At the end of April, AFS China had it’s second culture trip of the year, this time to Xian 西安, the capital of Shaanxi 陕西 province. Xian has a prominent spot in China’s long history, previously being a capital city during several dynasties as well as being the start of the famous Silk Road.
10 of us from Changzhou went, taking the same flight there with our city’s local coordinator (吉老师). We were one of the first groups to arrive in Xian, so we basically had the whole first day to explore the city on our own. I went out with some friends to find some things to eat & walk around the city center. After dinner, when more people had arrived, a bunch of people went out again to walk around the city center. Xian is really cool – the old parts and the new parts of the city are all mixed together so it has a unique atmosphere. It’s almost like the modern city was just built up in between the old stuff. It also has a significant Muslim population due to it’s proximity to Xinjiang province. At night, there were so many people all walking around and selling things, and I love a city with an active nightlife. It was vibrant and full of life!
The second day we saw Xian’s famous Terracotta Warriors from the Qin Dynasty. They were really impressive and well preserved and I still can’t believe I got to see them in real life. In the afternoon, we went to the Wild Goose Pagoda and it’s surrounding park. We had a dumpling dinner, featuring all different types of dumplings like ones with fish, duck, tomato, and even sweet potato on the inside. Then watched a Tang Dynasty music and dance show; it was good I guess, if that’s your thing, but personally I found it too long and thus boring.
The next day we left to go to Hanzhong 汉中, a small city in the mountains that divide Shaanxi and Sichuan provinces. The bus ride there wasn’t bad; the road we took cut through the mountains; it was scenic being surrounded by tall mountains and small farms. When we arrived, we walked along the Ancient Plank Road, a path up and through the mountains along a river that in old times only consisted of planks of wood and served as a way to cross the mountainous barrier between the provinces. It was a really beautiful area with lush mountains, small pagodas, hanging bridges, blue water, and waterfalls. An old Chinese saying used to describe the journey from Shaanxi to Sichuan, saying “The way to Sichuan is harder than climbing to the sky.” But the view is totally worth all the effort. In the night, we had free time to explore the city of Hanzhong. The next day we visited a Han Dynasty palace / museum in Hanzhong & we were supposed to visit a temple, but for some reason we couldn’t, so we just returned to Xian. When we got back at night, we went out to an “old street” of Xian and spent some time sitting outdoors at a cafe talking with friends.
Early the next morning, we biked around the top of Xian’s old city wall. The weather was nice for biking, and my friends and I raced riding tandem bikes! In the afternoon, we visited an orphanage about an hour outside of Xian. We brought the orphanage some gifts, and played games like badminton, ping pong, soccer, and jump rope with the kids. One girl even brought me to see her room. The kids there ranged from 1-19 years old, and most of their parents are serving their sentences in prison, leaving no one to care for them. It was really nice going there & giving the kids a little bit of happiness & fun. Later, we went back to Xian and visited the Muslim Quarter to see Xian’s Great Mosque. It actually didn’t resemble a mosque at all – more like a normal Chinese temple. All around the mosque were crowded streets with vendors selling all kinds of souvenirs, fake brand name goods, art, and everything in between. In Chinese I would describe it as “热闹”. They also sold a lot of “小吃”, or snacks, which were very yummy.
The next morning I went to the Starbucks in the city center near the Bell Tower because it’s listed as one of the top ten Starbucks in the world due to it’s unique architecture and location. Being the Starbucks aficionado that I am, I couldn’t leave Xian without stopping by. After my very nice breakfast, we had to leave for the airport. All in all, it was a fun trip. All the cultural and historical sites we visited were really interesting, but undoubtedly the best part of the trip was being reunited with all the other AFSers from all over China again, most of whom I hadn’t seen since Yunnan. This trip was fun because we all already knew each other, and were happy to spend time together again and catch up! It’s sad to think that it’ll probably be a long time before I ever see a lot of these people again. But AFS is really like a big family, and even though we’re parting ways now, our experiences together will keep us friends for life!