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Thursday, August 1, 2002, CST

Day 8, Shopping, and we play Frogger


Today was spent exploring the ancient capital, and staying close to home. Yesterdayís sights were on the outskirts of the city, but today, we are staying within the city limits, and mostly within the Ming city walls.We started the day at a Han Dynasty art museum. Iíll fill in the blanks later, as I canít remember the name, and from there we moved to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, where grandpa told us about a Buddhist priest he admired.From there, we spent some time at a jade factory, shopping for jewelry, and then to the Stone Tablet collections. It was getting pretty hot by now, and I would guess that it was mid to high thirties Celsius, or around 95 degrees.Xian is pretty smoggy, and combined with the heat, was very uncomfortable. Most of these older museums did not have air conditioning, and we were dying, with the worst yet to come. Our last historical sight was the city walls, built during the Ming dynasty, and involved climbing several flights of stairs, in the blazing sun. This was not something anyone wanted to miss, except grandpa, so we bit the bullet, and battled the heat for one more time.


Grandpa took a taxi back to the hotel, and would meet us later. Our reward, for braving the heat, was spending the next few hours in an air conditioned shopping mall.The Xian Kaiyuan department store is 6 floors of the most modern shopping mall you can imagine, except it is one single store, with everything from computers, to name brand clothes, to bargains, and groceries.We spent over 2 hours here, avoiding the heat, and picking up bargains. Some of the clothes, were cheaper than our laundry bills, so it was more economical to buy some new clothes, rather than do laundry.This place was pretty amazing, and to look around at the products, and people, it was hard not to think you were at Stonestown, Sunvalley, or Serramonte. That is, until I saw snake wine for sale in the supermarket. Even the people did not seem to be the same people we saw just outside in the street. In this environment, they appeared as modern, and fashionable as anyone you would see in the States.


Up until seeing this department store, I was thinking how much more homogenous Xian is compared to Hong Kong, Guangzhou, or Guilin. It was difficult to find the ancienthouses and villages, and it also lacked the ultra modern, silicon valley look.The extremes, that can be seen, from the street, is about what you would see in any major US city, with underdeveloped areas, similar to East Oakland, and more developed areas similar to Market street, or Downtown San Jose. But then we have this ultra 21st century department store, within a couple of blocks of the 14th century Ming walls.


A word about being a pedestrian. In China, pedestrians do not have the right-of-way, and you hear stories about the challenges of foot traffic, in big cities, but this was a new dimension for me.There is a constant stream of cars, all driving with their horns, and weaving in and out. It is perfectly acceptable to thread the cars between the bicycles, and peds. There is never a time where it is clear all the way to the other side of the street, so you have to cross one lane at a time, and as you stall after each lane, there are cars whizzing by in front and behind you. I never saw a single accident, or anyone get hit, but I canít figure out why.This is truly frogger, and we are the frogs.


That nightís dinner was dumplings, in typical northern style. They had over 20 different types of dumplings, like little won ton, sui mai, or har gow, and each one was made into some kind of distinctive shape, reflecting the contents, such as a duck, pig, or chicken. They were delicious.



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