Tass Visits Xi’an

I’m hoping my writer’s block is over. Let’s start writing and see what happens. Coming up at school we have the summer sessions. Because it’s a private school, we teach kids mainly in the evening and at weekends, and so in the summer when they have holiday from their regular school, we’re even busier. Because of the extra busyness, we’re not allowed to take leave during July and August.
In late May I realised that if I didn’t have a holiday soon to de-stress, I was probably going to have a nervous breakdown sometime in the busy July and August period. I also found out that my old university lecturer and now friend Tass was going to a conference in Beijing around the 23rd and 24th of June, and as an urban development geographer who had never been to China, he wanted to try to see a representative sample of the country in the short time he had available. A plan started to form for me to take the last week in June off, see Tass for a day or two and then do some travelling on my own.

The eventual plan was for Tass to arrive in Xi’an by train early on Wednesday morning, then we would both fly to Shanghai on Thursday morning so I could guide Tass to the important bits for him to see an urban development perspective in the very little time we had available before he flew back to the UK on Thursday evening. After that I would go off by myself and do some travelling.

Tass’s train from Beijing to Xi’an arrived right on time, and we then had a day to see as much of the city as possible from the perspective of urban development. First we went back to my apartment so Tass could leave his bag and freshen up after the long night train, and we also had some breakfast. Then we went to the south gate to go up on the city walls.

At about 14km, the city walls in Xi’an are apparently the longest intact ancient city walls anywhere in the world. I figured that at 12m high and with the possibility of hiring bikes to cycle around, it would be a good vantage point to see a lot of the city in a short time.

As we left my apartment, the weather was grey and it looked like it might rain later. I made the decision to take my umbrella and leave my sunglasses at home. I didn’t even think to put sun cream on. Of course, by the time we reached the south gate on the metro, the sun had come out and the haze had thinned considerably. I was a little bit concerned about my lack of sun cream, but I justified that we would only be on the wall for an hour or so, and the sun couldn’t do that much damage in that short time so it would all be ok.

Up on the wall we hired bikes and set off. The bike hire allowed 100 minutes, which we thought would be fine. But as the reason for cycling around the wall was to see as much of the city as possible in a short space of time, we kept stopping to look over the edge and take photos. Fifty minutes later we realised we were only a third of the way around, so we had to speed up, but the easterly wind was now in our faces. Half way around, with only 7km of slow cycling, I was out of puff. I was knackered. How have I lost this much fitness in a bit over 7 months!?

By now, the wind was hot, I was hot, from the exertion I was sweating, and the dust was sticking to me. I felt pretty horrible. We had 20 minutes to the do the last third of the wall, so I mustered all my remaining fitness and we stepped on it and raced back with minutes to spare. Walking down off the wall and into the shade, I realised what a mistake not wearing sun cream had been. My arms and hands were bright red. The back of my neck was painful – and is still painful now 72 hours later even with slathering after-sun cream on it several times a day! When will I learn?

Anyway, after the wall we went to the Belgian Bar for lunch, but found that it was closed. I hope it was just closed for lunch as it’s a good bar. Instead we went to the Park Qin cafe, sitting in its calm and shady courtyards. After lunch we ambled up to Starbucks by the bell tower for a coffee, and happened to bump into Dave and Nick so had a good chat. Nick’s been in China for a year and a half, and Dave for around three years, so Tass had a good opportunity to question longer term ex-pats about their experience of China.

After Starbucks we went for a wander around the muslim quarter and through the tourist-tat market. Tass wanted some small mementos of his trip to China, and opted for a fake replica terracotta warrior and a wooden model of the lions found at the entrance to every apartment complex. For the warrior I got the price from ¥10 to ¥4, and the wooden lion from ¥65 to ¥25. I said to Tass I could have gotten them lower, but he didn’t want to push any lower as it was, afterall, the stall holder’s livelihood I would be eating into.

From the muslim quarter we took the metro north back to my apartment so I could apply a load of after-sun cream, and then we went to Bei Ke Zhan – the new north railway station that will eventually have lots of high speed trains but for now is a bit deserted.

From the north railway station we went to Feng Cheng Yi Lu so we could walk north back to my apartment through the newly developed Weiyang economic zone. Finally we went to the Japanese restaurant for dinner. Back at the apartment Tass had a couple of days of emails to catch up with and I needed to pack. By the time that was done it was midnight and time for bed what with needing to get up at 5:30am for a flight to Shanghai the next day.

More to follow of the day in Shanghai and of course the rest of my holiday!

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