The Silk Road: X'ian

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May 29th 2015
Published: May 29th 2015
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Making taffy!Making taffy!Making taffy!

Making taffy in the Muslim quarter with 60lb wooden sledges... not an easy task!
As we waded through the haze of smoke that rose from the endless grills that lined the narrow cobblestone street, incredible smells wafted from every direction reminding us how hungry we were. We checked into our hotel in X’ian just an hour ago, and after a day of traveling, all we wanted to do was relax and enjoy a good meal.

X’ian is most well known for the 8,000 Terracotta Warriors that were discovered in 1974, though right now we have one destination in mind – food – and we know exactly where we want to go.

X’ian is one of China’s oldest cities and was the starting point for the ancient Silk Road and dates back to 221 BCE. As such, one of the main characteristics of X’ian is its large Muslim population, and it was the heart of this busy Muslim quarter that we were now inching our way along. We quickly find ourselves immersed in a unique blend of Chinese and Muslim culture, where tall men with long thick beards and white robes sell endless varieties of nuts, dried fruits, grilled foods and breads while Chinese peddle an infinite numbers of goods packed into tiny roadside stalls.

Stopping at one stall we look at a hand-carved set of chopsticks and decide that it would be a great addition to our kitchen back home.

“How much?” I asked in broken Chinese.

“Good pice”, the lady replies in equally broken English. “Pice for you, 45.” And with that continue on through the bustling street, dodging the scooters that insist on plowing through the droves of people.

A few steps further we watch as a pair of strong Muslim men make a taffy-like pastry, pounding the sticky mix with huge wooden sledges. Catching my eye, one of the men stops what he is doing and points to me. Nodding for me to come over, he hands me the sledge and points to the slab where his partner continues to pound away.

I look up. He wants me to try? I am a strong guy and have done my share of work with 20 and 40 pound sledges, but I could hardly lift this thing! What is it, a 60 pound sledge? The solid wooden block at the end has to be about a foot in diameter. If I drop this thing on my foot, it will be me riding out of here on one of those crazy scooters!

As Erin cheers me on, a crowd of Chinese and Muslims crowd around to watch. “Shit”, I think, “I got my wife, Asia and the Middle East watching. This is how wars start!” Stepping forward onto the platform, I raise the heavy sledge above my head and wait for my Muslim partner to give me the nod that would set our pace.

My hammer sails through the air and hits the taffy with a loud slapping sound; at the same time his raises and we kept the routine going. Five minutes later my arms feel like rubber and I turn to pass the heavy block of wood to the other man who stands back watching. Looking at me he shakes his head and points to the half flattened piece of taffy; he was not letting me off the hook until I finished.

Struggling to raise the sledge above my head again, I quickly pace myself with my partner another few minutes later the taffy is thin and ready to be dried and served. Stumbling off the stand, I stand tall, walk away proud
The Terracotta WarriorsThe Terracotta WarriorsThe Terracotta Warriors

A few of the 8,000 lifesize ancient Terracotta Warriors as far as the eye can see. Incredible and still be excavated as we speak.
and hurry around the corner to cry… well, I didn’t quite cry, but I did give my arms a good shake. I swear I can touch my toes now.

“Can you believe they do that all day long?!” I say to Erin with a newfound respect for this centuries old process.

On we went, weaving our way through the chaotic streets that continues to be the center of so much trade. Very little seems to have changed. As the people crowd by, we feel as if we are immersed within the place where these two ancient cultures mixed. And it is in this place as we turn a corner, I stop. In that very moment, I find Allah…

As it turns out, my Allah is gigantic barbeque grill loaded with meats and stacks of freshly baked naan.

“Erin, we have found the Holy Land; let’s eat!”

The owners, a family of energetic Muslims greet us with big smiles, and we take a table at the edge of the busy roadway where we could eat and watch the crowds stream by.

“Píjiŭ?” the young Muslim boy asked me.

I know my Chinese is not great, but I know enough to know “beer”.

I look at Erin surprised and whispered, “Did he ask me if I wanted beer?”

Sure enough, this Muslim family was progressive enough to know that if the people wanted to buy beer, they would sell it. Most of the Muslim quarter here had strict rules against serving alcohol.

Sipping on my icy cold píjiŭ, the meal arrives and I realize that not only had I found Allah, I just entered heaven. Spread before me was – no, not a dozen blessed virgins – but thirty-five huge lamb and beef skewers straight off the grill and marinated in the most incredible spices and flavours I have tasted in a long time. And to top it off they brought us a huge freshly fired plate of naan while the icy-cold beer kept coming.

Devouring the skewers, I look up at Erin and admit that while Chinese food may be pretty good, it does not come close to replacing my Canadian love of barbeque!

Over the next few days we venture to the farmlands of X’ian to explore the incredible archeological site were thousands of Terracotta Soldiers were still being unearthed then back to tour the historic city with its Bell and Drum Towers that for thousands of years have stood as monuments to a distant age.

The day prior to leaving and despite the scorching heat, we decide to walk the thirteen kilometers along the top of the X’ian Ancient City Wall, the massive stone wall that surrounds the old city. Built in the 14th century, the wall stands 36 feet tall with a width of 54 feet complete with a wide moat; it is truly an incredible feat with a rampart every 120 metres, four huge watchtowers and massive gates mid-way on each side.

At the seven kilometer mark, our bodies drained and our shoes melting in the heat, we decide to cut our walk short at the next gate. As we climb the steep steps, we look up and admire another one of China’s extraordinary feats of engineering. But alas, our time in X’ian is quickly passing.

As the plane leaves the runway of X’ian, I look at Erin. Her eyes are closed having drifted off into a relaxed sleep. She still holds my hand. I smile as I reminisce over another one
Ancient City WallAncient City WallAncient City Wall

After walking 7km across the top of X'ian's ancient city wall in 40 degree heat, we decided to call it quits! The wall is 13km in total.
of our many adventures, each one another reminder of the infinite possibilities that life has around each new corner.

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Additional photos below
Photos: 8, Displayed: 8


Gate to X'ianGate to X'ian
Gate to X'ian

The gigantic gates to the ancient city of X'ian, the first stop on the Silk Road.

29th May 2015

Still smiling
After two totally frustrating days of trying to upload the simplest file only to be told it wasn't clear enough making it unacceptable, along comes your latest blog adventure. It couldn't have come at a better time. I was once again taken along with you and Erin on your adventure, appreciating all of the sites and smells along the way but couldn't stop laughing when you spoke about your passion with food, one of many wonderful virtues you have. You helped make me realize what I had been frustrated with is so insignificant in the larger scheme of things. Thanks for that. Still smiling with Love for you both! Mom
30th May 2015
Gate to X'ian

Gate to wonders and infinite possibilities!
In your short stay, you encountered wonders that are not around most of our corners--the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, the famed terracotta warriors (I saw a dozen in Barcelona, but your "as far as the eye could see" was something else), the blend of Chinese and Muslim cultures, giant taffy pounders, beer in the Muslim quarter and barbeque for a hungry Canadian, thousand-year old towers and an intact city wall. How fabulous that you're exploring these wonders and sharing them with us!
31st May 2015
Gate to X'ian

Hi Tara, Yes, it is pretty incredible to see so many things knowing how history has changed and changes... one never knows when the things that we are experiencing now will be gone or vastly different. Our global community is evolving so fast that the "here today, gone tomorrow" cliche is often - and sometimes unfortunately - too true.
31st May 2015
Gate to X'ian

Hi Tara, Yes, it is pretty incredible to see so many things knowing how history has changed and changes... one never knows when the things that we are experiencing now will be gone or vastly different. Our global community is evolving so fast that the "here today, gone tomorrow" cliche is often - and sometimes unfortunately - too true.
4th June 2015

An extraordinary city that expresses the many faces of China and ancient Chinese culture. Surrounded by hills that aren't hills but are tombs. I've been there several times and each experience was so so different...even the entrance to the terracotta warriors had dramatically changed from my first to my second visit! The food tastes fantastic I agree...but when you can also taste the pollution...definitely a serious issue.
4th June 2015

Indeed the changes are many! Erin was there many years ago and said the same thing about visiting the Terracotta Soldiers... when she first went, it was still a dirt path that led to the site... no stores, no huge fancy granite entrances, no capitalism. How things change! And yes, we also ate the pollution, though in China it is hard to escape! I hope if/when we visit China in years to come, rather than seeing these issues escalate, we will see gradual improvements... too optimistic? Time will tell!

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