Wednesday, October 25, 2006

 

The Filth and the Fury of Xian

I booked a one way flight to Xian to see the famous Terracotta Warriors (one of the many places claiming to be the 8th wonder of the world). My hostel was perfect. Right in the middle of downtown, great view, small enough to meet people, cheap drinks and palatable food. On my second day there I was finally feeling better after the whole Beijing debacle and no matter what I saw, I was assured it would be a great experience. Like most tours in Asia you have to visit 3-4 other places other than the one you intend to see (gift shops calling themselves museums). I got to see some of the poorest urban neighbourhoods in the world from a bus under a sky black with pollution and I couldn't have been more pleased. all of this was happening while most people reading this at home were eating a thanks giving dinner. Be thankful. Looking back now on past thanks givings, they seem arbitrary and meaningless because I'd never really seen what it was like for people to have nothing to be thankful for.
The warriors themselves were... Underwhelming. It is a long drive in traffic to get to them and when you arrive, there is little more to see than what you have already seen in pictures. If there were 15 or 20 wonders of the world, it ought not to make the list. Xian though had some real gems that made the trip more than worth while. Probably unknown to many, China has many Muslims - most of them in Xian. I walked through their small quarter and visited their mosque. It was serene, quiet and surprisingly spiritual. Watching old Chinese men in Muslim garb pray with children on their path seemed to take me away from the madness and disorganized that the Chinese depend on for normalcy.

I met some great people, drank plenty of scotch and spent just enough time seeing sights and hiding out in the hostel, watching movies and forgetting what place of the world I was in (something you need to do while traveling).

Xian is unspeakably filthy. When I arrived, I could not see the sky or the tops of buildings due to a grey/black smog that hung at street level. The fog permeated the first and second floors in every building I went in. This was not a result of meteorological conditions. It was smog from cars, coal fire plants, farmers burning grass and local factories. The streets too have more garbage and festering piles and streams of unidentifiable sludge than can be found outside a western garbage dump.

Now the fury. While I was out on the balcony of my hostel, taking pictures of the beautiful bell tower in the centre of town, I witnessed a fight in the middle of the busiest roundabout in the city. It started as a simple fender bender between a cab and a man on a scooter with his girlfriend. It escalated to the man and women yelling at the cabbie and soon after to a fist fight between the two men. While they were punching and kicking each other in the middle of a three lane street, the cops showed up and traffic just honked their horns and pushed their way around. when the men had tired themselves out and the girlfriend pulled her man away another cop showed up, this one equally useless. The cabbie and the man started yelling at each other and were about to fight again when the girlfriend tried to intervene. Her boyfriend slapped her across the face and grabbed her by her hair yanking her to the ground. Her head bounced of the pavement and she lay motionless for another 30 minutes. A third cop showed up somewhere while this was happening and behaved much the same as the other two cops and the crowd of about 50 onlookers. I have pictures of the entire incident which I will post when I find/replace my USB cord. The woman was eventually helped into another car and the police drove the taxi with the two men in it off.

despite the filth and the fury, Xian will likely remain of the best parts of my trip to china.

Next up: Shanghai - an oasis of modernity and civilization in the most ass-backwards country in the world.

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