Friday, April 6, 2018

Xi'an. The Drum Tower.


After our brief visit to the Great Mosque, Yim wanted to go back to the same art gallery that we had visited in 2016 to see if there were any new works of art for sale.  So we made our way to the covered arcade where all the souvenir vendors and art galleries are located.  Believe it or not, we found our gallery.  I think it was even the same guy, the artist's son, manning the place.

Unfortunately, there were no new works of art but the prints that both she and I bought were still on display.  Sadly, I still have not yet framed mine up.  One of these days.  SK has just bought her first home so we thought maybe there would be something here to her liking but nope.  So, we walked on.


We then happened upon the next gallery that we had previously visited and where I had bought two pieces of art.  The young artist and owner was still there and even though he had changed the layout of his shop, I recognized the place.  Although his specialty was finger painting, it was not those works that attracted me.  Instead, it was a collection of quirky prints of Chinese women that caught my eye.  I bought one and I absolutely love that print - it is framed and hanging up on a wall in my home.  I always wished I had bought more but was happy with the one I had.  I never thought I would ever come back to this place.  Now that I was here, I wanted to see if he had more of those same prints and he did!!  Lucky day!!  I found two more that I liked and bought them both.  They are still waiting to be framed up as well.  Maybe I will be back again.  😁


No one else was in the mood to do any shopping so we walked through the arcade and made our way back to the main street that runs through the Muslim Quarter.  I swear that the crowd had gotten even larger from the time we left the restaurant to go to the Great Mosque!  The place is insanely popular.

We made our way back to the ticket office at the Drum Tower, in time for the 3:30pm performance.  I think you can pretty much enter the Drum Tower at any time of the day but only at set times do they offer a free performance.  Might as well catch one of those if you can.

Ever since leaving Beijing, we've designated Yim to be our group banker so she holds the kitty from which all our shared costs are paid out of.  This means she got to buy our entry tickets.



The Drum Tower, in combination with the Bell Tower, are considered a museum complex.  You can buy one ticket that will get you into both places; we only got the one ticket for the Drum Tower.


We then made our way in and up the steps that lead you to the first floor.  I had to pause to take in the view.  See that mass of people.....it's everywhere!  I cannot imagine what this place would be like with absolutely no one around.  You get so accustomed to seeing throngs of people everywhere that being in a place with not a soul around you would be a weird feeling!


The Drum Tower was built in 1380 during the early Ming Dynasty. It, along with the Bell Tower, were built in the center of the ancient so the sound of the bell and the drum could be heard from everywhere within the city.  The Bell Tower was situated in the geographic center of the city, the Drum Tower just slightly off center.

The Drum Tower got its name from the huge drum located within the building. In contrast to the Bell Tower, where bell was struck at dawn to mark the start of the day, the drum was beaten at sunset to mark the end of the day.


Along the north and south corridor walls, on the 1st floor, are 24 drums.  They represent something called the Twenty-Four Solar Terms which is a kind of weather calendar created by the ancient Chinese as tool for guiding the practice of farming.  Each drum is named and collectively, they are presented in order of the four seasons.



Inside the first floor is a museum of drums, many of which date back centuries.











In a small space, right next to the display of drums is a small performance area.  There two rows of benches for sitting and plenty for standing.  When we first arrived, there were already a few people who had snagged front row.  I was not about to be stuck in an undesirable spot so I stood, dead center, behind the second row of benches.  We didn't have long to wait before the start of the performance and I figured if there was anything else I wanted to see as far as the drum museum was concerned, I would do it after the performance.  I was smart to take up my spot because by the time the performance began, the room was packed with people - pretty much standing shoulder to shoulder.


Pretty much on the dot at 3:30, one of the performers appeared on the stage and began a bit of a narrative.   She would turn out to be the main drummer. 


Unfortunately she was speaking in Mandarin so we didn't understand a word of what she was saying  but I'm guessing, based on her gestures, that she's explaining something about the bells behind her.


Then the rest of the performers joined her on the stage, took their positions behind their respective instruments, and the music performance began.  Sadly, I did not do a good job either taking photos or shooting the video so things are a bit blurry.  You can hear the music though.






The performance didn't last very long, maybe about 10 minutes or so.  I have to admit, I'm not the biggest fan of Chinese music but it's good to hear it.  It's a part of my cultural heritage and one day, maybe I will learn how to appreciate it.

After the performance, we all decided to head up to the third floor which is the highest floor you can go up to in the Drum Tower.  I think pretty much everyone had the same idea so it was a veritable swarm of people moving up the stairs.


Here, it was pretty much a display of ancient Chinese furniture....though I can honestly tell you that my mother has a set of that rosewood furniture.  Not comfortable to sit on at all!!


There were several individual displays of furniture set up within the context of a particular room e.g., living room, dining room, etc. It felt like I was going through an ancient furniture shop.


The ceiling, however, was something to be admired.



There's pretty much a designated path that takes you around the furniture displays and I swear that everyone in front of me and behind me had all come from the performance hall as I had because we were all moving together as one and there was pretty much no opportunity to stop and look at anything.  Salmon moving upstream together!

Once you get past the furniture, you're back outside and the stream of people around all four sides of the building.  There was no chance to stop to take in the view.  In fact, there were were guards positioned every few feet to make sure you were moving along with the collective.  So, while I did manage to take a few photos, I had to be quick on the shutter to avoid the person behind me from bumping into me!

You do get a nice view of the Bell Tower and the Garden that separates it from the Drum Tower.





You can also see the start of the street that leads into the Muslim Quarter.  The trees line the street.







After you circumnavigate the building, the stream will take you back down to the 2nd floor and from there, you finally have some breathing space to walk around.  But, there's not a whole lot to see so it was back down to the 1st level and the 24 drums.  That's where I met back up with the other three.

By now, it was mid afternoon and even though we could've headed over to the Bell Tower and waited for the next performance there, I think everyone, including myself had had enough sightseeing for the day.  Not that we had seen all that many sights but there's something about spending hours in a swarm of people that really drains you.  So, we decided to head back to the hotel.

Along the way, we stopped inside another tea shop for SK.  I had to admire the way they sell tea here - some of it is so precious, it's displayed like artwork.


In this particular shop, they even had a piece of art that had been created out of tea leaves that had been pressed together to form a block!



We meandered our way back to the hotel, taking the back streets where there's more local life to be seen.  I had to take this photo of a Chinese baby carriage.  Yes, they are still being used!


Back at our hotel, we headed upstairs to the dining room where every day, from 2p - 6p, afternoon tea is served and the best part is that it is free!!  We love the Eastern House Boutique Hotel!



Everything is served buffet style and it's quite a nice selection of items.  We all fell in love with the apricot nuts that had been dry roasted with a bit of sugar so they were salty sweet.  So tasty!  I had never had them before but they were so addictive that Yim and I decided that we had to buy some for our upcoming Xinjiang roadtrip.  Don't tell anyone but I left the table with a small handful tucked inside a napkin - that would be for munching back in our room.


I also fell in love with the snow fungus and Asian pear soup.  That's the bowl on the left.  Yes, might sound weird to anyone who is not Chinese but I loved that dessert.  Not to mention that it has beneficial medicinal qualities though I don't know exactly what they are.   I will definitely have to recreate this when I get home.


While we did gorge on our tea time munchies, it was not enough for any of us to pass on dinner so after night fell, we hit the streets in search of something to eat.

Last night, we had walked past this restaurant, less than a two minute walk from our hotel, where people were indulging in crayfish.  What they were eating made us all drool so we decided to go back there tonight.


The place was pretty mobbed with people so we took that as a good sign.  We managed to get a table and we managed to place an order which was pretty simple - crayfish with garlic and a plate of fried noodles.

It took forever for our food to come out but when the crayfish hit the table, the heady smell of the crayfish and garlic made us want to just dive in.  The restaurant supplied us with plastic gloves so we could eat without messing up our fingers.  This stuff is dangerously delicious!  As we munched on the crayfish, we wondered where our noodles were.  We kept asking the waitress and she would just tell us it's coming.  After a while, we started to notice that diners who had arrived after us were getting their full meals but we had yet to get our plate of simple fried noodles.  In China, it does not take a cook more than a minute to fry up a plate of noodles.  That's Chinese wok cooking 101.  So we kept asking her and I think at one point, she just couldn't be bothered with us and went about attending to everyone else.  So, we eventually got fed up.  We knew exactly how much the plate of crayfish cost so we decided to leave that amount of yuan on the table and got up and left.  That's when we got her attention.  But it was too late.  No matter how much she then tried to get us to stay, we were not about to.  We left.  Not happy.  Had I been able to speak the language, I would have fully given her a piece of my mind.  This service was so bad, it's truly not acceptable!!



In any case, we were still hungry so we had to find another place for dinner.  We found ourselves walking down the same road, Defu Alley, as we did last night.  We had specifically noted to avoid this stretch because it was lined with bars blaring out music and ear numbing levels.  No surprise, it was popular with people at least 20+ years younger than SK who's the baby in our group.

So, we veered onto another street and found a small eatery that looked interesting and was still open for service.  We popped inside.  Teeny weeny dining space and only two other people eating.  Not promising.  Looking at the way the restaurant had been decorated, it seemed to have a bit of a modern edge to it.  Even their dishware and cutlery was unique in design.  I was thinking maybe the food would also reflect that - Chinese with a modern twist.


So, we decided to order up some dishes to share.  Noodles, classic Cantonese pork and thousand year old egg porridge and dumplings.  In fact, the place had quite a selection of dumplings so we let the Queen of Dumplings aka SK do the picking.




In the end, the food was pretty much classic Chinese though the dumplings were a bit different.  The green color comes from green tea.  Interesting as I would've never thought of adding green tea to the dumpling dough.  Flavor wise, the filling was nothing special.  But....it was enough food for us for the night as I think none of us wants to overeat which we most certainly can do in a place where food is plentiful, delicious and cheap!!

As we were eating our food, we heard a familiar accent being spoken by the couple seated at the table behind us.  Cantonese.  They were visiting Xi'an from Hong Kong and were musing over the dumpling selections as we had.

Tomorrow, Yim and I get to explore Xi'an on our own.  The other two are headed to see the famed Terracotta Warriors and Han Yang Ling Museum - exactly the same itinerary that Yim, Mal and I had in 2016.  With the help of Yim and I, we arranged for a car and driver to take Bro and SK around tomorrow.  They paid exactly the same amount of money that we did so we knew they weren't being ripped off by the hotel.  We also advised them to hire a guide once they got to the Terracotta Warriors complex.  Hopefully, they will remember.  They will also be on the hook to feed themselves breakfast.

So, the gang of 4 will be split up tomorrow.  I'm looking forward to spending the day with Yim!

Goodnight from Xi'an!