Archive for the ‘Xi’an Specific’ Category
It was only recently that I stepped away from 10 years of vegetarianism, so it is only now that I am able to start savouring Xi’an’s local meaty delicacies. I enjoyed my first Roger Moore (ròu jīa mó/ 肉夹馍) not so long ago, while just before I headed back to Britain recently a local friend of mine, Jenny, introduced me to pàomó ( 泡馍) and xiǎochǎo (小炒), dishes that hold legendary status in these parts. Pàomó is the soupy version, while Xiǎochǎo is fried. I must say I preferred the xiǎochǎo for its flavour and texture, although, that may be had something to do with the sweet pickled cloves of garlic they served up on a small plate with it.
Jenny took me to two of the more famous spots in Xi’an for these dishes, both in the Muslim Quarter (see below). She also took me for dessert at the best yuánxiāo (元宵) stall in town, which is just a couple of doors down from the xiǎochǎo restaurant. Anytime is a good time for eating yuánxiāo (元宵) as they are hot, sweet and tasty, but the real time for partaking in a yuánxiāo or two is on the 15th day of the first lunar month – the Lantern Festival - which falls this year on February 6th. I have added a couple of pictures below and simple directions to this stall and the other two restaurants, as they are all good spots to eat during these cold winter months but particularly because the Lantern Festival will soon be with us. All three are in the Muslim Quarter.
P.S. Don’t forget when you are ordering the pàomó and xiǎochǎo that you have to choose how much bread you want – I had 3 mó, Jenny had 2 (mó is a dry, round, flatbread made traditionally from wheat flour, the same bread that is used for the ròu jīa mó) - and that you have to tear it up yourself, so be prepared as it seems a strange thing to have to do to start with and it takes a while.
A week or so ago as I got bogged down in trying to protect this site from a malware attack – no easy task, I can tell you, for this computer illiterate fool - I did pay attention to the fact that a reasonable amount of content has been added here during the last three years, now over a 100 Notes. So, for my own simple pleasure, and as I have not given myself much time to write recently, I will pick a few Notes that I have liked for whatever reason and put them up in two parts – 5 Notes in each. The first 5 of Part I can be found here, and were written during 2009. The second 5 included below in Part II all come from the last couple of years.
1.Oh Sweet Cháng’ān Lù, Is It Really You? 2. Chinese Conceptions of Time (Part I) and a Question of Western Maturity 3. NoNo Cafe: An Apology, a Cathartic Process and a Less Than Turquoise Hue 4. Mr. Lǎo Bǎi Xìng, A Bit Of Income Inequality, An Archbishop And Some Social Solidarity 5. Master Orwell, Garton-Ash, Facts, Politics And The English Language
Oh Sweet Cháng’ān Lù, Is It Really You?
This is just a Note that has been brewing for a while.
*Cháng’ān Lù 长安路
We have grown up together side-by-side but now your behaviour has gotten to a point that I cannot abide, nor simply hide or ignore that which crosses my mind. But, first I gotta ask: “Sweet Cháng’ān Lù: Is it really you?”
I am sure, back then, it wasn’t just me who revelled in the criss-crossing mass of humanity, which descended on the Junction of Shi Da Lu; like some joyous, incongruous stew. No matter spluttering car or steaming truck, we strode out with a little good luck and little regard knowing, in fact, it was we who would pass.
Halting the traffic in our wake we grasped our long fought for humanitarian stake. But, make no mistake Chang’An Lu, you must take responsibility for the lack of humanity that now resides at your gate, you leaving us simply to wait and to wait. But, I ask… for what?
Back then buses would halt as an aged old lady would take to the street, simply sweeping a broom made from plastic bagged sheets, while motorcycles still weaved between pockets and sleeves. But, the time most enjoyed was when we all at once directed and objected from the centre of stage, before being forced to turn the page: losing that urgent, organic, glistening spell which storybooks will never be able to retell. We all halted, we all moved, the life was all there at that crossroads at Shi Da Lu.
A tear now crosses my eye for the deep sadness of goodbye and a progress more reminiscent of a creational mess than a strategic game of post-war chess. The shiny black wasteland that one-day you will be now carries eight high-speed lanes of immovability, directly dissecting our community.
Oh Chang’An Lu, I stood there at your side as the last roll of new tar was itself applied, giving your potholed visage a life a new. That night we watched as an aged old man not far from his grave, contributed his last efforts for you to be paved. So hot, it was steaming in the dark of the night, but we, a few, gathered in the future knew, one life had passed and another… who knew?
You changed then Cháng’ān Lù, you were never the same once this glistening black coat was tied at your neck. I wanted to believe it could be as before but now the reality has sunk in, there is no drop of that past left for us to draw. Today, we are no longer allowed even to gather at your side. “Take a chance” I hear you say, but sweet Cháng’ān Lù that’s a thing of the past, it just wasn’t able to last. A fact we cannot hide, if only you knew, no chance now, unless of course we are ourselves taken for a ride.
Don’t look back I hear wise words say but it was actually you who taught us that way, back in the day: “Don’t look back, stride out, you are Kings on my road”, you would say, and we believed you. Because be sure back then, as those who travelled with us knew, looking back was not something we knew how to do. We strode with criss-crossing glee, oh yeah, really quite free. May be some say it is not the case to be true, but today is a place less free: to be true, to be true. Oh Cháng’ān Lù what has happened to you?
Just a day or so ago, I was thinking of you as I held up a bus, of course, not wishing a fuss, but when I looked out from the North to the South do you know what I could not see Cháng’ān Lù? It was you. I could not see you, for a continuous, sickening metallic hue, which had morphed into one almighty incomprehensible queue: that quite simply had obliterated you.
But now, at the dawn of a new modern era, it does in turn dawn upon me what I probably always could see. You have gone Cháng’ān Lù. It is no longer you. I talk to myself now it does seem but if that is all I have left then what I wish say I wish to be clear, to be fresh, to be seen.
Oh consume, Oh swoon, Oh legitimate heir, Oh the reason so fair, Oh fair: the fair of fair rides, fair maidens and fair despair. Oh pollution, Oh evolution, Oh ignominious death, Oh development, Oh wither, Oh sickened river, Oh imbedded, hot headed, earnestnessness. Sweet love, sweet freedom and sweet redress.
Oh Sweet Cháng’ān Lù, I really miss you.
Over the last few years Xi’an has become the place I refer to as home. However, that has not stopped me from recently suffering a few re-integration issues after returning from 2 months back in my official homeland. It felt like no normal re-acclimatization process this time, although, maybe it actually was; it was just not one I am used to experiencing.
When I first arrived in China, 5 or so years ago, I was coming off the back of quite a few months of travel in India. So, as far as I was concerned, Xi’an was an oasis of calm and modernity. Not quite the sentiment others often express when arriving here for the first time, I know. Even if many people backpacking around China do usually find Xi’an a pretty chilled place to hang out for a few days.
The point being, that from my first impressions until recently, Xi’an was a pretty relaxed place to be. I have never felt in need of the advice that was passed on to me when I first arrived in India. There I was told by a few thoughtful and prescient old hands that I should always be aware of looking out for places to retreat to for a few days, or even for the odd week or two.
Whether that place was an isolated beach community, a mountain forest hideaway, a nature reserve, a nice hotel, a temple sanctuary, or just a good bookshop, it was important to find some space and time to escape the intensity of street life in India, which, from time to time, could seep into every pore of your being and every aspect of your thought. (Which is not a criticism by the way). It was advice I took, and it certainly served me well. When I lost sight of it, while moving across the north of India, I suffered.
This isn’t something that I have ever felt applied to life here in Xi’an. My recent re-introduction to Xi’an life, though, has made me re-appraise that perception. Xi’an has by no means reached the epic intensity of daily life in India – it is still so much quieter, cleaner and calmer in comparison, and it does still have a somewhat laid back atmosphere – but there is an indelible mark that a life lived here can now leave on you.
Getting out and about town with the masses in the mornings is to feel the full force of the life changes going on here. Taking a taxi ride around the second ring road, let alone the third, is to get a sense of the scale of the development that is recasting this city. While getting down in amongst the small chéngzhōngcūn(s) at night (city villages), those that still exist, is to really feel the lifeblood of this urban centre. Life here really can grip you.
Before I take a summer sabbatical from life in Xi’an, and from checking into the world wide web, I will throw out a thought on Xi’an that has been nagging at me for a while.
The system here in China where cities are tiered in terms of their level of economic development has never been one I have liked. I have always felt that this system of stratification has sounded insulting, with the comparison it unnaturally makes between first, second, and third tier cities. (And, yes I do understand the reasoning behind the classifications.) Cities such as Xi’an, that are not first tier, are by categorisation inferior.
Xi’an was, in my opinion, always more than just an adjunct to those Chinese metropolises out East; it was a city with its own nature, its own identity and its own pace of life. Classifying Xi’an as second tier was always to say that it wasn’t quite what it could be, that it lacked something, the special something that would make it first tier.
Which, based on certain criteria, was greater economic development, with high levels of investment, a modern transport infrastructure, and so-called improved standards of living. But, in many ways Xi’an didn’t lack anything, it wasn’t nearly or not nearly something else, it was what it was and it was different to those first tier cities, and from my perspective better for it.
Before I write this Note, I am going to make a bold statement about it. I am going to make the claim that it will become the definitive: “What Is It About Xi’an That Makes It Xi’an And Makes It The Place People Like To Live?” Note. However, before any of you think I have lost my humble marbles in a blur of blogging arrogance I would like to offer a condition and an invitation.
First, this is an invitation to all of you out there who live here, or have done so recently, to add your own brief note in the comments section below about what Xi’an is to you, and what makes it different from other Chinese cities, even different from other places on earth. Plus, simply, what you like about it, as well as some of the things that you don’t quite like so much.
Second, the condition. The condition being that this will only be the definitive Note if those of you out there with experience of living in Xi’an do share your thoughts with us. This certainly won’t be the definitive Note if it is just written from my perspective.
Hopefully, if we can get this thread going we can provide a good stop off point for people who want to get to know a bit about Xi’an. There are now a good number of people that find their way to this site from different parts of the globe, who have different ideas about Xi’an, and about potential reasons for coming here. We can hopefully offer them a few pointers in the direction, whatever direction they do end up going in. So, whether its personal impressions and thoughts on Xi’an, bits of historical knowledge, circumstances where expectations were changed, or times when they really weren’t, or just a few spots in and around the city that you think are worth checking out, feel free to write about them below.
Thanks in advance, I look forward to reading. First, my own contribution, which I will also kick off in the comments section:
The Village Café on Shi Da Lu, opposite the Foreign Language University, is one of the old coffee shop classics here in Xi’an. However, the term ‘Classic’ can in this part of the world revolve around slightly shorter time periods than most places would require to have such a tag applied: coffee shops being a relatively recent addition to Xi’an society. Here, 4-5 years of being open, with or without a consistent and loyal cliental, is just about enough time to earn legendary status; for The Village, however, the title is well warranted.
Although, when I was compiling a coffee shop Top 5not so long ago I did relegate it to a mere footnote mention, due to the fact that it was seemingly losing its way, even if its cakes still hit the spot. It does however seem to have turned the corner and is now back in its rightful place as a home from home coffee shop/eatery: a retreat to be savoured during the winter months that lie ahead.
The Village started back-in-the-day as a bit of a Christian collective, when it was not at all rare to hear a bible class or path to awakening being expounded beside you. It would for the uninitiated who passed through the doors back then, and we could probably include a few thousand Chinese students in that number, have seemed as if the whole Western world was indeed devoutly Christian. For my part, my agnosticism seems to have made it through unscathed, coming out the other side as simply intrigued by it all, the great hotpot of life that is, as I ever was. Though, I do now find myself wondering if the whole Western world is indeed devoutly Christian. But, that is another story.
The Village still retains a place in the hearts of this local community but it is maybe now as much for the food, drinks and comfy environment than any other higher meaning. Here, no matter your spiritual persuasion, you will find yourself uplifted and guided to a higher plane by the presence of as good a homemade cakes, chunky wedge fries and chocolate milkshakes as you’ll find anywhere. Not to mention cheeseburgers, veggie lasagnes, burritos and cappuccinos. Lost here in space and time is truly to be living the life; nourishment is nourishment, noodles are noodles but occasionally a feast is indeed a feast. Veggies and meat eaters are equally well catered for, vegans maybe not so.
A friend of mine who used to live in Xi’an took me to a place in Beijing recently, claiming it was a top spot for western style cake lovers: “Do me’a favour!” I said, in my best cockney (London) accent: “You wanna get ye’self back d’an The Village in Xi’an son, thas ye home in China f’ya muvvers cakes.” Beijing may have The Village of San Li Tunand its Frank Gehryexhibitions but we’ve got The Village on Shi Da Lu and its exhibit A: Hummingbird cake. Xi’an is Xi’an and we’ve got our spots and don’t let those poor deluded Beijingites tell you otherwise.
The Village or XiāngCūn (香村), not to be confused with NóngCūn (农村), has recently added some comfortable and more private sofa-esque style booths, which have definitely improved the downstairs area. Upstairs there are a number of tabled seating spaces, suitable for laptops and food. While a couple of the old sofa-chairs left over from the original owners and old days can still be found. Which, if the air-con heating is doing its stuff, allows you to sink in, relax, read, study, shàngwǎng (上网), chat and snooze the afternoons away. This place for the old hands is a legendary spot, for the newly initiated it is, as I was over hearing a couple exclaiming recently, a damn [emphasis added] good find.
*Here is aMap, it is opposite the China Bank on Shi Da Lu, near the Xi’an Foreign Language University’s Southern entrance. Shi Da Lu is just off Chang’An Nan Lu near the TV Tower. 陕西省西安市雁塔区师大路32号, (029) 8522 2150
With the onset of summer interrupted by frequent rain showers it is may be not a bad time to partake in a bit of reflection, particularly with regard to a few of the transportational changes that have ridden into Xi’an in recent years; arriving on a wind of progress, though on the back of an almighty stimulus package, one that has included a few unpleasant side effects. The laid-back nature and slightly underdeveloped cityscape of Xi’an that I so liked upon arrival is changing.
There are so many cars on the roads now that it is even for me, let alone the slightly aged members of the local community, hard to believe that when I first arrived in China’s Western capital I really didn’t have to pay too much attention when crossing the road and never even consider waiting at a road junction. Not so now, walking between the lanes of oncoming traffic is not only restricted by increased car use but also by government directed traffic attendants, who, in such a short time, have vigorously put into place a road crossing etiquette that was almost impossible to ever imagine existing just a few years ago.
Having ridden a bike on a daily basis over the last four years it is easy, if not a little depressing, to recognize the increased volume of traffic that I now peddle, cough and occasionally splutter passed. ‘Passed’ though being the operative word, the term traffic jam or dǔ chē (堵车) has certainly entered the common cultural lexicon of Chinese cities over the last few years and Xi’an is no exception. I can often find myself leaving sleek blacked out and branded motor vehicles in my slip stream, as I jump between lanes and lights on my US designed Trek bike.
As a break from beginning to look at a little Confucionist and Daoist thought I will take a moment to reflect upon my first hobby, that of finding a bit of coffee shop down time in which to enjoy a little reflection on Confucionist and Daoist thought or, more often, the life that circles around us here in down town Xi’an. Also, in celebration of, and in an attempt to draw a little attention to, a couple of newly discovered coffee based watering holes, I have decided to go a little further than usual and identify a mostly subjective, though with a tinge of objectivity, coffee shop Top Five. ”Oh brother!” I even hear myself say…
My credentials for such a task are not based on being a connoisseur of the dark art of coffee savouring or being someone who has sought out the freshest of beans produced in places as far flung as Guatemala and Yunnan, because I am not and have not. But on the basis that, for a few years now, in most coffee retreats in town my drink of choice – the old classico – will, as I take to my favourite seat or sofa, be in the process of being brewed. I do realise however, having worked in a couple of local bars in my time as a youth, that such a claim is not may be warranting any sort of attention being drawn to it. I have become the old fella in the corner, drinking his habitual half of dark and bitter. But hey, a daily coffee fix and a couple of hours of hanging out time, are, in my book, prerequisites for keeping a little balance during these Xi’an days. My judgements are generally made on the basis of early morning frequenting of said locations.
So, with all that said, here are the old timer in the corner’s Top Five Coffee Shops in down town Xi’an: The Epic Centre of Modern China: (more…)
I am about to break Elmore Leonard’s 1st golden rule of his
10 rules for writing fiction: “Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people.”
However, I suppose as one, this isn’t fiction, two, I am English and the weather holds a place dear to my heart, three, that this will indeed involve my reaction to the weather, and four, that people will be along shortly, it may be ok to kick off with a bit of a weather report. Although now I have gone and begun with a quote from Elmore Leonard, my concerns about the weather really are unfounded. Thank Leonard for that. (more…)