Ode To Modern Xi’an, China–Quickflight

by bria4123 on March 22, 2012

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OK, I’m not a great Tang Dynasty poet, and I rarely drink alcohol. But as I explored vestiges of the Tang capital, I developed a bond with the modern city (Xi’an) that will be strong for the rest of my life.

And I felt that people who’ve only been to Shanghai and Hong Kong, or who have only gone to Beijing to do business, haven’t seen the real China.

Xi’an is much less hurried, glitzy and cosmopolitan. It’s full of people being themselves, and lots of immersions in their daily lives filled me with warmth.

The people in the above photo were taking a lunch break at Big Goose Pagoda. Romantic music was playing over a PA system, and folks were enjoying each other without needing fashionable clothes or high-tech toys.

During another lunch break, in a shopping district a little south of the old city wall, the sidewalks suddenly became gridlocked. Rain then started to fall. We all opened our umbrellas, making every effort to avoid scratching them into each other as we held them up. Not one person showed any frustration, but many smiled. Time seemed to stand still as we meshed into a sea of people and became a timeless feature of Chinese cities.

One of my favorite experiences was buying a pipa (the musical instrument on the left in the above shot) in a mom-and-pop music store.

The daughter was there too. She seemed to enjoy meeting new people who came into the shop.

China often gets sensationalized by the media, and I’m guilty too–I just published a post about elite life in Tang China. But throughout my stay in Xi’an, I was surrounded by families who were working hard for a comfortable life, and sharing as much warmth as they could in the meantime–and extending it to me. These ordinary folks enjoying human company are the real China. I wish the people in these photos all the prosperity they’re striving for.

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John Seto March 23, 2012 at 10:37 pm

On a July evening in 2006, a group of us watched a traditional line dance of several hundred people of mixed genders in the open city square at 11 PM. The lines inter-weaved compactly among one another – with women waving folding fans and men twirling decorative umbrellas. Music took the form of live drums, cymbals, and traditional reeds. The dancers and crowds were all common folks enjoying a little cool night life after a hot day. Except for the electricity, I can picture life in the same way hundreds of years ago, and quite unlike the massive computerized neon light-walls one finds in Shanghai.

Kristy March 30, 2012 at 10:19 am

It’s so funny I just stumbled on your site. I just returned from China, including being in Xi’an on Thursday March 22, 2012. Your impressions are mine exactly. I read elsewhere that you said China is the friendliest country on earth. I have come to the same conclusion! I also have traveled all over Europe and Asia several times. I first went to China in 2007 to volunteer teaching English for 2 weeks in Xi’an, and liked it so much. It’s hard to explain to others, when they notice the superficial things like dusty/smoggy air, street clutter, squat toilets. Totally missing the real value and pleasures of interacting with the people and the culture. So glad to see someone else has had the same realization that I had!

Jean Waggoner August 3, 2012 at 8:27 am

I love the sound of the pipa and envy you the time to explore.

Da Wei February 14, 2013 at 3:23 pm

” Not one person showed any frustration, but many smiled. ”
This comment so typifies my experience of the Chinese people and explains why I like them.
XiAn was one of highlight of one of my trips.

hermes7 February 14, 2013 at 3:42 pm

During my return trip last year, several Chinese people told me that they’re not always like that behind closed doors. A college student I met in Luoyang said, “We are expected to be elegant in public.” People have to preserve face. But their willingness to be candid told me that the civility you and I experienced was still deeper than the surface. My affection for them grew even more during last year’s trip.

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