Xi’an: more than just terracotta warriors

So for the past five days, I’ve been lucky enough to take a break from studying and travel with other students on my program, as well as five of our teachers, to Xi’an. Although we didn’t experience even a minute of sunshine while there (it rained for four days straight), I’ll still remember the city as a place filled with bright colors and new discoveries. Though Xi’an is best known as one of China’s ancient capitals and obviously sought out by tourists for the terracotta warriors, my favorite experience in the city was the Muslim quarter. Don’t get me wrong; it would be a plain lie to say I was underwhelmed by the terracotta warriors. Considering the number of them (estimated to be over 8,000) and the fact that each has a different and unique face and specified role (i.e. foot soldier, general, cavalry, etc), not even to mention that the farmer who, in 1974, discovered China’s first emperor’s life-size army is still around the gift shop to sign his name in tourists’ overpriced souvenir books, it is definitely a very worthy site to check out in Xi’an. Unlike many other sights I’ve visited that have touted the same claim to fame, it might actually even be worthy of the name gloriously written on big signs around every corner: the “eighth wonder of the world.” Xi'an: terracotta warriors So why did I find something else in Xi’an more fascinating? Well, although the warriors are life-like in size, unique facial features, uniforms, battle arrangement, and many other aspects, they still aren’t real people; you can’t talk to them, bargain with them, or ask them what daily life is like.

Xi'an's muslim burgersThough Xi’an is an ancient city, it is one full of vibrant life, nowhere else so obvious as in the Muslim quarter, particularly on Huimin Jie, a name that literally means, “Muslim Han people Street.” Compared to other tourist streets that I’ve been to in China before, such as those in Yangshuo (Guangxi province) and Dali (Yunnan province), just to name a few, this street still had a few of the classic foreigner-attracting features: walls of shops lined with fake designer handbags, local cafés touting their homemade coffee and western snacks, and overpriced knick-knacks and souvenirs, left and right. But the local color and Muslim characteristics were not so much compromised, as actually enhanced by this atmosphere. Instead of twenty foreign cafés, I only saw two, the streets instead lined with vendors and small restaurants selling all kinds of delicious snacks. There are what friends and I have dubbed “Muslim hamburgers,” an english muffin-like dry bread sandwiching open-fire, kebab-roasted lamb.  They are simply delicious; I had one for dinner twice. As far as lunch or dinner goes, there are also “soup” Xi'an: baozi, which look like Beijing’s version of this staple food, except filled with soup and meat, instead of entirely with meat or veggie filling, as well as pita-bread crumble soup and spicy hot thick noodles twisted and cooked kebab-style. But dessert was clearly the most important part of every meal; from sweet sticky rice flavored with different sauces, fried persimmon cake filled with black sesame, sweet red bean paste, or peanuts (I stayed away from that one), to homemade dried fruit, hand-pulled taffy, and so many different cookies that I can’t keep track, there was plenty to delight the senses. Xi'an, China: sweet sticky riceXi'an, China: dessert!Another favorite was “sour plum juice,” sounds strange, I know, but it was just enough sour and just enough sweet, and perfect to wash down street snacks with.

The Muslim handicrafts found along this street are also unique to Xi’an; with their bright red base cloth, sweetly simple and innocent animal patterns and colorful stitching, they are like nothing that I have seen anywhere else in China. As we wandered the streets near our hotel over the course of four days, we also discovered the “Great Mosque” (清真寺) tucked away in the heart of the Muslim neighborhood off of Huimin Street. Apparently first opened in 742 AD,  it’s a wonder that this place survived the government crackdowns of the Cultural Revolution intact, and it is an amazing marriage of Arabic and Chinese, two of the most complicated but visually beautiful languages I can think of, scrawled across the walls of traditional Chinese architecture. The Great Mosque is still used today as a place of worship, the echoes of prayers ringing softly through the back streets of the neighborhood; to me, perfectly representing the awe-inspiring mix of ancient and new that is Xi’an.

About Caitlin Moss

Caitlin Moss is a junior in the College of Liberal Arts majoring in Government with minors in French and Chinese. She hails from Concord, Massachusetts (yes, where the Revolutionary War started, for all you history buffs). She will be spending both the summer and the fall semester in Beijing, China studying Mandarin with Hamilton College’s ACC program, hosted at the Capital University of Economics and Business. In addition to her academic interests in government and language, Caitlin also enjoys running, cooking, dancing, reading, and foreign films. Aside from the obvious family, friends, Hilltop, and comforts of home, while abroad she will most miss the delicious taste of homemade New England ice cream (particularly mint chocolate chip). However, she has always wanted to live abroad and looks forward to immersing herself in a drastically different culture. This blog will be an important English-speaking outlet for Caitlin, as she will be adhering to a Chinese-only language pledge (scary!).
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3 Responses to Xi’an: more than just terracotta warriors

  1. Jay Eidson says:

    Caitlin, I was in China

  2. Jay Eidson says:

    Moss, I was looking through some old PLFC pictures and wanted to check in to see how you were doing. Don’t think you’re playing any futsal. Did you know I was in China during Jan. 1983 (Yikes) with my fellow students from Hartwick? Xi’an, Suzhou, Nanjing, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong. We were busy. I hope you are enjoying the culture. I bet it is vastly different with 26 years of additional economic growth. Enjoy and I’ll keep an eye out for your blog.
    Jay

  3. Caitlin Moss says:

    Hey Jay! I had no idea you were in China in the 80’s! Very cool. Unfortunately I haven’t found any futsal here yet, but we had a pick-up soccer game last week (I was one of 2 girls who played) so that made me pretty happy! I’ll shoot you an email soon; it’s been far too long!
    :) Caitlin

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