Richard and I have now been in London for 7 days. When we finally reached our accommodation in Crouch End, it felt like the end of an arduous journey. It would be safe to say that we underestimated the energy required to move over here. I still believe it will take some time to sink in that this is our new home and that we are not merely on a holiday.
Before I get into our current state of affairs, I want to back track to our short and sweet visit to Xi’an. Many of my friends will know that I was particularly concerned about going to China for the first time. It is a special kind of foreign-ness when you look like the local people and yet you know next to nothing about the local culture. It is kind of like I was a spy who was very bad at her job. I didn’t need to worry though because Xi’an was a fabulous place and Richard’s family were wonderful. I had no trouble adjusting to the local diet which was full of vegetable dishes that were both simple and delicious. I am very fond of eggplant in Chinese food and Xi’an provided the best array of eggplant dishes I have ever had. On our second day there, I had eggplant at breakfast, lunch and dinner! We also had a cold noodle dishes almost every day.
Xi’an itself was hectic in my eyes. The traffic rules were non-existent and yet after a few days there, you feel there is a sense of order in the chaos. We crossed roads in front of cars and cars just drove around us. Little mopeds zipped around disregarding traffic lights, other vehicles and pedestrians. While there was constant honking, no one seemed angry or in a fit of road rage. Rather, the honking simply told everyone around you where you were. It was as though “honk honk” was the Xi’an equivalent of “excuse me, coming through”.
Between pedestrians there was little contact but people did feel very close to you all the time. When we visited more crowded areas and certainly the tourist destinations, there was the pushing and shoving you might regularly expect in China. All in all I survived the crowds and roads well in my opinion. I was simply thankful that Richard wasn’t from a crazier place such as Beijing or Shanghai.
Saturday 27th June, we had a family dinner for Richard’s birthday. That was the first time I met his grandmother, aunties and cousins on his Dad’s side. We were treated to a fancy restaurant down the road from his grandmother’s house. Our table was in its own private room with a waiting lounge and dedicated bathroom. The waitress stayed with us to discuss the menu at length and assist with choosing dishes. Another waitress had a station at the side of the room where she brewed tea and made any final preparations to dishes before bringing them to the table. This second waitress stayed in the room with us for the entire duration of our meal. She changed our plates half way through the meal and was constantly refilling our tea cups. I have never experienced anything like that before and was in awe of the extravagance. At the end of the meal we had a cake which is when the restaurant realised this was a birthday dinner. They then produced a complimentary bowl of noodles for Richard. In Chinese tradition, these were Richard’s “long life” noodles. Richard reported that the noodles were a very simple dish but that it was delicious!
We returned to Richard’s mum’s side of the family the following day on Sunday 28th June. A huge lunch celebration for Richard’s grandfather’s 90th birthday had been planned at a nearby restaurant. There were about 60 friends and family at the lunch with copious amounts of alcohol. Not wine or beer but “bai jiu” – Chinese spirits! Shot after shot and yet not many peopled seemed that drunk. I was quite impressed by it all. Richard’s uncle became rather intoxicated however and provided ample entertainment for the afternoon. There was more food on each table than I have ever seen. Half way through we had already run out of room for all the dishes. Needless to say, we didn’t need dinner after that! It was a wonderful celebration!
With our family commitments fulfilled, Richard and I moved onto the tourist portion of our trip. Venturing within the city wall we visited the Bell Tower, Drum Tower and went up onto the city wall. What a marvel to be in and around such ancient monuments. The size of everything in China astounds me. The city wall comprised three levels of stone walls which certainly made it feel like a formidable fortress. There was helpful information about siege and defence weapons which helps the imagination conjure images of how it might have been thousands of years ago.
The following day Richard and I went to the history museum in Xi’an. It’s a super popular attraction because of the excellent exhibits but also because entry is free. When we arrived there was a line almost down the entire block of people queuing to get in. Upon investigation we learned that they had stopped issuing tickets because there were too many people in the museum already. Thankfully Richard’s mum bought us these great tourist passes which meant we could join a much shorter line and when they reopened the ticket booths, we were able to quickly gain admission. People, people, people! There is something exhausting about simply being around so many other humans and I definitely felt that in the museum. It was a very interesting experience with incredible artefacts on display – although there was an annoying kid who just ran around mushing his hands on all the glass… Don’t worry friends! I didn’t do or say anything although the temptation was there!
The size of the museum along with the heat made it an exhausting afternoon but it is a definite must-see. Richard and I were simply focused on putting one leg in front of the other on the way home. We were definitely not used to all the walking around coming from car-dependent Auckland. Unfortunately I didn’t seem to have lost any weight for all that! I guess the food was just too good – I should be glad I didn’t gain weight!
To see the infamous Terracotta Warriors, we joined a proper tour group complete with flag bearing tour guide. We were collected from our hotel at 7:30am and proceeded by bus to Huaqing Hot Springs. We were advised than only a seventh of the entire site was open for viewing which means the entire place was again enormous! There is natural occurring geothermal heating which makes the water a warm 43⁰C. Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty utilised the springs to build impressive self-filling bath houses for himself and his favourite concubine Yang Guifei. What an incredible accomplishment for the year 723! The gardens were made for Yang Guifei and in the centre is a large statue of her figure.
All the baths were now empty because the water has been diverted to nearby hotels but we were able to try the water at a small fountain outside. It was incredibly warm but certainly felt refreshing afterwards.
An interesting point was that due to the jade stone in the area, there was no Rotorua smells! Something in the jade absorbs the “big fart” mineral so you can enjoy the geo-thermal area without the awful smell – awesome!
We were then taken to a buffet restaurant for lunch. It would appear the restaurant services tour groups only. It was in the middle of nowhere and was simply a massive dining hall. One of the ladies that worked there walked around telling everyone to only get what they would eat and not to waste the food, threatening to charge customer who left food uneaten on their plates. We ate everything.
The tour group then progressed to the main event. You cannot go to Xi’an and not visit the site of the Terracotta Warriors. There are three excavation sites and all are ridiculously impressive. Words cannot express what it is like to stand as one small spec beside the enormous excavation pits that were made with such dedication thousands of years ago. I grappled with the idea that this was one man’s vision. How incredible that this emperor united the many countries that existed into the China we know today, and also created the Great Wall while this side project went on. Perhaps visionary is not enough to describe that ambition!
Xi’an is a wonderful place filled with so much culture and history to soak up. We encountered pleasant people and used a great new underground metro system with ease. I had a brilliant time and would happily return to visit Richard’s family again. Added bonus: favourable exchange rate makes everything super cheap!