Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Last Night in Xi'an.


Hard to believe but our stay in Xi'an is almost over. So sad as I feel I've just arrived and I'm just getting reacquainted with this city. Tomorrow, we leave for Tianshui - we begin our trip along the China Silk Road to Dunhuang.

We arrived back in Xian around 4:30p this afternoon after a full day of sightseeing.  Back in my room, I cleaned up a bit and then met back up with Yim; Mal stayed back.  First order was to stop at the Bank of China ATM where I withdrew more yuan. We then walked over to the street that I had been on a couple days ago where I had my lunch and Yim found a similar place to enjoy a piping hot bowl of noodles. She was hungry. Then it was off to the same Taiwanese bakery I had gotten my moon cakes and egg yolk puffs from. Turned out Yim had the same idea about the egg puffs except she got two freshly made ones. We decided to get a table inside the bakery and enjoyed the two puffs.  It was a nice chance for me to have a one on one chat with Yim.  We have a lot of catching up to do and we're quickly getting reacquainted.  After our snack, we walked back to the hotel and then I met back up with the gals at 7pm.

For dinner tonight, I suggested to the gals that we go to the place that I knew as the Big Wild Goose Pagoda park - it was place that I came to in 2009.  I was with a tour group at that time and we came to the area around the pagoda to see the lighted fountain show.  Separately, I came back with one of my tour mates to see visit the pagoda itself.

When you first see the pagoda, it doesn't look old so in a land where masters of reproduction reside, you think it's a modern structure designed to look old.  In part it is new and in part, it's very old.

The pagoda was first built in 652 AD during the Tang dynasty and originally had five stories. However, the  rammed earth structure with a stone exterior facade collapsed five decades later.  It was then rebuilt in 704 during the reign of Empress Wu Zetian and she added five new stories to the pagoda.  Over the centuries, the pagoda has been repaired and renovated though it still leans very perceptibly (several degrees) to the west. The current structure dates from 1964. 

We took a taxi from the hotel and the driver deposited us near the South Gate.  This was how I got to the park in 2009 so I roughly knew where we were.  From memory, I led the girls to the park - not bad that I can still remember after all these years!

Technically, the place is not a park.  It's really a mix of greenspace and a commercial area surrounding the Big Wild Goose Pagoda.  I figured there would be plenty of restaurants here and as I'm finding out that Mal is quite the shopper, plenty of places for shopping.  Somehow though, we all seemed to have lost a bit of steam - there was very little interest in any of the restaurants we were walking by and to my surprise, zero interest in shopping!


The Tang Dynasty is akin to the age of the Renaissance for the Chinese - art, poetry, music all flourished during this period.   Going on memory, I took the gals down a walkway that's dotted with statues of Tang Dynasty figures - poets, writers, scholars, calligraphers, etc. Even the street lamp chimneys and the stone railings around are covered with words from well-known Chinese poems.  I saw this place in the daytime so perhaps much of the Tang Dynasty significance was lost on the gals.  I'm was not a good tour guide tonight.


This stretch of walkway is also popular with locals wanting to practice their calligraphy.  We saw a few men wielding their oversized brushes.


Amazing that he does all this and the moment the water dries up on the stone, the characters are gone!  Art that is so short lived except when captured in a photo.


Where there is open space, you will undoubtedly find a group of people exercising or dancing.



This group's music was powered by a laptop that had been secured to the back of a bicycle.   The speakers were placed nearby :-)


We walked until we almost reached the other entrance location.  Here, we came across a shopping mall.  Overhead was not sky but a large video screen with images of China playing and loud music in the background.  I was certain the gals were going to shop but no.  No interest in shopping.  We did take the escalator down to the lower level and I scanned the place for restaurants.  Nothing interesting.  There was a rock show.....not the music kind but the geologic kind taking place. Chinese love rocks and there was a small crowd taking a look at all the offerings.  I love rocks too and as tempted as I might be to add to my collection, I can't add any more weight to my suitcase.


We did notice a placard for a restaurant that looked interesting so we entered the building, followed the signs and took the escalator to the top floor.  The place turned out to be a raucous bar, not a restaurant so back down and outside we went.

The next placard we saw advertised hotpot and well, that suited us so again, we took the elevator up to the top floor and followed the only obvious path which oddly took us out to the roof top area and then back inside.  I did pause for a few seconds to take in the view of the rooftops of the surrounding buildings.


Inside,  found ourselves standing outside the entrance of what looked like a very nice restaurant.  At this point, I didn't care where we ate; I just didn't want to walk around anymore looking for a place to eat.

Indeed, it was a very nice and modern looking restaurant.  We got seated and then handed menus with a very eyecatching cover.  It was then that I learned the name of the place we would be dining in.  It's a very unusual  name for a restaurant, "Mr. Prawn's Holy Soup". 


The waitress came by but her English was not so good so she was quickly replaced by an English speaking waiter.  The menu had quite an extensive offering of ingredients for hotpot including a few unique ingredients like giant salamander which we were not about to order.

Giant salamander anyone??

We settled for more conventional ingredients and we went with the Holy Soup which is what the restaurant is known for and according to the waiter, very delicious.  I let the gals do the ordering - a nice selection of meats and veggies. They also ordered a cold dish and a couple of pre-cooked dishes.
 
We were getting individual pots of soup.   I knew we were in a high class restaurant when the pots were delivered to the table and simply placed atop the table cloth.  I could hear the sound of boiling beginning to happen yet the pots were not on burners but yet they were~ What was not obvious to us was that beneath the cloth were separate induction burners and our pots were on top of them.  There was a bit of an issue with my burner initially so while the other two pots were bubbling away, my soup was cold so I moved to the next seat over and all was fine.

While food is typically served family style in China, the restaurant will often size the amount they give you depending on the number of diners so for our meal, everything came in either 3's or multiples of 3 so no one gets left out and there is not so much food that it's wasted.

While our pots of soup got up to boiling temperature, we helped ourselves to making up our own dipping sauces.  My combo is generally very simple.  Soy sauce with sesame oil, sesame seeds, a kiss of chili and a ton of garlic.  Eat hotpot with me and you won't want to talk with me for days or at least until I get the garlic out of my system :-)

A cold salad of marinated wood ear fungus along with a small dish of pickled dikon.

Meatballs

Classic Shaanxi style lamb marinated with cumin and chili.

Dumplings and tofu.

The pièce de résistance and lip smacking good.  Twice cooked pork ribs.  First they are braised until tender and then deep fried.

It wasn't a big meal but surprisingly we did leave a few small items on the table.  In the end,  I have to say that the soup was delicious!  I think they must have one giant pot in the kitchen and they just keep adding ingredients to it and then boil it for hours because the broth was rich in flavor and very full bodied.


We could've have walked around some after dinner but we were all in just a very blah mood.  Everyone  just wanted to head back to the hotel.  I think we were all already thinking about tomorrow and the fact that we do have a very long day ahead of us.

I've now been to the Big Wild Pagoda area twice now and I don't think I've seen enough to fully appreciate it so on my next trip back to Xi'an, I'm going to have to set aside time to explore the area both in the daytime and then at night for the lighted fountain show which I did get to see last time I was here.


We walked to the main road that runs alongside the North Gate entrance and the ladies and I attempted to catch a taxi and after what seemed like an eternity of virtually either no taxis coming by or full taxis whizzing by us, we decided to walk back through the park to the South Gate area where we had gotten dropped off earlier in the night.


There, Yim was about to stand out by the main road and flag a taxi when I spotted the line of tuk-tuks.  What the heck?  Let's not wait for a taxi when the tuk-tuks are here so into a tuk tuk we went!


Riding a tuk-tuk, in the dark of night, on the busy streets of Xi'an can be heart thumping.  I wonder how many tuk-tuk accidents there are here??  I can ask that question now that I'm safely back in my room.  Wouldn't have wanted to know the answer as I was glancing out the side of the tuk-tuk and realized just how close the cars were to us!


I have to stop writing now.  Time for a shower,  repacking my suitcase, and getting good night's sleep.  We have a train ride tomorrow followed by sightseeing.  Can't wait!

Goodnight from Xi'an!