Sometimes life doesn’t go as planned. Which resulted in me trying to figure out how to get from Shanghai to Xi’an with a sudden surge in demand for tickets.
Admittedly, there were plenty of tickets on the 21 hour slow train if you wanted to stand. But I decided to wait a few days with 35 million of my closest friends at the world’s busiest port instead. Above is the flag of the People’s Republic with the Shanghai skyline in the background as a storm rolls in from the Pacific.
There’s not a whole lot for a tourist to do in Shanghai, but I like to go there to eat western food, speak English, and get a break from the constant stares you receive for being visibly foreign in China. I told one of my hostel roommates that Shanghai felt like being in the West to me, and he said I’ve probably been here too long. Maybe that’s true. He also seemed fairly perturbed by how blasé I was about censorship and the government’s efforts to “achieve a peaceful and harmonious society.”
China has some pretty good facial recognition software. There are cameras on the streets and in most public places that identify you based on your gait and face. You have to submit face photos upon entering China, and the government constantly tracks the movements of all citizens and visitors. In some restaurants you can pay via the facial recognition cameras if your bank account is linked to your government ID info. If you jaywalk in some places, the cameras identify you and post your government ID photo and personal contact info on digital public notice boards to shame you. I took this photo of the public shaming board in Xi’an.
“Be back in my office on the 8th of September, okay?” my boss told me after I signed the university paperwork certifying my students’ grades.
Xi’an is pretty lit at night.
Xi’an is my first stop on my journey west. As the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, boasting status as a former Chinese capital, and home to a vibrant Muslim community, it’s definitely on the tourist circuit. The 7.5 hour bullet train here ($100) was smooth, and the Chinese countryside rolled along outside at 200mph. The urban behemoth of the Yangtze River delta slowly gives way to farms and villages. Almost the whole train disembarke at Luoyang, an obscure city in Henan province I’d never heard of before.
Xi’an has a Muslim quarter with amazing street food.
I definitely got multiple meals in the Muslim quarter, with lots of restaurants run by people from the Hui minority.
Most of the foreigners I met in Xi’an had come direct from Beijing, and were heading to Chengdu or Shanghai afterwards. The Terracotta Army is the city’s biggest tourist draw, and was discovered by chance with the help of some farmers in the 70s.
Most foreigners head to the Terracotta Army by private tour, which is easy to arrange. It’s also not that difficult to reach by public bus, which takes around an hour and 15 minutes. The cost is $1, and leaves from the east parking lot of Xi’an Rail Station every few minutes. If you don’t read or speak Chinese it could be a little difficult, but is definitely manageable.
There are three main excavation pits housing the approximately 8000 soldiers, each of which is unique.
The tables in the photo are used for archeological research purposes.
The main pit is massive and sheltered in a building the size of an aircraft hangar, but the other pits are smaller. Albeit still quite large.
It’s pretty amazing what has survived in the 2000 years since the Army was made. But there’s a lot more to Xi’an than the Terracotta Army.
The Great Mosque of Xi’an is hidden in the curving, narrow alleys of the Goat Market. It was interesting to see the flowing calligraphy in Arabic and Chinese.
A hot pot joint I found downtown while walking around.
Everywhere I go in the world they say foreigners can’t eat spicy food, and then I order the hottest dishes and survive.