Greetings from Xi’an, China! Xi’an is located in north central China. It was an ancient capital city (complete with city walls!), the seat of the empire for several dynasties. It is most well known for being the home of the Terra Cotta Soldiers, considered the eighth wonder of the ancient world.
Sometimes it is hard to appreciate the fact that China has over one billion people. When we were planning our trip, we considered going to Xi’an first. But then we thought it would be a good idea to go to a big city first, before going to a small one. Well – big and small are relative in China. Beijing is huge indeed, with over 10 million people. Xi’an is smaller – but it still has a whopping 3.5 million people! I don’t think there are 10 US cities (including their suburbs) that would be any bigger.
As I wrote earlier, Beijing was not what I expected to see. So modern, so clean, so orderly – so dull. I think the combination of Party HQ and the Olympics has made Beijing boring (or perhaps it has always been boring). Xi’an, on the other hand, was exactly what I expected. Xi’an is full of life. Right outside my hotel room, you can see a busy intersection. There are small vendors selling things like squid on a skewer. There are clothing stores, cell phone stores, and restaurants. When you walk around downtown, you don’t really feel like a tourist. You’re just another person in a crowd.
It’s really nice to see so many people walking around all the time. In the States, it seems that everyone cloisters themselves at home. Once in a while, they may go shopping or out to eat, but they go right back home afterwards. It seems that people spend more of their time outside in Xi’an. You see lots of people just taking a stroll, hanging out on a park bench, grabbing a snack from a street vendor. Perhaps it’s due to tighter living quarters. Or perhaps it’s just culture.
Traffic is pretty amusing here (it’s like this in Vietnam too). The streets are full of cars, buses, mopeds, bikes, and pedestrians. It seems like the rule of the road is “just do it.” People will turn left with oncoming traffic. They don’t stick to driving lanes. While we were waiting for a train to cross yesterday, the drivers (including ours) queued up on the wrong side of the road so they could cut in front of everyone ahead of them. As a pedestrian, it’s a similar deal. To cross the road, you just start walking at a steady pace. Cars will avoid you. You just shouldn’t make sudden moves or hesitate. And if you wait for traffic to clear, you may have to wait forever.
Photos available online here.