China – Beijing and Xi’an

China – Beijing and Xi’an

I’m back from a two week trip to China with two of my sisters and my Mum. This had been a long planned trip to take my Mum on what may be one of her last overseas holidays. It was postponed due to my illness last year, so it was nice to finally go.

China is really an astonishing country of contrasts, modern, ancient, busy and peaceful all at once. We travelled through five cities Beijing, Xi’an, Guilin, Hangzhou and Shanghai. All were amazing in different ways but if I had to take my pick it would be a difficult tossup between Xi’an and Shanghai.

The growth is just astonishing, cities are thrown up in the middle of nowhere, roads and fast rail are brand spanking new. The rate of growth brings with it all of the usual problems, congestion, pollution and the disparity between rich and poor is huge.  But despite all this, it remains an amazing place. It manages to hold onto so much that is beautiful in the rush.

First stop Beijing. In an action packed few days we headed to Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven, The Forbidden City, Summer Palace, the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs.

In between there was food.  We ate at local restaurants and had a lot of fun attempting to translate menus using a neat feature in Google Translate where you hold a camera over the text and it translates on the fly. Many dishes are poetically named and don’t translate well, whereas others sounded plain scary. We had a lot of fun and found people in the restaurants incredibly helpful and patient with our almost non existent Mandarin. We ate the usual stir fries and dumplings but also some unexpected wonderful surprises such as a compressed tofu and mushroom salad and a sensational chilli, sesame cucumber salad. As well as a rice wine flight. 🙂

Next we took a bullet train to Xi’an. Four hundred km/h and completely smooth! The main reason was to visit the Terra Cotta Warriors. I’d wanted to see them since they brought a few to Melbourne to the gallery about 30 years ago. I wasn’t disappointed. They are beautiful. But I also loved Xi’an itself. It is a lovely city with interesting sections, an ancient city wall with bell and drum towers for signalling the opening and closing of the gates and a vibrant Muslim community. We walked through the smaller streets sampling street food and visited the beautiful local mosque. We were lucky that the marathon (which runs on the city wall) was on while we there. We were treated to crowd of people cheering on the runners and banging percussion instruments, dancing and cheering.

Xi’an is famous for a dish called Biang Biang noodles which have become my current food obsession. They are hand stretched, flat, soft wheat noodles with chilli oil, garlic, peanuts and spring onions. Utterly delicious  We ate them several times including at a home visit for lunch with Mrs Ho. Here she is demonstrating how to make them.

Other treats. Biang Biang noodles, a tofu street stall, more rice noodles with pickled veggies and peanuts, a crispy fried chilli veg dumpling, a street stall selling steamed coconut sticky rice cakes with fruit pastes, sesame and peanuts and a bread shop.

That’s enough for now, the post is getting too long. Next stop Guilin…

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