The next leg of our journey took us to Xi’An, which as you may have gathered from the title of this post, was very rainy. This was a shame as we didn’t get to see as much of this old city as we would have liked, but we still had a great time and got to sample some traditional Chinese food with a local that was nothing like a Chinese Takeaway at home!
We decided to couchsurf again in Xi’An. Not just to save some money, but also because I found a host who was born there and had always lived there and we thought it was a great opportunity to immerse ourselves a little into the culture. Kai lived in a great location right near the West Gate of the City Walls – which we could see from the windows of the apartment. He was a police officer in the city and had an amazing knowledge of the place, its history and also taught us some lessons in general about Chinese culture. He was kind and very funny – his sense of humour matched James’ quite well so a little bit of a dangerous combination perhaps! One of the best experiences we took away from Kai was our introduction to Chinese HotPot. We had heard that this was a must but had we gone on our own we would have looked even more out of place than we already do as we didn’t know what to do with it! Essentially, you order a soup like broth that sits on a stove in the middle of the table (warning- very spicy!), and then you order ingredients to go in it. The ingredients arrive raw and you put them into the pot to cook in the spice, fish them out, and eat them! Thankfully, Kai ordered a split HotPot which was spicy on one side and a mushroom and fish flavour on the other side. Typed out that actually sounds awful, but it was very good! We left the entirety of the ordering to Kai (mostly because we didn’t understand the menu) and the waitress arrived with a whole array of food to try – including some Chinese delicacies of Cow Stomach and Pig Brain. Yes, a raw brain just sat on the table whilst I tried to eat my noodles. Well 3 of them actually.
The best part about this whole meal has got to be the absurd price. There was enough food to feed a whole family, the three of us were stuffed. They brought copious amounts of fruit to the table as a sort of pallet cleanser/spice calmer, and we had 5 pint bottles of beer – it came to 270CNY – £32. Altogether not each! I felt like we had dined at a very fancy establishment and for a dinner like that at home we could have easily paid that price per person.
As well as the food, we saw some other sites in Xi’An. The city is famous for its ancient walls surrounding it and the various towers within the walls. We walked to the drum tower one evening and found a market behind it in the Muslim quarter. It was bustling and hectic and again, provided us with happy tummys! Along the street hung various fresh lambs from which meat was cut directly off, put onto a stick, and cooked in front of us. I tried fresh pomegranate juice and we had some sesame bread, also being made in the street. A common find here was deep fried crab – shells still on! But we have that a miss this time especially without Kai by our side to guide us on how to go about eating it!
Two buses and another walk in the rain lead us to another picture taking opportunity as we spent an afternoon at the Museum of the Terracotta Army. I have to admit, before our trip I didn’t know much about them at all, however during my travel research I learnt a little and I got told everything else I needed to know by Kai who was like an encyclopaedia of Xi’An history. The statues were found by a farmer digging a well in the 70s but they had been there since around 200BC. Many of them showed signs of age in the fact that they were missing limbs or heads in fact, but the majority of them stood in pretty good shape for being over 2000 years old! It was quite the view walking into a hanger to see this pit of sculptures depicting an army looking back at you. There were horses and carriages and the detail and colour that had survived of some of them was quite incredible.
As yet, Xi’An has been my favourite place in China, I think due to having such a super couch surfing experience and feeling more immersed into the culture than touristy for the most part. The only thing we could have wished for was better weather, or at least some wellies – especially for James, his breatheable trainers will definitely suit hotter climates better then soggy ones!