Saturday, 4 March 2017

Xi'an ..... end of the silk road.

Xi'an

When I first entertained the idea of China I was offered positions in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhuo. The usual suspects. None of them appealed. I asked the recruiter if he had anywhere more interesting. He shrugged and suggested Xi'an. Images of terracotta armies, silk road camels, Marco Polo, ancient emperors and adventure instantly sprang to mind. I accepted and his eyes lit up. Xi'an is a hard sell as many foreigners are seduced by the bright lights of China's booming first-tier cities.


A few months later I found myself flying over the snow-dusted Qinling mountains to the south of the city. I knew I'd made the right choice. I wonder if an ascent of Mount Taibai (3,767m) is possible? The tallest in China east of the Himalayas.

Xi'an is the traditional terminus of the silk road
(a combination of routes that link China to Central Asia). It was the capital of China from around 1000BC to 900AD (during the Tang Dynasty). The city center is surrounded by a fortified wall:

Rectangular (14km perimeter) - symmetrical.
15m tall and 18m wide - mahussive.
Built in 1370 - ancient.
Cardinal orientation - aesthetically pleasing.

Today Xi'an is most famous for the Terracotta Warriors.

Scran

Regular readers will know I'm not really arsed about food. However, the bait here deserves a mention. Xi'an is known throughout China for eats and I can see why. Locals always ask if you can handle the spice but it's tame compared to Thailand. No worries on that front. I'm enjoying the bread and potato dishes after years of abstinence. I guess these are the most famous meals:

Niurou paomo - you have to rip flat bread into hundreds of tiny bits before a cook dumps it all in a beef broth. Lush.

Roujiamo
 - baked leavened bread stuffed with shredded braised pork. A bit like a burger. Sounds like Roger Moore. Lush.

Liangpi - fridge-cold noodles drizzled with chilli oil, pepper, vinegar and diced garlic, topped with bean sprouts and sliced cucumber. Weird but lush.

This pic is the new boss wining and dining her two new foreign teachers. Anglo and Malay. I have no idea what we ate that night but it was lush.

Treatment

I've felt like Royalty since arriving. Fiona met me at Xi'an's immaculate International Airport and escorted me directly (by paid-for taxi) to my new free fully-furnished apartment. A two-bedroom beauty with fridge, TV, washing machine, wifi, bedding, kettle, pans etc etc.



I'm struggling to adjust to this level of luxury after how I've lived for the past decade. It all feels so opulent. I've been having boiling hot 20min power showers just for the sake of it. I stand smiling as I think back to the tepid dribble in Chiang Mai. The sofas are a delight - I'm lying on it writing this while stealing occasional glances out the window (7th floor of a 27 story building).

The second day involved reporting to a police station, opening a bank account, obtaining a bus/rail pass and arranging a SIM card. Fiona dealt with it all as it would've been impossible for a foreigner (with zero language skills) to do alone. This was followed by an evening in a fancy restaurant courtesy of our new boss. Proper VIP treatment.

School

They really do look after you here. When I think back to Thailand the difference is incredible. Little wonder most of the staff have been here a while.

I teach 16 x 45min periods a week and don't have to be in the office outside of teaching time. I teach two maths classes.

In Thailand I was expected to teach 25 x 50min periods to 5 different classes across two subjects. For less than half the pay with zero perks. I can't believe I did it for so long.

Like many before I confirm that Thailand is a great place to live but not so great to work. However, having said that, I still miss it.

Thai Mango

I was surprised to see some Thai script in Muslim Street. They were selling mango juice and Kaijin (new Chinese mate) was shocked to learn I could read it. The shop is called 'Under the mountain' for some reason. And written on the plastic cups was 'I'm very busy'. Weird.

Cheap

Some things are a bargain here. This 600ml beer is 1.90¥ (9฿ or $0.25 or £0.20). It's even cheaper than a 500ml bottle of water (2¥). Incredible. Riding on the brand spanking new subway system is 1.80¥ and the A/C bus 1¥ - regardless of distance. I haven't seen a taxi go over 20¥ (£2) for a half hour ride.

However, some things are pricy. Tuna is 20¥ a small can and a small jar of coffee is 45¥ (both more than double Thailand). Food costs slightly more than Thailand but the servings are way bigger so it probably evens out. You definitely don't need two plates of scran here. Moreover, the doubling of salary (with free apartment - did I mention that yet?) more than offset these trivial differences in price.

VPN

Is a computer thing you need in China to access facebook or anything from google. I can live without facebook but no google means no youtube, no gmail and no blog in my case. I'm currently using Kaijin's until I get my own set up.

Pollution/Bogs/Spitting

I was last in China in 2006 and I don't recall any issues with pollution. It's a big deal now with attention from the global media. However, it's been fine since I've been here. Xi'an was 60 while Bangkok was 180 (www.aqi.com) when I last checked. I know it'll get worse as the kids told me it was a nightmare in Dec/Jan. I've been lucky so far.

The weather's been great. Fresh and crisp. A refreshing change from the stifling tropics. I ran 5km around the school track with zero sweat. That same endeavour in Thailand leaves one drenched. Glad I kept the clothes I bought in Nepal.

The toilet in the apartment is fine but lacks a bum gun (like everywhere here). Communal bogs are simply minging - just like they were back in 2006. The most annoying thing is that they don't have toilet roll so you have to carry your own. Grrrr.

The spitting in 2006 was awful and I wasn't looking forward to it. However, I've hardly seen it this time around. Just the odd old geezer here and there. It appears that government campaigns to curb it have had an effect. Champion!!

Even the queuing has improved 'slightly'. They still pile onto the subway before allowing people off ... and they still push into your back when lining up ... but ... they've improved. It appears basic manners are catching up with the booming economy.

Map

X marks the spot. I live here now. I haven't really done much tourist stuff. I had a walk around Muslim Street in the city center. I saw the city walls and had an evening stroll around the wonderfully named Giant Wild Goose Pagoda shown here. Not to be confused with the Small Wild Goose Pagoda which I haven't seen yet. Not even sure I want to now.


To celebrate the first week in Xi'an I went for posh eats with my new colleagues Nick, Ivan and Jurgen. Right in the city center near the impressive Bell Tower (shown). However, the best thing I've seen so far was this tiny dodgem car set up. Someone has literally converted their house into the dodgems. Cool.


Conclusion

So after a week in Xi'an I'm very happy to be here. It's a clean, modern city with cheap/efficient public transport. It feels both old and new having undergone rapacious development recently while managing to retain some historical charm. A nice balance. There's much more to explore. The lingo should be a priority. I never thought I'd leave Thailand as it's easy to get stuck there but I'm glad I did. There is life after the Land Of Smiles. No regrets. It's a big world out there.

Keep living the dream.

1 comment:

Please be nice.