were enough for 4 people). Once I got over the fact that this apartment was not up to our standards, I was able to enjoy the reasons for taking this trip: to be a tourist!

We visited Terracotta Warriors (along with 30,000 other people), the Muslim Quarter, The City Wall, Muslim Quarter, The Bell Tower, The Drum Tower, Muslim Quarter,  a brewery and the Muslim Quarter. A favourite spot was definitely the Muslim Quarter.

On our way to the Terracotta Warriors, we stopped in to a factory where they make the souvenir warriors. Quite impressive with the detail and hand-crafting that goes on with each warrior.

Once at the ‘museum” as our guide called it, we were awed and impressed by the sheer vastness of this army. Of course I don’t remember any of the actual numbers of each or size or importance of this terracotta army, it was still amazing (even if it was my second visit).

Before launching into everything awesome and amazing about the Muslim Quarter and why we visited multiple times, I’ll share the other activities we did while in Xi’an:

We made it 2/3 of the way around the City Wall of Xi’an. A two hour rental is not enough to make it 13km, with a gift shop stop or two, signs to read and people to dodge on the wall. It was enough though as a few of us had not been on a bike in many many years (sore bums were not uncommon after this activity).

The next activity we did was visiting the Bell Tower and Drum Tower. The history of this city amazes me. We live in a relatively “young” or “new” city. Things here just aren’t old. All old things have been destroyed, torn down and built over, then a new version of the old temples, family halls or buildings are reconstructed, usually including neon lights of some sort. Being in a city that has held on to it’s historical sites and attempted to preserve them (with enhancement of neon lighting) makes you appreciate the true and vast history of this country. We are faced with the manufacturing and trading, markets and shopping and plenty of factories here and forget that this country has been through a lot and has a lot to offer. Xi’an opened our eyes up to that and it was a great experience.

 

Another amazing piece of history we heard about, then stumbled upon, was the Great Mosque. Although we were in the middle of a bustling city and market area, once inside the gardens at the mosque, everything was peaceful and quiet. Amazing pieces of architecture covered the grounds and we wandered through the gardens amazed at the age of the entire mosque. While I enjoy a bit of history and stories about the past, my favourite part were the playful kittens, of course.

So we hit the big tourist spots of Xi’an, mostly inside the city wall. Between visiting those places, we either wandered through or stopped to eat in, the Muslim Quarter. Have a look at the link to read about it. The history is very interesting, it is very unique to China and makes for a great place to visit (over and over again). We enjoyed the street food several times, although never daring to eat the meat (which hangs on hooks in the street). There was plenty of places to shop at, with a mix of tourist trinkets and art and traditional Chinese items. Because we were staying just down the street from this area, we were able to visit time and time again, trying a new food each time, or repeating a favourite (potatoes for Joel). During the day the area was relatively calm, however at night the streets literally filled up with people (locals and tourists alike) queuing for a Chinese hamburger or skewers of (what we assumed was) lamb. Amongst the crowds were also motorbikes, zooming through the narrow streets, blaring horns and occasionally yelling at people mesmerised by the energetic food holders calling people in (or maybe only focused on their phones). Either way, it’s chaotic. Bright lights also stuck out from every restaurant front, flashing neon words in Chinese. Overwhelmed was an understatement for me. Let’s just say I stuck to daytime visits. Plenty of stimulation for me there. Minimal photos because we always had food in our hands.

We had a great family trip to Xi’an. We all survived. No one got lost, and most importantly both our flights were on time (this is a very big deal in China).

Did I mention they like their bright lights on the ancient buildings? Not much of a heritage site, but it sure looked pretty!

Tour Guiding…

GZ is officially a tourist spot. At least it is for the Kaldasaun’s tourism group. We have hosted our first set of visitors and it went pretty well. No one got sick or hurt or lost and I’m pretty certain they had a great time. It was also the busiest and most consecutive days out in GZ I have had thus far.

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OuIMG_2105r first visitors are direct from Melbourne. With only a 3 week lead up to the trip, they booked in, got a great deal and made the most of this city (technically it was one Aussie and one American, but both from Oz). We had 6 days together and made the most of it. Their trip started off with a walk along the river on a gorgeous Friday evening, drinks with some of our “local” friends and completed their first night in GZ with KTV.

Saturday we ventured out on bikes to a local art district and wandered around, Genni making friends with everyone and Helena using her few Chinese phrases with locals. We also had a first with the girls-visiting Canton Tower. It is the second tallest tower in China and the 5th tallest free standing structure in the world. It makes sense, then, to go on the thrill ride at the top of the tower. Which is also the highest vertical free fall in the world. My thrill seeker friend, Genni, was the brave one that conquered this and came down with a renewed love of life.

Sunday was another big day: shopping. The girls got their first taste of real China and the GZ markets. We took them to the Western Clothes Market, which is massive and overwhelming and filled with clothes that mostly only small Chinese girls fit into. The fun was trying to figure out how to let us try clothes on. If it was possible, most likely something was purchased, however neither of my friends were very good at the haggling part of the transactions. If I was there I would go for it, otherwise it was a full priced item (or even more because they were pretty easy targets even if they didn’t mean to be). Joel and I are pretty good at the bargaining thing and like to try it out every chance we get. I am more of a hard bargainer than he is-something I am proud of!

After our big Sunday out and about we stayed in and played a IMG_2147traditional Chinese game of Mahjong. This is one of my favourite games at the moment and I was so impressed my friends caught on so quickly! We actually had 2 nights of Mahjong in the end-I may have created some new followers!

On Monday I took them on my favourite activity in GZ: Cycle Canton. We spent the day riding around GZ (with only one other on the tour from the states). We pedalled our hearts out all day, exploring the temples, family halls, kung fu academy, markets and so much more!

Tuesday was a special treat: making dumplings at a local restaurant. The restaurant is a new one opened up by GETCH and run by students with handicaps that attend GETCH. It is run by a former student, has many staff members and a full time chef. We were lucky enough to be invited in and taught how to make dumplings like a local. This was not entirely successful but we all had a blast and had an amazing lunch! Afterwards we popped into a local temple for some peaceful wandering and a bit of chanting (Helena joined a prayer march in one temple, unsure of what she was actually saying but getting involved nonetheless!)

The final day of their visit, I took the girls back to the market (always more shopping to be done!) and to a local shopping mall. The mall was unimpressive but they had to see what it is like here for all types of shopping! We had a great time braving the metro (train) system and attempting only one taxi ride as people with motion sickness don’t do well above ground here in cars! It was a whirlwind of a trip and showed me how far I’ve come since moving here nearly 8 months ago! I felt like I could handle the city and everything it it entails to get around and explore! I look forward to more visitors and showing off the awesome, if exhausting, city!

 

A market full of quirks…

I have been thinking about writing a post about the odd things I encounter everyday, but I noticed this perfect article to give those people who have not yet travelled to GZ, or even China, a better understanding of things here. Just because there is some sort of explanation doesn’t make it easier to tolerate or understand: Chinese Cultural Quirks. But you need to also understand, this is another culture. It is so different than where I have come from, first the US then Australia. Even the move from one westernised country to another was difficult and I still comment/complain about “Aussie-isms”. Just ask my husband.

Being tolerant of these interesting behaviours and cultural norms is something I am working on. I would guess many of my posts seem negative. And they probably are. I am not the first person to feel that way about China or living overseas. I know I will not be the last. Just because the entire world is becoming more westernised does not mean China is going to change their customs. Everyday it makes for an interesting adventure.

For example, yesterday Joel and I used the day to go to a massive market. It’s called One Link International Plaza. Many friends here talk about it and it seems you could get anything you want there (it is also known as the toy market but that was not the majority of “stuff” there). Challenges Joel and I face when going out shopping include, but are not limited to getting annoyed with the other’s shopping style, not finding the right items, getting hungry and too many people. These are issues we face in Oz, put us in China and it is all multiplied, mostly dealing with people. But also finding the right items in a place like this is a nightmare.

I need to explain this place first. I have been to a few different markets so far in GZ (the shopping here is amazing when you have time, patience and no clue what you actually want). All markets are indoors, multiple levels and usually have a theme: clothing, shoes,, accessories, leather (bags, wallets, shoes), etc. No theme at OneLink. Except that there are lots of speciality shops. Specialities like magnets, key chains, butterfly accessories, miniature figurines, dried flowers, beach themed homewares, scarves, the list can go on and on. Photos were not encouraged so no proof of these shops but they are there. The speciality shops were one thing, the other was the two wings to the market and the many, many levels. Joel and I separated briefly for Christmas shopping and we both got lost. Overwhelming was an understatement. However, the crowds weren’t the biggest problem. in the narrow aisles between shops people would stand in the middle, sometimes smoking a cigarette, other times (or at the same time) watching their young child skate, scoot or just run amok between other shoppers. The best part is when the shopkeepers sit in front of their shop with tea or a meal, mostly ignoring you until you step into the shop and look at something closely then you are questioned, sometimes in Chinese, or they use their minimal English shopping vocabulary. If you don’t want to buy, then get out otherwise you may be harassed. But if you do want to make a purchase, always haggle. I have even gotten better at it than Joel.

Joel and I spent a few hours wandering the place, passing the same shops when we would get lost, eventually buying a few items we actually came for (throw pillows, a clock and Christmas lights). Overall is was a success. But in order to see it all, an entire day has to be given to take it all in. And maybe hiring a driver because you need a secure ride home (our taxi back home, while a woman driver, still wouldn’t use the meter and charged us pretty high). We did find another little gem before we left after crossing the street to grab a taxi. Shoes. We only scratched the surface of this new market area, but shoes. So many beautiful leather shoes. I was after some tacky boots for a dress-up party and couldn’t find any! They were all so nice (the tacky ones they did have didn’t come in my size). We didn’t have much time to shop as we had a dog back at home to attend to, but we will be back and Joel even agreed on it. I think he is actually liking shopping in China. We’ll see how he feels after I take him to the next market…

So, that is China. Specifically GZ. Sounds like I had a positive experience shopping. My limit is usually 2-3 hours out and about. This time I surpassed and got to nearly 4. You just get used to the quirks. They seem so different and so strange but I am sure the Chinese think they same of us…I should look for an article about Westernised Quirks from the Asian perspective. I know we have a lot!