2017
04.28

BELL TOWER

SYNOPSIS:  About some unexpected hassles at the airport.  About Xian and my new, lovely AirBnB.

After a lovely breakfast made by Summer’s mother, Summer, my AirBnB hostess had indeed taken off to her new/old job 500 km away from home — J.B carried my luggage to the street and a taxi whisked me off to the airport.   Compared to Urumqi’s train station, security levels seemed “normal”; that is post 9-11 normal.  I guess, terrorists work the streets and the restaurants in Urumqi, not the airport (Don’t take me seriously here. To me this is all such utter nonsense and false sense of security, I can’t help but be sarcastic about it).

Of course, my luggage was 5 kg over.  I knew that.  But the price I was about to be charged, $300!, took my breath away.  The clerk seemed rather surprised when I told her that I would unpack, of course.  I guess she thought I was not prepared for that.   

On to the ticket counter check.  The clerk turned the ticket and my passport over and over and seemed rather unhappy.  He talked to me, but what good is that?  Another officer was called, and finally an English-speaking somebody.  My passport had a Z after my first name (my middle initial), and my ticket did not.  Now what?  After some internal discussion I was let go with the missing Z. 

On to the baggage check.  No flammables, no weapons, no liquids, the usual list.  I had packed my beloved Milk Tea and I held a little tea break for myself on a nearby bench.  A small, empty water bottle was stuffed into the side of my backpack.  It was square, and the perfect travel size.  I have had it with me for a while.  I made sure it had no liquids in it and proceeded. 

In China, my preferred TSA status means nothing.  Back to the old routine:  off with the shoes, out with the computer, on with the luggage.   Busy with all these tasks, I took my eyes off my stuff for just a moment, when the officer at the other side of the assembly line snatched my water bottle right out of my backpack and tossed it into a bin on the ground.  Wait a minute!  I called out.  This one is empty.  It is mine.  I want it back.  He just shook his head.  I kept arguing but stone-faced he ignored me.  That was my property and no security requirement was broken.  Since he and his consorts spoke no English I launched into a barrage of swear words hoping somebody would take me to task so I could argue the case for my beloved empty plastic bottle.  But nothing happened. 

Now I was in a really bad mood.  These Chinese!  At times you forget that this is still an absolutistic, communist government.  At times, it seems so free, open, full of progress and opportunities.  But beneath it all is the iron fist; is total control.  This incident was a good reminder of that.

Flights are good opportunities to write and sort photos.  The three hours to Xian went fast.  Once again, I had an empty seat next to me.  It makes all the difference.

Xian is a hot-spot for tourists and they just made this too easy.  Already at the baggage claim, there was a tourist office.  I obtained a small map of downtown Xian and a ticket for the bus to town.  Town is over 40 km away, but every 20 minutes an affordable bus takes you to the center.  No need for a much more costly taxi. 

Xian is a big city, but I had not expected for it to be this big.  It is a sprawling metropolis that stretches miles and miles in each direction.  New “neighborhoods” spring up everywhere.  I would rather call them stalagmite stone forests or something like that.  Nothing but stalks of high-rises crammed together in clusters.  Architectural styles vary only by “neighborhoods” but are monotonous within a cluster.  One of those clusters easily houses the equivalent of people within a village, perhaps even a small town.  You can feel the weight of the millions of people that live around here.  Yet, traffic is flowing, food is provided, garbage is picked up, and we all breathe.  How is this possible?  I felt reduced to an ant in this environment and reminded of one of the many Chinese creation stories I have come about:  how Pan Gu, the creator god is creating the world out of his deconstructed body and the people from all the lice in his hair.  We are but lice in this world.

But I had booked my AirBnB in the Old Town, behind the ancient (or better, reconstructed) famous City Walls of Old Chang’an.  On the map my home was a few blocks away from the bus station.  I was about to walk, but double-checked with a bus clerk.  A vigorous shake of the head told me that a taxi would be in order.  No kidding.  The “couple of blocks”  on the downtown map turned into a full 15 minute taxi ride.  What looked like I was a stone’s-throw from the ancient Bell and Drum Towers turned into 1/2 hour walk.  And what I had pictured as an old town was as modern and glitzy as the rest of China.  The only difference between old and new town, was that there were none of these stalagmite neighborhoods.  Growth seemed more organic and varied and perhaps, some height restrictions applied in order not to completely crowd out the Bell and Drum Towers.   They once ‘towered”.  Today, they barely assert their presence, aided by lots and lots of neon lights.  This was overwhelming.

With the help of some locals, I found my AirBnB, despite a few mistakes in the directions.  I am in a 13-floor high-rise.  That is a bit above average height around here.  I live on the 10th floor in an apartment for myself.  The apartment is equipped with an electronic number lock.  Most likely, I will never meet my host.  I have space, a kitchen, fridge, a lovely bed and an interesting alcove which doubles as a laundry drying area.  Floor to ceiling windows in the alcove easily open up — in the 10th floor!  Any child can open these…  My slight fear of heights instantly gave me butterflies.  I don’t think I will go near those windows again.

A quick stroll through the back alley gave me all I needed.  The alley is lined with little eateries and stalls full of the basic groceries somebody like me needs:  water, yoghurt, fruits.  Bread, I brought myself (German bread).  🙂

At that time, I was still under the impression that I could go to the towers in just a few minutes and I headed out.  2 hours later I returned, completely exhausted.  The walk was over 1/2 hour each.  A brand-new massive underground passage had been built near the towers.  None of this was there 15 years ago when I had laid eyes on this monument for the first time.  It was as if I had not ever been here.  The obligatory metal fence-wall had been erected around the tower, as well as an ugly metal barrier.  No more lovely flower beds as in the pictures you still see all around…

When I returned home, I could not figure out the TV, nor could I get the hot water going, and the internet was also not working as promised, but all that was too much for me to deal with at the moment.  It was time to call it a day.

Good night. 

1 comment so far

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  1. Indeed, those windows are bad for acrophobes AND children. Makes me shudder thinking about kids left alone in those rooms. (Tillman & Arthur…though I am SURE no one would leave those two beautiful boys alone with that window situation. They would both be so curious and I bet figure out how to open them. Ugh!!!)

    No mention of the Terra Cotta Soldiers…I know you have been there before, but do you intend to see them again…or maybe things have not changed significantly.