China pt 9 - The End (finally)

Walking to the Drum Tower

From the Bell Tower we walked about half a mile to the Drum Tower. Just north of the Drum Tower is the famous Muslim quarter of Xian. About 50,000 Muslims live there and are known as the Hui people. They are ethnically the same as the Han Chinese but practice the Muslim religion. There culture is the same except for a few things dictated by their religion. They don't eat pork which is a Chinese staple. Women wear scarves or veils and men wear a white cap. There are about 10 million Hui Muslims in China, mostly in the northwest. They are recognized as one of the 56 distinct ethnic groups in the PRC.

The Muslim quarter is centered on Beiyuan Mei street, which starts at the Drum Tower and heads north. It is a pretty, tree-lined street with shops and restaurants along both sides. It was closed to traffic but was filled with pedestrians. At the end of the street we visited the Great Mosque of Xian. This was built 1400 years ago during the Tang dynasty by the emperor Xuanzong to reward the Hui people of Xian for helping him to win an important battle. It is one of the largest and most famous mosques in China and is still active. It is totally Chinese architecture - there are no domes or minarets as in most mosques around the world. Instead there are Chinese pavilions and pagodas. And it is not a single building but a series of walled courtyards surrounded by small prayer halls. And like other Chinese buildings it is wood construction - no stone. It was a very pretty and peaceful place.

Beiyuan Mei street in the Muslim quarter

On our way back we walked through the Xian market. This was a long side street, more like an alley really, that paralleled Beiyuan Mei for its entire length. It was lined with small shops and vendor selling just about every kind of souvenir and knock off you could imagine. We had to get back to the Drum Tower to meet the lady from the lacquer factory but we resolved to come back later.

We went back to the lacquer factory that we had visited the day before and entered another round of negotiation. Although we supposedly had agreed to a price on the phone, somehow we ended up paying about 10% more then we thought we had agreed to. Maybe it was shipping, although it was supposed to be included. Maybe it was tax, although we weren't supposed to pay tax since it was a government factory. It was still a good deal. Since we were going to be in the States for much of June and July we arranged for them to delay the shipment until our return. They do an elaborate job of packing it in a wooden crate to protect it from damage. I will have to figure out how to get it delivered to our flat since I will undoubtedly have to go down to Customs to pay Singapore tax on it when it arrives. There might be a post later if that turns out to be an adventure.

A Chinese pavilion inside the Great Mosque of Xian

We really wanted to do some more shopping so we had the lady take us back to the Drum Tower. We spent about an hour cruising through the market. Sandy got a "Coach" wallet and Shannon got a bag and a wallet. Good deals, but both wallets have already fallen apart by the time I write this. Sometimes you get what you pay for. I saw lots of interesting stuff so I decided to come back later to do some serious shopping. People said the market was open till 10 pm. From the market we walked back to our hotel which only took about half an hour. It gave us a chance to see one of the main streets of Xian.

For dinner we decided on an Italian restaurant that Kathy had recommended to us. It was near the South Gate that we had visited that morning. She wrote the address in Chinese on a business card. We took a taxi cab from our hotel. The driver looked at the address, studied it for a while, then took off. Hopefully we were going to the right place. It seemed like we were going in the right direction until we got close. Then we started going down side streets and I began to worry. But he stopped and let us off and pointed to a shopping center across the street. Sure enough. When we went inside we found our restaurant. We got a great spot at the window with a view of the city wall and South Gate and the big traffic circle outside of it. Watching the traffic was better than tv. I still don't know how it manages to work. Cars, buses, trucks, bicycles and pedestrians are all weaving and cutting across lanes and somehow moving along. I wouldn't have the nerve to try it.

Sandy with our new jade screen

Ordering dinner was a bit of an adventure too. We didn't know Chinese and the waitress didn't know English and neither of us knew Italian. There was a lot of pointing at the menu. But we all got our dinners and it was good. After dinner Sandy and Shannon caught a taxi right in front of the restaurant and headed back to the hotel. They figured that a taxi driver would recognize "Hyatt hotel". He didn't so they showed him the room key which had some Chinese writing on it. He needed to call someone but eventually he got it figured out and he got them to the right place. I just headed for the market on foot.

Walking to the market along the main road from the South Gate I saw an interesting thing. There were two places where people had fairly large telescopes set up on the street. They charged people to look through them. And they had a lot of customers. There was a bright moon and that seemed to be what they were looking at. Still, it was cool that people were interested.

In front of Kaiyuan Shopping Center in downtown Xian

I spent a long time in the market. I ended up buying more than I had expected. I bought a lacquered jewelry box, an imitation North Face backpack, a tshirt and a wallet. I used my negotiating technique learned at Lucky Plaza at home. Name a low price and then walk away. In every case but one they called me back and sold it at the price I proposed. I guess that one time I just went too low. Most important, I found my chess set of Terracotta warriors. It was a large set so it was a challenge to get home, but I am really pleased with it. My patience paid off.

Afterwards it was a pleasant night walking home. Everything was brightly lit on the main streets. Very pretty. Not Beijing, but I really liked Xian. A little more "real". At the hotel it was time to pack up. Next morning Miss Kathy picked us up and we drove to the airport. We had a long day with a flight to Beijing, a layover in the Beijing airport and then a long flight to Singapore.

Our guide Miss Kathy did an good job. She made us feel welcome and we felt more like visiting friends than tourists. By the time we left we were trading stories and jokes and getting contacts with American expats Kathy knew who lived in Shanghai. Kathy was even consulting with Sandy on how to deal with her boyfriend. It was a great visit.

Overall our trip to China was fantastic. We crammed an incredible amount of stuff into just a week. You can tell by how many posts it took to describe everything that we did. China is an interesting country and I am looking forward to visiting again sometime.

Additional pictures

Shops along Beiyuan Mei in the Muslim quarter