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Published: December 14th 2012
After visiting the temple, we decided to check out the neighborhood and see what we could see. We were both getting a bit hungry, too, and there were sure to be restaurants nearby. This would prove to be the high point of my trip.
We saw little shops selling little day-to-day items, plastic toys, firecrackers, and other small odds and ends. Some stores seemed to specialize in knickknacks, just like the store next to them. At one point, we came across a vegetable market laid on the street, a few vendors hugging the curb with their carts. We opted to buy some bananas and freshly made sesame bread.
As we walked, we turned a corner down a road with a long, red wall. On the sidewalk on little chairs were fortune tellers, each hard at work, their customers listening intently.
Further down were numerous street food carts. Each of the vendors was friendly and smiling, showing us their fried good, and chatting us up. We sampled several things and took photos with some of the vendors. I got the feeling that these friendly people don't see many western tourists, much less two tall women with long, light-colored hair.
At an intersection, the wall provided a bit of a bench. Someone had left newspapers on it, so we sat on them and ate our lunch. Some people stared, some tried to look like they weren't staring, and some passed by us more than once or just stopped and looked. We might have still been in Xi'an, but we might as well have been a world away. We just smiled at the people and many--surprised--smiled back.
Eventually, an energetic woman came up to us and started talking to us in rapid Chinese. She was friendly and quite curious about us. We were happy to talk to her and tell her a bit about ourselves. For each person that joined us, she excited told them, "She is from America and she is from Canada!" She asked us questions about where we were from, where in China we lived, how long we'd been here and even questions about our clothes.
Eventually, a woman came along--a friend apparently--who spoke some English and offered to translate for us. We all thought that was a marvelous idea. She wasn't perfect, but it did make the conversation much more interesting and varied. When
I said I was in Xi'an visiting a friend, and it was revealed that Candy is Chinese, my status jumped to that of a rock star. I, a western woman, had a real Chinese friend and I would travel across the country to visit her! What a great person I was! A small crowd gathered and asked questions, too, and by the end we were all shaking hands with each other. One old man, missing a few teeth and wearing an oversized sport jacket and sweater, just beamed with delight. I suspect he'll be telling people about this for days.
Some of the crowd wandered away and it was us and the two women. A fruit seller joined us and began giving us all kumquats from her basket. I suspect she'd been unable to sell them that morning. She kept piling them into our hands and we began piling them on the newspapers. After eating a few together, and her being told we were from, "America!" and, "Canada!" I pulled out my camera. You've never seen three women move so fast to take a photo. They were so excited.
I gave the translator my email address (her idea)
so that we could share the photos later. "Be sure to send them early!" she made me promise. Of course, I didn't get her address, so I think they may only have memories to go on.
After making new friends, the Canadian and I decided to slowly make our way back to the hostel. Along the way we met several other people playing games, all also happy to talk to us. Normally, I feel bothered when people keep asking me questions over and over. But today the people were real and friendly, and treated us like people, not just objects of wonder. It's left a lasting impression on me.
I now call Xi'an my number two favorite city in China, a close second to Chengdu. And it might even be a tie for first--I haven't decided yet.
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