Friday, January 4, 2008

Buckbeak in Xi'an

Beijing is already a 24-hour old memory. It is a monumental city. Quite literally. I think that almost every day we were there we visited a UNESCO World Heritage site. And it's changing almost daily. Our Rough Guide was bought only a year ago, but already it needs updating - including some of the maps! One of the last images of the city was of the face of a new tall office block builiding, with its glass front being hoisted into place one window at a time, while a steady raiin of welding sparks fell from the top floor above. And I have never seen a train station as large as Beijing Xi. It's larger than any airport in Ireland, and is relatively centrally located in the city. But again, it was well orgainized and I found it easy to make my way to the correct section to wait for our overnight departure to Xi'an (I found it a great deal harder to convince Letizia that I had found the right place, but I'm kinda used to that).

Xi'an is an altogether different proposition. From the outset, let me tell you that I think it's a fantastic spot, and even though we haven't gone to see the Terracotta Warriors yet, I'm very glad it was on the itineray. It's an older city than Beijing, with a longer imperial history. The warriors that we'll go to see tomorrow were created as part of the funeral ceremonies of one of the most important and most terrible of Chinese emperors: Shi Huangdi of the Qin dynasty, which although it goes back more than 2 millenia is probably where this country got it European name. Xi'an was Shi Huangdi's capital after he united, for the first time, what is now China.

Now it's a well-to-do provincial capital which thanks to its surviving city wall, has a walkable inner city. The highlight of this place has to be the Muslim quarter. This is a foodstall and market area spread across a large number of streets and alleyways. But there is nothing like the in-your-face street vendor attitude of Beijing. We still stood out like sore thumbs, and drew the occasional prolonged stare, but for reasons that I can't explain, this provincial capital seems more urbane and at ease with foreigners than the national capital.

Needless to say we got thoroughly and royally screwed at the market today - at least at the start. Letizia bought a set of chopsticks which I (very proudly) haggled down from 16 euro to 14, only to find the exact same ones around the corner for less than 4. We hadn't much intention of buying much or indeed anything today, but once we realised how lame we had been, we embarked on a series of terrifying reprisal purchases, buying things we neither wanted nor needed (which we will now have to post home from Shanghai) for prices that enduced scowls from the vendors. We're not proud of what we did, and we know that in the end, there were no winners here today(except for the bugger with the 16 euro chops).

On an unrelataed note, a Beijing Harry Potter poster provoked a dinnertime conversation about who in the family corresponded to which charactor in the Potter books. Sara needed almost no time to figure me out: Buckbeak. I ask you!? A combined 5000 pages or so of heros both major and minor, and I get Buckbeak. I think I might be posting more than just chopsticks from Shanghai.

1 comment:

Liz said...

Sam agrees with Sara on buckbeak. Don't know the character myself but I'm sure they're being complimentary!!