Monday, May 26, 2008

China VIII - Brothels in Xi'an

Brothels are ten a penny in Xi'an. The whole city seems to be a red light district (other than the Muslim Quarter). Chinese brothels are not all that obvious because they sit in plain view of everything else on the street. They look like a hairdressers with some girls hanging around inside, with at least one hovering by the door. Chinese shops always have too many staff and someone is generally hovering by the door. Distinguishing between a normal shop and a brothel is further complicated by Chinese women dressing like prostitutes. I was making my way down the 16km long west path of Huang Shan mountain to see a Chinese woman walking up in high heels and fishnet stockings. The only way to distinguish between a hairdressers and a brothel is the bed inside, the dodgy curtains pulled across the front and the red light at night.

People visit Xi'an to see the Army of the Terracotta Warriors. Unfortunately the warriors are overrated. The trouble is you have seen so much of them before you arrive that your expectations are set very high. The warriors are housed in enormous aircraft hangers so there is little atmosphere. It is also impossible to get up close to them. All in all it felt a somewhat peculiar experience. generally you visit the site of something you have seen on TV or in a book to get up close and gain a greater appreciation for it. I can't help but feel that seeing the Warriors on tour in the British Museum would have been better. It is not all bad I would just keep my expectations in check and not plan to learn anything new from a visit. Disappointingly, though not unexpectedly, the visit finishes with you departing through a shopping centre with the usual calls for your attention.

Xi'an does have other attractions. The most fascinating part of the city is the Muslim quarter. It is an area of narrow streets and masses of people. The Muslim Quarter has its origins roughly from 742 when the Great Mosque and its surrounding area first appeared in the imperial records. It developed via the Silk Road trade. A highlight of a visit to the Muslim Quarter is an opportunity to have Yang Rou Pau Mo (Crumbled unleavened bread soaked in Mutton stew).The Big and Little Goose Pagodas are interesting towers that are worth having a look at. the Big Goose Pagoda has an enormous water fountain show outside of it, supposedly the largest in Asia (although the one in Singapore made a similar claim). In the same complex as the Little Goose Pagoda is a museum of local artifacts and explanations of how the city has developed. I thought it was more interesting than the highly acclaimed Shanghai museum. The city walls, dating from the Ming dynasty, have been restored around the city centre and you can cycle to your hearts content along them. I stayed at Xiangzimen International Youth Hostel in Xi'an. It was an excellent hostel that was more akin to a hotel.

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