[updated Jan. 2012] Reading and listening to so many negative, one-sided, manipulative, smug and condescending voices on things China recently – and they were just my own – I feel like simply writing a brief note reminding myself of why I like living in Xi’an.
First and foremost, I like the people that surround me on a day-to-day basis, the Xi’anese. They are a matter-of-fact bunch, a straightforward lot, and a generally supportive and friendly collection of people. I generalise on the basis of the impressions that have been planted within me during the last  years. I like Xi’an, I like the people and I like living here. [although there is too much traffic now and too many shopping malls] We of course must take into account the fact I am a Laowai (老外) and thus I am treated, generally, with a slightly friendlier and more helpful hand than some members of the Chinese community might experience. Though, this may also depend on the extent of each individual Laowai’s forbearance in the face of things China and Chinese.
That said, the warmth I receive and feel is not solely based upon my own interactions, but on those friendly exchanges between locals and neighbours that surround me; the often straight-forward resolution of a dispute without recourse to violence; a smile when a near accident occurs; the quick banter between work mates and the open and caring offering of advice or support between friends; how uncles and aunts are so easily embodied in strangers; youthful style expressed without too-much self-consciousness; street cleaners working with an often hard-to-believe diligence; and how easily a broad smile crosses the seemingly most hardened and mistrusting of faces.
This place, for me, isn’t reminiscent of the increasingly insular and anti-social societies we have begun to talk so much of at home, neither is it easily explained away as distinct from the Chinese Communist Party or, for that matter, the political history of China. For good and bad it is what it is in its entirety.
Xi’an is also evolving. I have been here for more than  years and things have changed – I won’t say moved forward as that too easily gives an impression of development being an a priori ‘good’; it is not that straightforward. However, more and more Chinese and foreign companies are establishing headquarters here, while car use has escalated to such an extent that I actually have to sometimes wait before crossing the road. And even, on occasion, sit on my bike at one of these new large road junctions staring up in bewilderment at one of their new digitally displayed time counters- for a whole 90 seconds!
There are more venues for leisure than there were upon my arrival. Bars and cafes have been added, mostly chains from abroad but some independent places are now beginning to spring up. The same applies to the choice of western food, though the selection of Chinese food is as comprehensive as ever. Xi’an has its own renowned dishes (yang2 rou4 pao4 mo2- 羊肉泡馍, hu2 lu tou2-葫芦头 and rou4 jia2 mo2 肉夹馍 or Roger Moore to the newly initiated ) but being roughly in the centre between North and South, it also has a good selection of regional foods and a genuine choice between rice and noodles.
Old areas have been renovated and re-landscaped, while new areas have been built. In fact, whole districts have emerged in the time I have been here, most noticeably Qu Jian – south of Da Yanta – and the Chang’an District – that incorporates the new University campuses. There are more parks, more cinemas, now at least two or three lakes, there is a concert hall and theatre, art galleries are beginning to emerge, book shops are finally starting to sell more and more English titles, even a number of book groups and book exchanges have been created ( see the Village Cafe notice board for the former and Xianease.com for the latter), and there are a few charitable organisations beginning to offer opportunities for volunteering.
There are also now at least three Xi’an city guides (
China Grooves, New Dynasty and Xianese.com) that can help the fresh off the boat and the old hands alike: get themselves about, find work, borrow a book, drink a pint, have a tooth extracted, dance into the early hours and generally take advantage of this great city, over and above the everyday street life of it all.
Educational facilities in schools have improved and Xi’an is increasingly being seen as a centre of education, science and technology. The impressive Chan Ba river district continues its development, with the Xi’an World Horticultural Expo [having been held there in 2011]. Trees are being planted on a daily basis, Da Yan Ta and Xiao Yan Ta still stand in all their splendour, while traditional musicians are still found scattered around these ancient monuments and Xi’an’s green and leafy garden retreats.
Also, for all those whose Chinese is developing nicely, there is always the chance of dropping into Bei1 Lin2 (碑林) to check on one’s progress. If that isn’t enough the 1200- odd km stretch of the Qing Ling Mountains are just a couple of kilometres outside of town. And as the Xianese.com boys were telling me recently, there is no better way to discover them than by motorbike. That may well be something for me in 2012, as may be the realisation that, with a good Shaanxi woman by my side and all the above, I am settled and settling here in Xi’an. However, who knows? I could be living in an English seaside town this time next year and singing its praises, but, for now [still], I doubt it.
Happy Days and it’s still only Winter…