In what is somewhat of a retro-post I’m going to be writing about some of the rest of the things I was up to in Xi’an that were at the time eclipsed by the whole wallet debacle.

From the top: I had barely gotten off the bus in the middle of the downtown when I met this random guy named Eric from Shanghai. He was traveling alone also and was completely bilingual, so we decided to get lunch together. Because I am forever cursed to live next to snack streets, we opted to check out Xi’an’s famous Muslim quarter, specifically the big network of alleyways that offer a whole bunch of local and middle eastern food.

"You eat what I eat"

Ordinarily this would be great by itself, but was even better when Eric made it clear that I was a guest in China so I wouldn’t be obliged to pay for anything. When I pointed out that he was a guest to Xi’an the same way I was, he wouldn’t hear any of it, and would not under any circumstances allow me to buy stuff. The trick, though, was that after he clarified this after the first thing he wouldn’t let me buy, he was like alright lets go get some more. I’ll buy, but you eat what I eat, ok? Which is a kinda dangerous game to play with a Chinese person in an alley full of shit like this (why yes, that is semi-cooked meat-paste sitting out in the sun. And no, they don’t cook it further before they put it in a roll and give it to you). But hey, I figured it was a pretty good opportunity to get to try the local specialties and stuff, because Eric could both ask the locals what was good — which I’m fully capable of — and understand their responses, which I can’t at all. Uncommon, foreign, and highly specific food nouns are a weak point of mine, what can I say.

Anyway the Muslim Quarter snack street (which looks like this from above, this at ground level, and this from some of the alleys toward the back) was a lot of fun, and I wound up eating easily more than half my total meals in Xi’an there. It’s tucked right behind the famous drum tower, and generally can be counted on to be ridiculous. Hold that thought —

Sidebar: Drum & Bell towers.

Xi'an drum tower. We're in CHINA now, baby

The Drum and Bell towers are both notable historic buildings, but I liked them primarily because they were pretty, and had art that was at once impressive and silly, particularly when it came to the titles of the engravings found all over the upper floors of both. Some of the ones that stood out: “Xi Zhi exchanging goose,” “Mao Shu adores lotus,” and “Unsuccessful visit to a hermit” (aww). Reading back through these it occurs to me that my readership might not find these quite as funny as I did/do, but that’s ok; if the Shepherd family teaches you anything, it’s that if you’re the only one who finds your joke funny, it qualifies as a good joke.
The bell tower also had this neat painting of shrimp that I’m pretty sure we studied in my first Chinese class I ever took. It’s the one by Qi Baishi, where Lin Na goes “看一看, 虾游来游去; 真可爱!”. Oh, and a big ol’ bell, I guess, but who really cares about that?
And just as a bonus here’s a neat shot of the bell tower from the drum tower.

Kids were running around not ten feet from here. 没问题。

Moving right along, we find ourselves back on snack street.  Not only was it incredibly dangerous due to all the random open fires everywhere — I have no idea what they are cooking that requires THAT much heat, but I bet it was tasty — it was also highly unsanitary and satisfyingly strange. Sometimes, every once in a while in Beijing you may forget for a few seconds that the country in which you are living is batshit insane. But then you can go to Xi’an and the restaurants have motorcycles in them and all is right (or wrong, as the case may be) with the world.
Overall my experience with the 小吃街 (little eat street) was highly positive. I didn’t get sick and had a whole lot of neat things, many of which came on skewers. Even if I had had to pay it’d have been pretty cheap, and if you’re ever in Xi’an make sure to pay it a visit or five. Tasty times.
Oh and PS on the subject of food — there was this famous dumpling place right by the drum tower that I tried to go to on my last day, but they wanted 100 kuai for eighteen dumpring and given that at the time I had no way to get more cash I couldn’t really justify the purchase. But the place did, um, smell really good? Next time, next time.