Lunch in China, Continued—Part II, Xi’an at Ramadan…

20180610_144744.jpg“Couple in the next room, bound to win a prize, they’ve been going at it all night long”–Paul Simon

Except that here it’s downstairs on the street right below my window, and what they’re going at is mindless and noisy chatter, Meavis and Muttonhead yakking and yukking it up until the dawn comes, about what I don’t know, holding court over a kebab stall as if this is their meaning in life, I stuffing wet tissue in my ears with limited effect, tempted to open the window and yell, but ultimately holding back, it making little difference to my quantity of sleep anyway…

Mornings in Xi’an are a riotous confusion of boiled eggs, corn on the cob and steamed buns, with filling and without, spicy meat most typical of the infrastructure involved, but you never know for sure until you actually bite in. It’s hot here in June, so best to get an early start if you want to get serious about walking 3mi/5km to the Big Goose Pagoda or whatever it is your tourist jones are hankering for…20180611_095638.jpg

But it’s not like Chengdu at all, though only a quick four-hour bullet-train ride away. Where Chengdu is new and shiny, Xi’an still has the old hutong alley culture intact, best kept alive by the local Muslims, who could prob’ly not give a rat’s prickly posterior about all the smartphone culture that China’s become, where you just might not survive as a bizniz man if your place of biz doesn’t accept ‘Ali Pay’ or whatever it is these kids are using, from every 7/11 on up; the alleyways only accept cash…

Xi’an is best known for its tombs of terracotta warriors, of course, and secondarily as the terminus of the historic Silk Road. But what most tourist guides, and history books, too, fail to mention is that Xi’an (Chang’an) was once one of the world’s largest cities, if not THE largest, around the time of the Buddha, 500BCE, same as Pataliputra in India, ancient demographics being such that China and India occupied a greater percentage of the world’s population even then than now…

20180612_091515.jpgSo the terracotta soldiers do exactly as they’re supposed to, standing there and posing for pictures, just like the Big Goose Pagoda and the Great Mosque and the Tibetan temple, so I play my tourist role dutifully, snapping pictures on cue and waiting in line patiently to get a better view. All this occurs while escaping my tiny cubicle of a room that would rival Hong Kong’s Chungking Mansions in size and price, but the a/c works, and the temps are climbing quickly past 35c/95f, so nice if only the street noise would quiet down below…

But it’s Ramadan, so maybe that’s the deal wherein Islamic people lay low all day without eating, awaiting the nighttime, so that they can do all-nighters while stuffing a gut. I wonder if this is what Muhammad intended, but no matter, as we are all guilty of the creeping crawl of materialism threatening to bury our spiritual sense forever, once and for all, typical of ‘capitalist democracies’ to buy off the lesser regimes, naturally assuming that they all have their price. Don’t try that in Afghanistan—they’re too much like us…

20180613_100517.jpgThe only real problem is that the food’s too salty, and that’s a deal-killer, for any of us with high blood pressure, no use looking for home remedies while slathering the broadsides with saline solutions, no doubt a vestige of life back on the Turkic deserts, where salt is currency and its profligate use a bragging point. So I’m finally relieved to take the bullet train back to Chengdu, where the temps are cooler, and the food is more Chinese than Turkic, even if much the same dishes, and maybe even hotter in Sichuan…

And I finally find the entertainment district, and the mall district, and the supermarket district, very much configured all in the same area, so whether this is by planning or by design I know not, or whether it maybe goes back to the village communism of the marketplace, where no one gets much of an advantage by location…

20180610_085601At least I had one night in Xi’an in a high-rise apartment complex, so that satisfies a guilty pleasure, having seen these monsters sprouting up all over the country, one of history’s largest mass migrations occurring before our eyes, more vertical than horizontal, as Chinese peasants leave pigs, chickens and gardens behind for the smartphones of the city, all to be found while living in modern apartment complexes, available in ten, twenty and thirty floor models…

Did I mention that besides the cryptic addresses, many ‘hotels’ offered on booking sites aren’t really hotels at all, merely flats subdivided into square and rectangles almost obligatory the phone call to confirm location? Or that they allow only mainland Chinese? Or that they want payment in advance by bank transfer? WTF? Sounds like some absentee landlord doesn’t trust his office staff, unless they’re directly related by blood, of course…

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But there are the ubiquitous WiFi routers now, one in every room, by local custom, and this in a country where only five years ago an Ethernet cable was still standard equipment for the most modern hotel rooms. And don’t forget the smartphone, with hotel booking notice at the ready, willing and able. It’ll save you when all else seems lost, you like Robert Redford in a vast open cruel sea, where no passing boat will even acknowledge your existence, while Tom Hanks gets a ride from the first vessel with a rudder…

Did I mention that the air in big cities is polluted? Did I mention that Tibet is allowed only with a guided tour? But that’s okay, because Sichuan has it’s own Tibet, aka Kham, so who needs Tibet anyway? That’s where I’m going, next stop Kangding, with one of the highest airports in the world. But I’ll be going by bus, of course, stay tuned…
To be continued…
(Note to Facebook friends: if you read this far and want to comment, please realize that not only can I not respond there, I probably won’t even see it. If you comment right here on the blog itself, I will, hint hint)…

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