Across Continents

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Cycling into Xi’an

November 13th, 2010

I’d been doing what I thought was a pretty credible impression of a lost Englishman. I, at least, was convinced. Her name was Duan. On her way to collect her young daughter from the creche. A smattering of English, but still much more extensive than my Mandarin.

It’d reached Xi’an’s city walls with an hour or so of daylight left. Entering via the north west gate, I reckoned that still left me twenty five square kilometres in which to hunt for my hotel. A long night loomed, not least because I’d the usual mediocre map, its legibility even in daylight questionable.

Xian map - web

Difficult to pin down the size of Xi’an. Estimates vary from between three to over eight million. Either way, it’s pretty big. My efforts at entry comparable to riding into London armed only with postcard of Big Ben. At night. Sometimes wonder how I ever got out of Europe.

Soon dusk. Then dark. And still no sign of my hotel. By now I’d dismounted, deciding it much safer to walk than to ride amongst the chaotic evening traffic. If there was a consolation, aside from what I hoped would be a hot shower at some point before dawn, it was that I thought the place quite beautiful at night. The Bell Tower in the centre at least. Tastefully illuminated.

And I’d probably have seen much more of the city if it hadn’t been for Duan coming to my aid. She knew the road I sought. There were lefts and right. Distances. Distinct junctions. Landmarks. Rare precision. And she was right.

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