Week 2: Shanghai to Xi’an, Modern to Ancient China

The last time we spoke, we were on a high speed train to Shanghai, enjoying the dethawing moment a warm train provided. I think the train ride itself took some like 4-5 hours. I cannot remember exactly, but we made it. 

We arrived in Shanghai around 8pm. AirBnB works here, so Anastasia scored for us by finding a perfect small apartment in the French Concession. If you ever plan to visit Shanghai, the French Concession is “where it’s  at”. The Shanghai French Concession was a foreign concession in Shanghai from 1849-1943, a period of time when Shanghai earned it’s “Paris of the East” title. Though the concession itself ended in the middle of WWII, the area has retained a distinct Euopean character. We found it absolutely comforting and beautiful, loving the wide streets, simple navigation and western food availability. We stayed, I think, three nights and four days. Using the “hop on, hop off bus”, we explored some of Shanghai’s highlights, such as the Bund, a good bit of the French Concession, and People’s Square. We also spent one afternoon working our way towards the “Poster Propaganda Museum”, which was recommended to us by Anastasia’s cousin, Naomi, who has lived in Shanghai for four years. Lonely Planet did not mention this gem, and while it is simple, it was literally the only place where information is shared about China’s past and the CCP. So glad we froze in the cold wind to get there! 

Indeed Shanghai is a really cool modern city. But, you know me. Modern cities are not why I came to China. So, yes I could go on about the high rises mixed with European architecture, but I might fall asleep. Instead, the most memorable thing about Shnaghai was the food! We ate a much needed big lunch at a Burmese influenced restaurant Lost Heaven. It was delicious. I had spring rolls, water spinach, and a brilliant tofu, mushroom, chili concoction. Wow. I have been craving it since the moment we left. My mouth is watering now.

We also had a Sichuan meal with Anatstasia’s cousin Naomi, which was also delicious. Naomi ordered a whole spread. Spicy green beans, hot eggplant, dumplings, meat dishes, cold tiny brown fungus. Shoot, I’m hungry. 

So, yes, the food in Shanghai was delicious. And the craft breweries are definitely worth a stop. I’ll be looking for Kentucky Bourbon Ale when I get back to Georgia. 

After the few days spent in Shanghai, we took our first Chinese flight to Xi’an. Unfortunately, due to the long travel distances and recommendations, we chose to skip Kung Fu’s home of Shaolin Temple, which was half-way between Shanghai and Xi’an. While it was definitely on my list, it would have been an extra two days of travel and we heard from Naomi that the essence of what I was seeking was lost in the huge crowds of Chinese tourists who swarm the temple. After our experience with crowds in the Forbidden City, I understood what she meant and decided with Anastasia that heading straight to Xi’an and seeing the Terractta Warriors was our best bet.  So we did. 

We spent two nights in Xi’an. Upon our arrival, I could already see that Xi’an was going to be a favorite of mine. Xi’an is one of the few cities in China to still have it’s original city walls. Built in 1370 during the Ming dynasty, the walls form a large square, which is surrounded by a moat. As we entered into the city, I know I at least mouthed “wow.” The scene was so picturesque. Large pagoda like entrances, streets lined with red Chinese lanterns, and small shops selling jade, brushes for Chinese calligraphy and art galore. After dropping our bags and meeting our roommates, we headed straight for the Muslim Quarter of Xi’an. The Muslim quarter was something I was so excited for, since it is basically street after street of food stalls. Yes, lots of meat (as expected), but a good bit of fruit, tofu creations, and interesting sights. 

The photos above don’t really capture the vibes of this quarter of Xi’an. As you walked through, you could feel the energy hum, the loud sales pitches called, the knifing of pig ribs, the whiz of nuts grinding, the pound of hammers against wood, Chinese music, and probably a good thousand hearts beating to the spell of curiosity. That night, I ate spicy fried tofu, some kind of sticky rice that I thought was pineapple, and a hearty egg noodle soup. Anastasia ate mostly the same, but added in a shredded beef sandwich.

That night, with full bellies, we made our way back to our hostel, booked our tour for the Terractta Warriors museum for the following morning and headed to our four bedroom female dorm. Our roomates  were inquisitive women. Lots of questions about our American ways, right down to religion.

We had top bunks with a very strong heating system beating down on our faces, so we didn’t sleep that well that night. But, we had only one more day in Xi’an, so when morning beckoned, we answered. Our tour began a 9:30 am, with a wonderful guide whose English name is Wendy. She knew her Chinese history well and was therefore wonderful to have during the day’s adventure. Very informative. The short version is this famous archeological site was first discovered in 1974. It is the home of Emporer Qin Shi Huang’s tomb, which is most likely the grandest mausoleum in the world. Though the majority of the Emporer’s tomb has chosenly been left untouched, uncovered is thousands of life-sized Chinese warriors, who were crafted and placed to protect Emporer Qin during the after-life. Emporer Qin  was the first actual Emporer of China. He began building his tomb during his reign at the age of 13. It took 38 years to build and over 700,000 workers. 

The Warriors are an amazing sight to see, especially because each one has been put back together, piece by piece by archeologists. I just wonder what lies in his actual tomb, considering he has thousands of Warriors at guard. But, I agree that some things are better left a mystery. 

Unlike emporer Qin’s tomb, China, for me, was never one of those things. It’s a mystery I am loving to unravel. I know it’s most impossible to do in one month, but I already feel that I am atleast gathering leads.

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