First day trip outside of Xi’an
We finally got out of the town and saw blue skies. Cui Hua Shan is a national park an hour’s bus ride from Xi’an. The place is very well kept, clean by Chinese standards and has half-decent transport links. We used a combination of a bus and this to get there:
Cui Hua Shan is known for its rocks, which were created by a landslide created by an earthquake in 780BC. The highest peak in the national park is just over 2600 metres. It was quite cold when we went, the mountains were covered with snow and the waterfalls were frozen. I can just imagine this place in spring when the snow is melting and the waterfalls are flowing down the mountains and the trees are in bloom, should be very beautiful.
We went through some rural parts of China, which reminded me of some places in Estonia. There are a lot of dilapidated Soviet style buildings. Warehouses and collective farms built with white bricks, all very monotonous and uniformly square.
We noticed quite a few Buddhist monasteries and temples on mountain peaks. Most of them seem unreachable, some are built in caves and some you can hardly notice as they are so well hidden. David and I walked up to a temple. The walk was really long and we took a lot of photo breaks (read: I was too tired to walk any further) – the views were stunning from all directions. The steps leading up to the temple were covered in thick untouched snow – nobody had ventured that far for a while. To our (slight) disappointment we discovered the temple was closed once we reached the top, but the views were worth the long walk.
One interesting thing we saw from up there was this:
This is Xi’an in the distance and pollution right above it.
Then started the long and slippery road back down the mountain. We found a restaurant about a kilometre from the bottom and decided to go and eat. There was no English or picture menu so I asked in my very beginner Chinese if we could have what the table next to us was having. The guy who served us seemed to understand and said it was OK. After a while he came back saying they had no more of what we ordered, although we saw him delivering it to many other tables who ordered after us. So we tried to ask him for something else, but he told us he doesn’t have anything and said we should leave. He could not be bothered to even try to understand us. Anyway, we refused to leave and got our food in the end and left very angry. It is very rare that we meet people as rude as that, but when it does happen it is very very unpleasant.
After this rather rude encounter we walked into a local village and decided to go and have some tea at a local restaurant. There we met the most lovely Chinese girl who served us. We stayed there for a while and sat by the kettle to warm up.
Some guests arrived after a while, with their own food, and decided that they should feed us. So we had this weird conversation in Chinese and broken English about all the food we ate and it was great. We had some pomelo, sucarcane, sugarcakes and other things that I had never seen before and still don’t know what they were. Our faith in the kindness of Chinese people was restored once again.
Catholic church and soup kitchen
We found out there’s a UK-funded charity here in Xi’an called Yellow River Charity, who organises a soup kitchen every week. The soup kitchen is based at a local Catholic church, but the two are not affiliated. We decided to go and volunteer there.
We had a hard time finding the place, but we finally stumbled upon this very Roman looking building in the middle of Xi’an, which was the Catholic church. So we went inside and it was the strangest experience. The church was full of people with a queue outside. There were both young and old people there, a lot of children as well. We were the only non-Chinese people I could see, but we were welcomed and asked to sit down and take part of the service. I didn’t take any photos, but the church itself was beautiful. It had some very Chinese characteristics, but also some very Roman ones and a lot of Latin everywhere. So while we were sitting there utterly confused, a little girl came and sat next to me with her prayer book and shared it with me, showing with her finger where we were. She was so sweet and I did not have the heart to tell her that I do not know how to read Chinese. She was also the one who finally showed us to the soup kitchen, which was right in front of the church, but the electricity had gone off and it was pitch black, which is why we didn’t notice it.
Anyway, when we got there they had already finished, but we did meet a nice American guy and his girlfriend and two Chinese guys. We all went out for a Chinese hotpot afterwards, which was pretty good. A hotpot is exactly what it sounds like. You all sit around a table with a pot of boiling broth in the middle of you. The pot is usually split so it has a spicy and mild broth – yin and yang. You order different food like cuts of meat, tofu, mushrooms and so on and cook it all in the pot.
The two Chinese guys we met, Ben and Leon, were actually really honest in answering all our questions about the government. They both knew the government has banned a number of foreign websites and that the media is biased and it’s so difficult to get out of China for the Chinese, but there is clearly nothing they can do about it. They said interestingly, that they don’t oppose it. They said that the government has to introduce Western things slowly as there have already been so many changes in China recently that people may get the wrong ideas and it could all go wrong. I think the government is just afraid of people knowing too much and raising their voices against the government. The love for Western goods is clear everywhere. McDonalds is always full of people, as are Burger King and KFC. There are huge department stores full of luxury brands. Quite often it’s just the brand name and the status that comes with it that people are after. These brands are not always what they seem to be though; today I saw Chrisitan Doir, Dhloe and Hugo Bess amongst others.
Ben and Leon provided all the food, which was again so kind of them. We had some beautiful chicken, beef, fish and lamb all covered in Chinese fivespice and Sichuan chilli. We also had some jellyfish salad, which was…..interesting.
Some tourists there took our photos as they thought it was nice to see foreigners enjoying Chinese food. Hanging out with Chinese people is mega nice. They never tire of answering all our questions about the local life and they taught us a lot of new Chinese words, including some useful swearwords, so I can shout at the crazy drivers in Chinese now instead of Estonian.
Hey baby, nice butt!
This is probably the biggest curiosity I have found here so far. Most Chinese babies do not wear diapers. They have split pants instead. This means that their butts and frontal bits are always exposed to the world and they can do their business whenever they want wherever they want. I have never seen so many baby butts in my life. This is very environmentally friendly, which I like, but at the same time it is extremely strange. The baby butts must get so cold in the winter. Apparently Chinese babies are potty trained from a very early age, which is helped by the split pants. I have not taken any photos just because I don’t want to seem like a pervert, but you can Google it and see for yourself.
I suppose diapers are just as strange as split pants. Is carrying your poop around in your pants better than dropping it off into a gutter?
This is a great concoction of Chinese and English and comes about when people try to translate Chinese directly into English. It can be very funny and very confusing. Chinese is a very poetic language; they talk a lot in idioms, which makes translating it to any other language complicated. The Chinese grammar is a lot simpler than English grammar, so Chinglish also has some bizarre grammar structures.
Desperate times call for desperate measures
I am sure you all know how much I love cake. There is no oven in our flat but the microwave oven. So what did clever me do? Yes, I made a cake in the microwave. In a mug. It had fake nutella, flour, oil and sugar. Don’t judge.
General life in Xi’an
The weather is getting a lot warmer now and it seems that the number of street vendors goes up with every centigrade. I am, of course, very happy about this. We now have some people selling fresh pineapples in the street corners, all nicely cored and cut up. There are a lot of old guys in the streets playing a little string instrument which I believe is called erhu. The sound is an acquired taste for sure.
I have developed something I call the Chinese Rage. It surfaces when I get extremely annoyed by people staring at me, cars never stopping, people spitting and throwing up in the middle of the street etc etc. It comes and goes quickly.
We both have quite a few classes now and feel a lot more settled in our schools. I think having a routine really helps to settle into a place.