May 25:  Xi'an

I slept well on the train from 12am to 6am, but once the sun came up Chinese people decided to get out of bed and have loud conversations in the aisle.  Who the hell gets up early after insufficient sleep for the purpose of talking?  Probably the Communist group mentality again, preempting individual rights (such as the right to sleep).

When the train pulled into Xi'an the announcer said "Now arriving Xi'an station.  Passengers please get off."  Right away I thought of the Prince song "Gett Off", which would be the best doubling of a terminal consonant for effect if not for Big John Studd.

Due to the train bathroom situation we couldn't shower or brush our teeth till we got to the hotel, so for a while my breath literally smelled like dog poop, on account of the "beer".  My calves were tighter and harder than the previous day.

Xi'an is well-laid out.  The old 13.7-km city wall still surrounds the central city, and at the very center (actually closer to the south gate) is the landmark Bell Tower.  North, South, East and West Streets extend from the Bell Tower to the wall.  So if you get lost, just keep walking till you hit the wall, then feel your way around for one of those four streets.

Above is a (the?) town square.  The long building is a mall, and underground there's a ritzier modern mall.  In the background is our hotel, the Bell & Drum Tower Hotel.  Yes, there's also a Drum Tower.  It's to the rear left of this point.  Despite the city's logical layout, I had trouble getting back to the hotel later.  It's right there, but the street is hidden, and I forgot that you can also go through the mall.

Bell Tower.  I think you can go up and pay to ring the bell yourself.  Or not, depending on how you feel.  (A Jerry Maguire reference?  Where did that come from and why?)

MJ led us on a walking/orientation tour, then we headed down to the south gate on foot and ascended the city wall.

South gate.  The traffic circles around the gate.

South part of the wall, looking east.  This is from the south gate part that protrudes out.

Looking south.  That's the extension of South Street past the wall, but I don't know if it retains the name there.

Top of the wall, looking east.  One thing I hate when trying to take a good photo is rushing ahead of the group, then standing still and trying to snap the photo before someone catches up with me and enters the shot.  This photo would have been clean, except someone shouted "potato famine" and Anne Marie bolted from the group and ran some distance ahead, so she's stuck in the shot.  Yeah, that reference may be too obscure.  LG, I know you got it.


Neighborhood on the north side of the south wall.  Reminds me of Rancho Santa Margarita.

Still looking east.

Same neighborhood.

For lunch we had dumplings.  Oodles of dumplings.  What's funny is MJ took us to the dumpling restaurant, and a lot of food was served to us, and we thought that was it and got out our money, completely forgetting that dumplings were coming as the main course.  I had some "beer" and two small glasses of rice wine, which wasn't as bad as I remember it from years ago.

I wanted to get on the Internet again to find out who won American Idol.  The Intrepid pamphlet said there were cafes on both sides of East Street and MJ said one of them wasn't too far from the Bell Tower.  But I walked up and down East Street for at least a mile and couldn't find anything resembling an Internet cafe.  I did find this though:

The Sunny Halfpast 8 Friend Changing Club.  Proud sponsor of the Super Terrific Happy Hour, and I think also the Happy Smile Super Challenge Family Wish Show.

Thwarted, I went back to the hotel and rested my calves.  Along the way I went through the market and heard some of the sorriest sales pitches ever:  "Hello!  Have a look!"  Koen came back and also wanted to find the Internet cafe, so this time I got MJ to write the name and address is Chinese characters, and we headed out.  Again we couldn't find it, so Koen (who knew some Chinese) asked several establishments if they knew where it was, and we finally narrowed it to a staircase where the "Internet" sign was hidden under an overhang.  It was only Y4/hr but I also had two Heinekens because I was craving real beer.  I got the AI results...Soul Patrol!  I picked Katharine McPhee after the initial auditions, but she was inconsistent and Taylor Hicks was the better story.  Koen reported that he couldn't access Google, and Terence said the same thing in Beijing.  I thought that whole thing was straightened out.

We had to rush back to the hotel so we could leave for the opera.  We needed food, so we darted into the Monkey Burger next to the Internet cafe.  I forget what the fast-food joint was really called, but it had a monkey logo, and we referred to it as Monkey Burger for the rest of the tour.  What we actually got were chicken sandwiches, nearly identical to what I had at McDonalds.

I rather liked the opera for its traditional Chinese imagery, but reviews from the rest of the group were mixed.  What I did not like was the "beer" at the opera.  I had something called Hans 2000 Light that was 3.6%.  Even Terrible Herbst isn't as terrible as Chinese beer.  Plus the bottle was 628 mL, an odd volume that doesn't seem to correspond with any standard size.

Traditional instruments being played.

I think this was the guy doing strange bird calls, like he swallowed a kazoo.

Not much going on here, but the dragon's eyes were flashing and I timed this shot well.

At this point the backdrops were more interesting than what was occurring onstage.

Wow.  Why did I even keep this one?

Final scene with the emperor and empress on their throne.  Emperors used to make a lot of sweeping arm gestures in lieu of speaking, or so this opera and Chinese television would have us believe.

A night of drunken revelry was long overdue, so Koen, Terence and I went to the night market near the hotel and looked for a bar.

Night market.  I forget what street this is, but that maze of alleys where the other market and the Great Mosque are empties out here.  I was hoping to find fried scorpions for sale, but I didn't see them anywhere in China.

We found a place with outdoor tables and had some "beer" (another 628-mL bottle for me, Y10).  Koen tried to practice his Chinese on some locals at our table, but had to keep referring to his dictionary.

I observed that Xi'an is like Warsaw:  a surprisingly pleasant city that you wish you could have spent more time in.

On the way back to the hotel I got a few photos of the Bell Tower lit up at night.  Above is the keeper.

I noticed that my shorts were loose and I went down one belt notch.  Partially due to the walking, but probably more to the smaller meals, and a couple days when I had only one legitimate meal.  But I didn't find myself getting hungry.  See, American overeating is just a bad habit.