Sunday, November 11, 2012


Jumped another public bus down to a very interesting part of the city-  the antique market.

A rabbit warren of small shops and curb side stalls awaited us: tables laden with old Silk Road coins, feng shui paraphernalia, porcelain, jade statuary and  other Chinese equivalents to our antique and junk shop bric-a brac (these places have that same metallic, musty smell worldwide). Interesting stuff, but I need to hold a yard sale, not attend one, so I soldiered on.

Entrance to Antiques Market, Xian

We started to see the shops morph into seemingly paper-only dollar stores- exuding  boxes full of thousands of enlarged paper money bills, massive paper doll houses, fake paper flowers, fake paper shoes, fake paper cars and even fake food.
I was starting to wonder if the sedatives were playing tricks  on me or I had walked into a David Lynch movie set, when our guide explained these were funeral stores and all this paper stuff is burned (along with copious amounts of fireworks) at funerals to be manifested in the afterlife for the departed.
Who doesn’t like fireworks and a good bonfire? Sounds like a good way to go to me. There were colossal books and boxes full of paper punch-out beverages, clothes, jewellery, boats, TVs, stereos, you name it- you could burn it.  Trippy! And the only market yet where merchants weren’t hustling us.

The market morphed again into a fortune-teller area where rooms of traditionally dressed and long bearded “wise” men reportedly held court with higher powers. Our guide said they would tell our fortunes by looking at our hands. I replied that I figure my fortune would miraculously improve if they looked at my wallet, and passed at the opportunity. 
In my mind, the best way to predict your future is to create it- be your own fortune teller.

Onwards to the biggest Taoist temple in Xian (and in fact most of China)- The Temple of the Eight Immortals. 
Maybe it had just been too early in the AM for wacky, but this beautiful temple complex was a welcome break from the offbeat markets we had visited that morning. The inner complex had a stone “wish” bridge and a beautiful fountain/koi pond enclosure where you could toss coins and make a wish.

Wish pond, Eight Immortals Temple, Xian

I lit incense again for friends, family and a safe journey at the main shrine, where statues of the 8 Immortals sat high on a dais.  A number of other shrines lined the four sides of the rectangular complex. 

Incense Burner, Temple of the Eight Immortals, Xian

At the far end was a lush garden guarded by stone monkeys with a mosaic Ying/Yang symbol in the midst. The monks seemed to respect my reverence as they always returned my namaste nod.

Monkey Guardian, Temple of the Eight Immortals, Xian
This marked the end of our pleasant visit to intriguing Xian, and we were off to the train station for another magical overnight trip. Getting into that train station was what I imagine attending World Cup soccer game to be like and what I know a Metallica concert mosh pit to be like, but add lots of luggage.

Approximately 1000 harried and overly-baggaged people converging on one security checkpoint and luggage x-ray wicket. The crowd was so tightly packed and strong that I was dangerously pulled off my feet on a few occasions and when I threw off my backpack onto the conveyor belt, realized with a shriek that there was a frightened and embarrassed teenaged girl’s hair (teenaged girl painfully still attached) caught in the strap. I had wanted to embrace the culture and really get close to the people on this trip, but that level proximity was a bit much.

None of our intrepid group wanted to brave that entrance ordeal again to get fast food, so we resigned ourselves to gathering around a station pillar to people-watch and devour the usual convenience store fare before boarding.
I made a reconnaissance visit to the bathroom: discovered it was of the stall-less, door-less trench variety- ran back out and vowed to hold it until Shanghai if I had to.

Looking down from my top bunk at Helen and our guide, overnight train

This train was the newest, cleanest and best featured one we’d been on. Not that it made for improved sleeping or faster travel…I hunkered down (up- 9 feet up to be exact) with my laptop and novel to pass the time until lights out.
Tomorrow, Shanghai!

Dragons and roofline, Temple of the Eight Immortals, Xian

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