Featuring: clay soldiers, shirtless men, secret noodles, lots of meat — and the drinking-and-driving poster boy
XI’AN, Shaanxi — Xi’an is one of the world’s oldest cities, with ancient city walls, cherished cultural monuments and world-renowned archaeological sites. My first stop there was the five-star Sheraton Hotel. My next stop was an internet bar. Funny that while on a four-month tour of China, often the last thing I feel like doing is touring. Traveling can be tiring.
Xi’an, a city in need of a good scrubbing, was the first destination on this trip I feel I can safely describe as seedy. The long stares I had grown accustomed to were now sideways glances. And I felt I was always one wrong move away from being ripped off. If Shanghai is a businessman in a fake designer suit, Xi’an is a used car salesman, all sly smiles, sweaty palms and false handshakes.
Of course, the same could be said of several Chinese cities that cater to a steady flow of foreign tourists, pockets bulging with cameras and cash. And, thanks to the Army of Terracotta Warriors, considered the most important archaeological discovery of the 20th century, Xi’an ranks up there with Beijing and Shanghai as a “must-see” destination in China. I had spent much of the previous two weeks hiding out in small, unassuming locales — places where the idea of having a foreign visitor is, well, completely foreign to most people — so my arrival in any “important” city like Xi’an would have felt like a slap in the face … especially after more than 20 hours of traveling.