CHINA – Xi’an
After we check into the hotel and mess around with the room’s hi-tech lighting system, Dr. Pickus leads us to Beiyuanmen road, a market street in the Muslim Quarter. For dinner, we start in with lamb skewers and large, circular flat bread. Then we venture into green bean cake with nuts, peanut butter cake, rice sticks, a sample of watermelon jam, watermelon in a cup, spicy lettuce, stringy, super thin noodles, and powdery peanut candy that becomes sticky when you put it in your mouth.
Sam and I take a seat on the curb to eat. The market seems to get livelier as the night goes on.
DAY 15 June 2
A phone call wakes me up. It’s Fei on the other end telling us the group is waiting downstairs. I throw a pillow across the room at Dan and tell him to get up. We’ve overslept.
After we tour the Great Mosque, I bow out of a group lunch to return to the hotel for a shower and get lunch on my own before we visit the terracotta warriors. I walk into a small paomo shop near the market, having no clue what paomo actually is.
The street front’s painted red with a white interior. The host directs me to a table occupied by an elderly Chinese man, who is enjoying a tiny plate of pickled garlic, spitting out the shells and putting them in a neat stack on the table. I sit across from him and the server brings me a plate. I expect the garlic to be strong, but it’s refreshing, so I pop a couple more cloves in my mouth and make a pile of my own.
Everyone in the place seems to be given the same bowl of steaming brown broth with thin, transparent noodles, along with the garlic, and some dry, pita-type bread. The elderly man starts to tear the round bread into little pieces and place it in the broth. I look around at the other people in the place and watch them do the same, so I copy. He eats some noodles then another clove of garlic. He gives me a subtle smile when he realizes I’m copying his every move, but he doesn’t murmur a word the whole time. Maybe it’s because I missed breakfast this morning, but the lunch is amazing. It’s a different set of flavors I haven’t had yet in China.
The path that leads to the terracotta warriors is beautiful, but scorching hot. We’re all sweaty by the time we arrive. There are a few different buildings on the site. Andrew and I check out one, expecting to see rows of soldiers, but it turns out to be a museum. Then we head to a warehouse building marked “Pit 2,” which turns out to be mounds of dirt. “Pit 1” is the one we’ve all seen pictures of. You walk around the statues via a wraparound balcony, looking down to the level below. To see them close up, you have to be a VIP (there are a few people down there), or you have to do what I do and zoom in to the max with your camera. The figures look fragile like sand castles on a beach.
At night, we go to Club Salsa, which is really more like Club Techno. A Chinese girl asks me to dance with one of her friends. She’s a student at the university in Xi’an and she asks me random dance-related questions while we’re dancing. She shouts into my ear, “Why do Americans love to dance?” and “Do you like the show, “Dancing with the Stars”?”
DAY 16 June 3
ancient city wall of xi’an
I have to admit, I always thought my first tandem bike ride would be with a girl. Like maybe I’d be walking down the street and this girl would ride by with an empty seat and offer me a lift and we’d go have a picnic somewhere. But instead, my first tandem ride is with Andrew.
We pair off atop the massive city wall near the south gate. The “modern” wall was started in 1370 and makes about an 8.5 mile square. There was an even older version of the wall that existed before they rebuilt it in the Ming Dynasty. Nowadays tourists complete the loop on rented bicycles.
Andrew and are given a bike with a small tag labeled, “69.” Riding in tandem is harder than we expect. We have a rickety old bike and just getting it moving is a chore. We decide to run alongside it and then hop on like we’re push-starting a bobsled. The bike sways back and forth in slow motion for a solid ten seconds before it gets going. We go through the same start process every time we stop.
We bike around the bumpy, cobblestone wall that once fortified Xi’an from intruders, picking up some speed and passing a few of our classmates. The bike jostles more as we go faster, but it’s fun. Out of the blue, it’ll skirt a foot left or right of where we center it. We nearly go down a flight of stairs at one point. That’s not an exaggeration.
Halfway through, we see Brianna and Julia coming at us in the distance (they chose to go the opposite way), and decide to play a game of chicken with them. We head straight at them at full speed. I hold tightly to the handle bars as they shake violently. They look terrified. Here we come barreling at them with our out of control bike. At the last second, we peel off right, and Julia and Brianna swerve to their right. It was a good thing we chose opposite directions. I lift my hands up in triumph and our bike makes a wicked curve and the whole chain pops off. It pops off two more times before we complete the loop, but Andrew’s able to reattach it.
After about an hour, we’re rounding the bend back to where we picked up the bike and most of the group has finished. We see Grant and Jordan taking some pictures and try to race them the last ¼ mile as they effortlessly get back onto their bike. They go freaking fast compared to us, but we keep pedaling as fast as we can. 100 yards from the finish our chain comes off again. Our feet are moving in circles, but nothing’s happening. Then the whole thing falls apart and we crash over on our sides right in front of the whole group. We carry the bike in over our heads the last 50 yards like the end of Cool Runnings, minus the slow clap. We had to finish the race.
DAY 17 June 4