Wednesday, 13 February 2019

I loved Xi'an, China - It's way more than the Terracotta Army

After our gob smacking experience this morning viewing the Terracotta Army we were feeling pretty content with our day but there was so much more to come.

The Small Wild Goose Pagoda
Firstly we were off to view the Small Wild Goose Pagoda.  It is set  in a lovely tranquil park and with the late afternoon sun dappling the pagoda through the trees it was a lovely place to stroll, relax and spend some reflective time.  The pagoda is itself impressive. Built between 707 and 709 it is 43 metres tall with 15 tiers, the top tier having been crumbled by an earthquake in 1556.  It is said to be one of the most well preserved Tang Dynasty pagodas. The adjoining Jianu Temple originally housed a large Buddha, sadly destroyed in the cultural revolution.

The tranquil park

Right: This large bell is a replica of the original which is 800 years old and is located in the temple. Tourists swing the pole to strike the bell while praying for good fortune.

As part of our tour we were ushered to a nearby calligraphy work shop for a demonstration of the art, the idea clearly being for us to buy.  I don't think anyone did, though, and most of us thought it would have been better to spend more time exploring the pagoda and the surrounding park.

Our next stop was fantastic, albeit not long enough.  We were visiting the Muslim Quarter, a web of streets where the 50,000 Hui Muslims of Xi'an make their home.  Muslims have been part of the population of the city for 1400 years, having arrived in China via the silk road.  I love local markets so was once again in my happy place.  The street of blue stone pavers and shady trees is a vibrant, colourful, exciting corridor of food vendors selling all sorts of interesting food - squid, pomegranates, bread, fruit, pancakes, all types of skewers and candied nuts. Vendors calling out, silver smiths hammering jewelry, nuts being ground and pummeled, lots of people milling around, chatting and eating and as the day turned to dusk, lights coming on, all added to this wonderful joyful, noisy kaleidoscope of liveliness. All the vendors are Chinese Muslim and most wear traditional dress. I loved it and was really sorry we couldn't spend more time there.

But, places to go, food to eat!  We were having a pre show dinner at the Xi'an Chinese Cultural Centre.  Xi'an is proud of its dumplings and, boy, do they put on a display. We were served plate after plate of the tastiest, cutest dumplings I have ever seen. They came out in all shapes - ducks, frogs, hedgehogs, etc., an instagramer's  delight but I was so busy admiring and eating them I forgot to photograph any.

Our final activity for the day was the cultural show, something Xi'an is famous for and a great insight into Chinese theatre. As a tour group we were given VIP seats right up the front so we all had a great view.  The show tells the story of a ruthless, ambitious empress from the Tang Dynasty and draws on traditional Chinese folk dances and music with the whole cast, including the orchestra outfitted in elaborate Tang dynasty costumes.   At one point a chubby man playing the rather shrill Chinese flute  had a solo in centre stage.  He was flamboyant in his performance and looked incredibly proud of himself, you could see him thinking "I am the star of this show".  I'm always interested in cultural performances and found this fascinating, if a little over the top, but I think that is the typical dramatics of Chinese theatre.  I was so exhausted after this big exciting day that I found it hard to stay awake through the performance despite the noise and colour.  (Below is a tiny snippet from the show )

Back at the hotel I fell into bed with a happy smile on my face.  What a great day, and then I reflected on yesterday as well - walking the city wall, the night illuminations,  dancing with the locals in the street and I decided, yes, I have loved Xi'an.