The next day we had to be up really early ready to transfer to the airport and catch our flight to Xian. Everything went smoothly and our new guide dropped us to the airport and check in was going well until they X-rayed our bags behind the counter. Suddenly the security guard was making a bit of a fuss and shouting at our guide. Enid was summonsed to go and explain the contents of her suitcase. The security guard was convinced that she was a very heavy smoker ..poking his finger at her saying she had two lighters hidden in amongst her pyjamas. They started unpacking her bag in that humiliating way they do and there was a lot of tooing and froing between Enid’s bag and the X-ray screen. Enid was denying everything and Joyce, Jane and I pretended to have nothing to do with Enid. We didn’t really fancy being locked up for 10 years in a Chinese Women’s prison (although Jane has always been a fan of Bad Girls so maybe she wouldn’t mind?). Eventually the offending item was discovered. It wasn’t a lighter after all but two mosquito bite zappers which apparently meant Enid was innocent after all. Once he’d made a phone call to his General the security guard let Enid loose and we were free to go.
After this the flight itself was very mundane and in a couple of hours we were landing in Xian in the smog. Oh yes this is a smoggy city and it just goes to show how lucky we were in Beijing.
We met our new guide ‘Ellen’ who was another young student type and also Mr Wah who was our driver. Immediately we could tell that Ellen was going to be a much better guide, she was really lovely and engaging.
They took us to our hotel The Grand New World in the centre of Xian and then almost immediately we went out to visit the Little Goose Pagoda. This is a 43 storey pagoda which had been split in two twice by an earthquake and then pushed back together. It was a peaceful spot with nice gardens and it made a change to be away from the madding crowd.
We watched some ladies doing a square dance which was very balletic and then enjoyed Ellen teaching us how to count to ten on one hand the Chinese way.
In the evening we went out to eat at a restaurant Ellen recommended. We were a bit worried as she seemed very reluctant to recommend anywhere outside the hotel. However, this place Na Jia Lou was close to the hotel and we merely had to risk our lives crossing the main road with five lanes of traffic all going in different directions and no apparent way to know when it was safe to cross. Somehow we made it and then also found the restaurant by checking the Chinese symbols on our piece of paper against the restaurant sign. The place was packed and the staff came out to pull us in! It was full of locals -who by the way all tend to look Mongolian up here- and clearly a popular choice. There were no other Westerners in here but after a good stare they all settled back down again. The big man who looked like a Mongolian Triad member did seem to think that the way I used my chopsticks was worth a titter.
We ordered beer -a good start- and then studied the English menu with pictures. We had the most excellent feast ordering:
-twice cooked shredded pork with chilli sauce and onions
-sweet n sour spare ribs
-beef and rice with way too many chillies
-bok choy and other green veg
-sweet potato chips with toffee (yes, I know, really)
We didn’t order the spicy donkey, the squirrel fish, the twisted chicken gizzards or the snakehead stew. We also avoided anything using the generic term ‘local meat’. Call me a wimp if you like but I’m sticking with the toffee chips which were absolutely amazing.
It was a great night and I’d already decided I was going to like Xian. It’s a big city with 8 million people living here but it seems to have a nice heart.