Xian – Day 43 on the Silk Road by MGB

Monday, 15 May 2017

▲ I visited Xian back in 1995, with Maureen, Tashi and Kieran when our children were indeed children. Well the Terracotta Warriors, Xian’s big attraction, are still a big attraction. They’ve got a much flashier and more permanent display home and the car park and associated activities are many times larger.

▲ The Drum Tower may not have changed, but it’s vividly lit up at night.

▲ But Xian itself has changed out of sight. The activity centre of the city, population 8.5 million, has to be the Muslim Quarter which at night positively comes alive. It’s the busiest and most colourful nighttime entertainment and eating area I’ve seen in China. I could almost say anywhere else in the world.

◄ Eating is what it’s all about, this young lad working on a carcass, and there were dozens of them along the road, was stage one in turning out Xian’s signature dish, roujiamo or the ‘Chinese hamburger.’ It translates as ‘meat and bread,’ which is precisely what it is.





◄ My ‘Chinese hamburger’ being prepared. You can enjoy one in restaurants along the main street in the quarter or buy one from a street stand. This is not McDonald’s fast food, you buy a ticket from a young guy in the street and join the line for your stand. It was a 15 minute wait before I was front of the line to see one guy chopping the meat up with a sharp knife and a lot of effort while his sidekick sliced the bread. An ‘old yoghurt’ is the perfect follow up, total bill 25 RMB, about US$3.50.

▲ Later I head to the Belgian Bar on Shuncheng Nanlu, a popular pub street just inside the city wall near the South Gate. The Chinese really like pub streets. The bar is great for people watching and there’s plenty of activity to go with my Brugge Wit beer. What I like so much about China today is all the young people looking stylish, looking happy. Of course that’s not all China, there’s an article in this week’s Economist about miserable health care if you haven’t got lots of money, but here the life is young and energetic and clearly with cash. It’s not frenetically busy, like over in the Muslim Quarter, but there’s plenty of activity including cars passing by, the usual Mercedes and BMWs but also a new Jaguar and Land Rovers. Jaguar are clearly doing OK in China. A red Honda – she’s tonight’s designated driver? – stops and assorted bright young things bounce out and head into the bar. There’s a live performance, later it’s a young woman running through the standards, including Country Road. A young guy pedals by with his girlfriend perched on the rear carrier, lots of rental bicycles pass by, clearly Mobike has the Xian market sewn up. Assorted electric tuk tuk things as well and plenty of scooters, most of them electric, often with three or four people on board, just assorted young folk as well as the usual families. A very cute girl in a long white dress, Chinese girls definitely like to wear shorts, sometimes with high heels. Deliveroo in action. A passionate clinch between a young couple sitting up on the wall, overlooking us. Oh, somebody’s filming something a couple of bars down, I have a look when I leave, it could be a beer ad, there’s a track set up to roll the cameraman around the two tables, with a big ARRI camera.

▲ Xian has one more big attraction, it’s the real start of the Silk Road, with this statue of a caravan setting out to mark the starting line. At the moment there’s Silk Road fever in China, the Belt & Road programme pops up everywhere you look. The ‘road’ is in fact more sea than road, it includes oil pipelines through Myanmar and through Afghanistan to the coast of Pakistant and then by sea to Africa or Europe. The ‘belt’ includes railway routes to Europe and the route we’re taking, the Silk Road via MGB