I visited mainland China four times before I moved here in 2011. The first was just for a few days. I stopped over in Shanghai in 1999 when I moved to Japan (where I then lived for ten years). The next was to Beijing. I visited for a week with some friends for the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China in 2009. It was so much fun! The third time was for the 2010-11 New Year holiday. I spent most of my time in Shanghai but also wanted to see another city. I was living in Tokyo at the time and there was a great chain restaurant called Xi’an, which had fabulous shaved spicy and sour noodles. I had eaten Kobe beef in Kobe, Korean BBQ in Korea, Singapore style noodles in Singapore, New York style pizza in New York, Beijing duck in Beijing so why not Xi’an noodles in Xi’an? I talked to my Chinese and Korean friends I was to meet in China and they were soon onboard to visit Xi’an too.
After a few days in Shanghai, it was time to go to Xi’an. When the plane was landing, I was glad my friend’s mother gave me some toe warmers and heat patches as I saw a light covering of snow out of the plane window. I remember it being particularly cold year that year. We landed, collected luggage, caught the bus into the city and checked into the hotel. Excited to be somewhere new, we headed out to explore.
Shaved noodles, or Dāoxiāomiàn (刀削面) and the Terracotta Army was about all I knew about Xi’an and I was looking forward to discovering more so after a quick scan of the guidebook, I found that the City Wall of Xi’an, the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, Drum Tower of Xi’an, the Bell Tower of Xi’an and more were all close by. We off course made an effort to see all the sites but I just remember being overwhelmed by all the food. It was more going from one snack or meal to the next between all the meat on sticks, RouJiaMo (which I have heard called a Xi’an burger, a kind of pulled pork rounded sandwich) and dumplings. We sure got our steps up with all the walking but when that all became too much or it started to sleet, we took the metro or caught a taxi.
With only one full day left, we really needed to make the effort to see the Terracotta Army and eat those shaved noodles. Therefore, on the last full day, we got up and headed out. Once we arrived at the site with the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, we were greeted by staff and given a story about how the Terracotta Army was discovered. “Mr. Yang was one of the farmers who discovered the Terracotta Army while drilling wells in 1974 and is a national living treasure” we were told. “You can buy a book and have a photo taken with him. He will then sign your book”. I mean, who wouldn’t want to do that? We walked inside and there sat a man drinking tea next to a photo of him shaking hands with President Bill Clinton. I was definitely going to buy that book now.
It was well worth the effort to visit, even in the cold weather. It really is beyond impressive to see and a must for anyone in the area or even an added on trip for someone visiting China.
Soon it was lunchtime. Enough of the lamb dumplings, I still had not eaten the Dāoxiāomin, which was after all, the whole reason behind me wanting to visit Xi’an. We were in the taxi on the way back to the city and asked the driver if he knew a good place. He was super excited to talk about food and had a chuckle as to why it was the Australian wanted to visit Xi’an. He took us to a very local place that we would not have found on our own, even with the bright red shop front.
There were two choices medium and large. With only 1RMB difference between the two, I ordered the large. I didn’t and still don’t regret it. It looked a little different but tasted just like the noodles at Xi’an I used to order in Tokyo. It was amazing. My colleagues in Tokyo I used to visit Xi’an with were sure to be jealous. So, full of spicy sour shaved noodles, it was time to walk it off.
On our last night, I was expecting a more Chinese experience but my friends wanted to go to Karaoke. I was visiting from Japan, the home of karaoke, but that night my friends wanted to go sing a few tunes. I was not expecting much but the karaoke (called KTV here in China) place we went to was one of the most elaborate places I had been to. I had never seen anything like that in Japan with the lights, water features, couches, Greek columns… I was impressed! Now I realise, that’s normal and expected for KTV in China.
Xi’an didn’t disappoint. I loved visiting and every time I have shaved noodles in Shanghai or elsewhere, I think about what a great trip it was. It was then three months later I visited China again to job hunt and then moved later that year. Over eight years later, I am still here and loving it!