Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Morning Stroll Through Xi’An

After our long first day in Xi’An, we decided to fly solo the second day.   Since we had to catch a late afternoon flight, we strolled around inside the city wall to see what the downtown Xi’An had to offer.

This was the view of the City Wall from our hotel.  It reminded me of the Great Wall of China.

Fortunately our hotel, the Grand Park Xi’An was located by the City Wall South Gate so a walk to downtown was only 5 minutes away.  At first, downtown looked a lot like any other Starbucks and McDonald’s dotted city.  Then we ran into the Bell Tower and Drum Tower.

Chris poses in front of the Bell Tower of Xi'An.  Some people say it was built to tame dragons who caused earthquakes.  Others believe it was built to suppress a dragon from fighting the "real emperor".  

The drums in this tower were beaten to signal the end of the day.

Long lines and a time shortage prevented us from climbing the towers, so we continued to roam the city. 

A few minutes later, we stumbled upon the Great Mosque and Muslim Quarter.  We had never visited a Mosque, so Chris and I paid the 25 RMB to see where many Chinese Muslims worship. 

The well manicured mosque grounds were extremely tranquil.  Unlike most Mosques, the buildings reflected Chinese architecture.

Faces on Muslim art are banned out of fear of polytheism.  

While we were able to walk around the grounds surrounding the prayer hall, we were denied admittance.  This may be because I was not wearing the proper attire.  (I was wearing a short sleeved shirt and jeans.  All of the other women who were admitted were wearing Hijabs and long sleeves.)

A clock on the outside of the prayer hall indicates the times for call to prayer. 

While I was not allowed to enter the prayer hall, I was allowed to take pictures.  Notice there is no seating.  This is so more people may fit in the hall during call to prayer. 

Muslim women take off their shoes as they enter the prayer hall.

After our quick Mosque visit, we wandered the streets of the Muslim market where we were greeted by knickknacks of all sizes and street food!

The Muslim quarter reminded me of the markets in Tianzifang.

I love Chinese shoes.  I wish they made them in my size.

Many street food vendors sold a variety of meats on sticks.


But Mom...I WANT one of those!

Many vendors sold dried fruits and nuts.

These bags were too cute!

One day I will eat the twirly taters on a stick.

We were afraid to eat the chicken due to the H7N9 outbreak.  

I would not be surprised if we return to Xi'An before our time in China is through.
I wish I would have scheduled more time for Xi’An; I could have spent days exploring the city.  Alas, it was time to return to Shanghai for more adventures.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


When Chris and I travel, we usually book our hotels, plane tickets, and tours via Ctrip.  They are usually pretty competitive price wise, have a very user friendly English website, and accept major American credit cards.  Most of our tour guides have been extremely friendly, and do an exceptional job of showing us around.

One quirk of Ctrip tours is between visits to major points of interest; their guides take visitors to tourist traps.  For example, when visiting the Great Wall of China, most tours stop at Dragon Land Jade City

If you are feeling the need to buy a jade dragon boat, here is your stop!

Jade city does have a great restaurant that serves western friendly Chinese food.  Meals are frequently included with the tours.

Or who could forget our trip to Dr. Tea, the Beijing teahouse that featured $40 boxes of tea and overpriced tea sets.   

After your tasting, stop by the gift shop and pick up a few boxes.

If you buy so much tea, you get a free pee pee man figurine who tinkles when your water is ready.
And there was the salesperson at  “Pearl City” that tried to convince my mom to buy Hong Kong diamonds.

This is where pearls come from! 

Needless to say, that during our trip to Xi’An, we were taken to a few more traps. 

The first trap was very subtle.  At the end of our trip to the Banpo Museum, we were led to a gift shop which pushed artwork created by local farmers.  Normally, I would not be interested, but this painting caught both Chris and my eyes.    Tourist Traps 1, Team Wilcox 0.

70% of the proceeds of the painting go to the local farmers who created the painting. 
The second trap was a little more obvious. Before we were driven to the Huting Springs and Terra cotta warriors, we took a detour to the Xi’An Art Ceramics and Lacquer factory for a “demonstration in pottery making”.  I thought we would see artisans throw delicate porcelain bowls.  Instead we saw workers piecing Terra Cotta Warrior figurines together and glazing money dragons.  The warrior figurines do make great gifts.  Tourist Traps 2, Team Wilcox 0

Feel free to take a snapshot of your loved one as a Terra Cotta soldier, free of charge!

A local artist creates a warrior statue.

Money dragons are very popular in tourist traps.  Many business men purchase them so money won't leave their companies.  

All I could think about was The Brady Bunch movie after seeing this Tang Dynasty horse statue.

Chris had a difficult time selecting his warrior statue.  There were so many to choose from!

Why do you need a Terra Cotta army when you have Leia?

Since we had some time to kill before the Tang Dynasty Dinner Theater, our guide took us to our third and final tourist trap: A Chinese Silk Arts factory.  When we entered the building, an intricately embroidered silk gown greeted us.

At first, the museum/factory looked promising.
We were then led to the factory where our guide showed us how the silk is made.

Silk worms spin a silk cocoon.

The silk is then stretched.

After a little more stretching, it is woven into thread and fabric.
After we saw how the blankets and sheets are constructed, we were led through a maze of overpriced blankets, towels, underwear, and cleaning products.  I could buy these in Shanghai!  I desperately wanted to get out of this place, but I kept getting lost in the maze of the silk art garage sale!  I was trapped!  Needless to say we left the factory empty handed.  Tourist Traps 2, Team Wilcox 1

Usually the traps are fun, but if you are interested in making major purchases, price your items before you embark on the tours.  Also, don’t be afraid to negotiate.   Otherwise, you may get trapped!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Dazzles and Dumplings

The Tang Dynasty was a very prosperous time for China.  Many times, the Emperors would hold over the top banquets that included dances that celebrated a good life or a prosperous harvest.  1100 years later, a couple of men decided to share the Tang dances and make a few bucks by creating a Tang Dynasty Dumpling Dinner. What a way for visitors to experience the good life of the Tang times!

Our tour of Xi’An ended with an over the top, dumpling filled Tang Dynasty dinner theater.   The evening included two things that I hold so closely to my heart: sparkly costumes and meat stuffed dough balls. 

When we reached the venue, we were by a hostess in traditional Tang attire to a gilded restaurant/ theater. 

Our hostess leads us into the theater.

 About 20 minutes after we were seated, we dined on dumplings of many shapes, fillings, and colors. 

These were the first round of dumplings.  My favorite was the duck shaped dumpling that was filled with duck. 
Dumplings round 2... I was getting a little full after this round.  The dumpling with the little orange eyes was filled with crab.  Yummy!

Round Three: classic pork and scallion filled dumplings. Yummy!

As we were eating, visitors from all over the globe joined us for dumplings.  The women seated to the left of me was Chinese and spoke only Mandarin.  The woman seated to the left of me was from Costa Rica and only spoke Spanish.  Needless to say, I had an amusing time trying to translate my 5 year old like Spanish to 3 year old like Chinese.

My new Chinese friend kept insisting on a picture with everyone.  I was able to translate a little, but I kept  confusing my Chinese and Spanish.  The gentleman to her left was from Belgium.

After multiple rounds of dumplings washed down by Tsingtao, it was time for the show. Fortunately, it was very easy to understand because the emcee introduced the numbers in English.  Each act was breathtaking.

Dancers perform a Spring Dance for the crowd.  I loved the traditional costumes.

Tang soldiers show off their strength and balance.

The empress flaunts her costume.

The Tang Emperor shows his approval.

This acrobatic troupe performed tricks while playing with these yo-yo like toys.

My Spanish speaking dinner companion kept repeating, "Aye!!!  Que lindo!"  How beautiful indeed!

Dancers pose at the end of their number.

Chinese men perform a drum dance.

Dancers pay homage to Buddha at the end of the Golden Buddha dance.

My friends and I do this all the time.

The dancers made it look so easy!

The dancers perform one final number.

All in all, the Tang Dynasty Dumpling Theater was a lot of fun, and a must for folks who are looking for a cheesy, glitzy good time!