After our last experience on an overnight train, I was slightly dreading the night train from Shanghai to Xian. Thankfully, we had one top and one bottom bunk so I could claim half the downstairs. The noise was nowhere near as bad, and while there were still screaming kids running up and down the corridors in the evening and again from 6am, our compartment was shared by a quiet guy and his 5-year-old son, who was reasonably well behaved. Despite sharing about 10 common words, Lauren and the boy spent most of the evening playing together, allowing the adults to shut the compartment door and retreat into books.
I must say, whether it is a result of the one child policy (‘little emperor syndrome’), china’s new-found wealth or a simple cultural acceptance of noise and chaos, we have found children here to be spoilt brats and adults immensely tolerant of what we would consider bad behaviour. We have seen repeated instances of children running around and screaming, climbing on things with their shoes on, wrestling in public places, spitting at each other, not vacating seats for elderly people on the metro, and just generally being obnoxious. Obviously, we have seen a miniscule proportion of Chinese children – and all in urban settings – but we have both been quite shocked by the tolerance shown by adults to all this – what happened to China’s famous respect for elders?
Anyway, we made it to Xian reasonably well rested, and after a blissfully long and warm shower at the hostel, headed out to explore the city.
The heat and humidity were a constant, and we regularly dodged into cafés and stores to cool down. We headed to the twin towers of the city, which was China’s capital under a number of dynasties, and is considered the ‘start’ (or end, depending on your perspective) of the silk road. It is surrounded by some pretty impressive city walls, that have been extensively restored. The Drum tower functioned as a way to keep time, and the Bell tower to warn against invaders. We vetoed climbing them due to the heat and crowds and instead admired them from across the road then headed to the ‘muslim quarter’ where the best food was rumoured to be found.
Well, we certainly found some weird and wonderful dishes. First off we had some delicious but very spicy noodles – covered with a mixture of chilli, sesame sauce (a bit like tahini), soy and sesame seeds, topped off with a few handfuls of shredded cucumber, they brought all sorts of sensations to ones mouth – sweet and bitter, crunch and silky-smooth, cool and hot-hot-hot. Yummy.
For dessert it could only be the multicoloured balls of something sweet dipped in liquid nitrogen, so that when you crunched into them they released ‘smoke’ from your nostrils and mouth. Great fun, although it took my tongue a good 24 hours to recover.
We also tried all sorts of samples, often pressed into Lauren’s hands by stall holders. We managed to avoid some of the more exotic offerings, and Lauren bailed on trying Durian…. .
I was done, but Lauren finished off with a local version of crisps – on a very sharp stick that made eating them without poking your eye out a challenge.
We headed back to the hostel quite early, tired after the overnight train and keen to get a decent night before our day with the terracotta warriors, the main purpose of our visit to Xi’an.