Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Around Xi’an

November 24th, 2010

Bell - web

Xi’an. It somehow felt different. Subtle nuances. Elusive at first. Masked by familiarity. Similarities with other cities I’d passed through. Urumqi. Lanzhou. Barely discernable order on the roads. Hectic. Pavements at times as frenetic. Familiar shop fronts. Small cafes.

Western influence a little more in evidence? Or simply catering to tourists, drawn to the walled city by the Terracotta Warriors nearby? A few more smart hotels. Unappealing. Bold monoliths, devoid of the relative homeliness of the small establishments. Faceless foreigners. Wealthy Chinese busying themselves.

Mug - web

A morning amongst the side streets, the markets, vendors in the city’s Muslim Quarter. Then a coffee in Starbucks. I’d baulked a little at the cost. Quite a bit more than I was used to paying. But, I realised, suggestive of greater urban prosperity. A shift of emphasis. A few more upmarket shops, catering for disposal income rather than necessities. Ever so slight, but there nevertheless.

And there was something else. But far less subtle. Westerners. Saw more in a single day than I’d seen in the previous month. And with that, inevitably, English, both spoken and written. On street signs, in places foreigners might well frequent. The de facto international language.

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Watching the Westerners

November 17th, 2010

True. I’ve met a few Westerners in Western China. More travellers than tourists, drawn to the oasis towns of Turpan and Dunhuang. But Xi’an is different. Lots more of them. Hardly surprising, the Terracotta Army close by, drawing visitors in. Intriguing to watch.

It starts with breakfast. Guests invited to place their trays on a trolley when they’ve finished. I do so because that’s what the sign says. And I’m English. It’s what I do best. The Germans, a couple of retired couples, their smart casuals and scarfs an immediate giveaway, do the same. I’d expect nothing less.

A solitary French couple leave the remnants of breakfast behind for others to clear away. I’d sought to engage them in conversation, explaining “Je parle peu le Francais“. A young Spanish couple keep themselves to themselves. Something to do with Franco.

Later I meet Jesse, Clive and another French couple on a tour to the Terracotta Army. More travellers than tourists. Sense of adventure. There’s mention of Pizza Hut, KFC and McDonalds. General agreement that there’s nothing wrong with the odd spot of Western familiarity. Think we all admitted to sneaking into one of the chains, or had plans to do so before leaving Xi’an.

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