Bulls In Xi'an Shops
So our last day in Xi'an was spent walking. We walked a lot. It is a city of 8 million, so the nice old part inside the city walls (44km long rectangle, wider than tall, don't know the measurements, so can't give you the area, sorry.), is just a smidgen of what there is on offer. We spent a good portion of the day wandering around outside the walls, but not very far. It is a big city by Canadian standards and we were certainly well outside any "touristy" areas.
In the morning, after another leisurely breakfast - turns out there is a breakfast even slower than the Mexican, and that is the Israeli one. I don't know what qualified it as Israeli, it was just fried eggs with tons of canned tomatoes over a layer of barely cooked potato strips. It was quite tasty though. The English and American breakfasts were ready in a jiffy for everyone who ordered them. I think it might be the addition of potatoes that puts the kibosh on a speedy repast - we packed up our room, stowed our bags and headed out. Our first stop was the Great Mosque in the heart of the Muslim quarter. It was great (size wise) and a Mosque (lots of prayer mats and men getting ready to pray in their little prayer hats), but it was in pretty poor shape, and like almost everything else in every city we have been to, covered in a layer of grime. – It is weird how dirty and how not dirty everything is. The walls, streets, benches, anything that sits still is REALLY GRIMEY, a few things that move are too, stray pets, the beggars,the medium and slow trains. Most things that move are shiny and clean. The People, their Cars (haven't seen a carwash, but any vehicle that is getting used regularly seems to shine). Given the number of people, and their endless ability to litter you would think that the country would be up to it's hips in garbage, it seems though that there are these tiny old people that come out early in the morning that clean it up. Seriously the entrance to the Subway late at night is just a shambles, get up bright and early and it is all gone. Oh, and you NEVER want to sit down on a floor EVER. Enough about the grime – The Mosque was an interesting blend of Chinese and Islamic. The arabic calligraphy blends in nicely with the dragons and lotus flowers. The prayer hall was impressive, but we weren't allowed inside. I don't think non-muslims ever are, but on top of that they were getting ready for noon prayers. After finishing up with that we walked through the quarter and had Cold Noodles with Sesame and Ice Peak Soda. I know, what a surprise, but they are so good. From lunch we headed out on a long walk through the walled city and beyond to The Temple of the Eight Immortals. An ancient Taoist temple set on the sight of a teashop where someone got hammered and said he saw all of the Eight Immortals sitting around him drinking. I know there is more to the story than that but that was my take-away from the poorly translated, highly reflective, almost impossible to read signs outside the temple wall. Inside it was a working temple built on the same model as all the other temples (and the mosque) we have seen. Lots of courtyards surrounded by little prayer rooms and a central gate leading to another courtyard, back and back until you get to the main one, and then a garden behind it. The Temple was quite busy, monks doing prayers, tons of worshippers. The incense brasiers were so full that most of them were on fire, rather than smoking and people kept burning themselves trying to add their incense. I am more used to the smell of Indian/Hippy incense, so at first the chinese stuff just seemed to smell like smoke, but I am accustomed to it now and kind of like it. I have to learn more about Taoism, what was going on in that temple, especially all the offers to statues of crabby looking old men with long beards just doesn't mesh with my simple understanding. I didn't see Piglet anywhere.
Another long walk took us to this park. It was a big park with a driving range, a pond for rowing, an amusements section, and a very sad park. I guess someone forgot to put up the don't walk on the grass signs (they have them most everywhere you find grass), and most of the park was just beaten down dirt with trees poking out of it. Between the dead dry dirt, the dead winter trees, the layer of grime, and the ever-thickening haze of the smog, well it wasn't an uplifting park for me. The families there seemed to be having fun though.
After that, a very long, long, we can't find what we are looking for walk took us almost all the way back to the hostel. Seems like the highly recommended restaurant we were searching for is no longer there. People pointed us in the direction for it, but the building was half abandoned. No worries, a second highly recommended restaurant was just a few blocks away. And it was good. Spicy noodles with Tofu, incredibly spicy potatoes with peppers and onions, weird pear flavored beer. MMMM MMMM. We still had 5 hours until our train left so we sat in a really expensive cafe and drank really expensive coffee (Actually no greater than Starbucks price, but the 4 we had were more than the dinner, including beer), then picked up our bags and walked (we had time to kill, but my hips, knees and ankles felt like they were being murdered) up to the train station.
There were 2 hours to go until the train left, but there was already a line up, so we lined up. What a mad jumble. Pushing, shoving, stepping over. Cramming into any square inch. We couldn't figure out why, all the seats are assigned, so people who have them don't need to worry, all the standing spaces are just that, one carriage is as good as another. Morag got really crabby at being shoved, sat her bag down and went to sleep on it. Changed the whole balance of power in our section of the mob/line. People behind us would see the empty space beside me, and come plowing forward to move into it, get up to me, realize there was a body in the space, but between the prone Morag and the whole family with the huge bags beside her, there was no way past. Rolling eyes, tentative half steps, attempts to climb over. If I hadn't been so tired I would have enjoyed it more. Suddenly, with an hour to go, the sign changes, there is a collective groan/growl/rumble that runs through the crowd, everyone jumps to their feet and starts pushing. Both Morag and I were lifted off our feet a couple of times. People were in a panic to get on the train, running flat out down the platform for a train that wasn't going to leave for an hour. I really don't get it, my guess is that the standing only folks had to grab luggage space. It was difficult to get to our seats, because of all the people standing in every doorway, seriously, put your body in a doorway and don't move, even for the big fat guy with the huge backpack, just don't move. It was a bit like a rugby scrimmage. Once we got to our seats, and then kicked out the squatters (only pay for a standing seat, then sit wherever and whenever you can, even if only for a few minutes) we fell promptly asleep, even before the train left the station.