Maybe it was the illuminated drum and bell towers. Maybe it was the busy hum of the food street. Or maybe it was the excited hush of back road shops. Whatever it was, it made the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an one of our favorite parts of China. The excitement and diversity we found in the heart of this city made quite an impression!
It was the neon lights and blaring music that initially attracted us to the food section of the Muslim Quarter, but it was the crowds of people that kept us there. Quite literally. It took us little while to budge our way in, but took us even longer to maneuver our way out. (Trust me when I say this, the streets of China are not designed to accommodate anyone who is not walking on their own two feet.This creates a slight problem when you have to take a stroller everywhere you go.) The first thing that drew our attention were the “granola” shops. The young men working in the shop pounded the grains/sugar used in the granola with large mallets.The rhythmic thuds of their mallets were punctuated by their shouts and the sound of them chopping the finished granola in the front of the shop. Occasionally these workers would invite an innocent spectator to try their job, and it was then we realized how hard their job must actually be.
Eventually we continued pushing our way down the road. When we came upon a cotton candy stand, Annie and Eli knew that that was what they needed to complement their digesting dumplings. Upon approaching the stand we noticed that the man working had a little bit more skill than your typical cotton candy maker. He produced for us an eatable flower, which was immediately devoured.
The second food we tried was a little less of a hit. It looked pretty good. We assumed because of it’s shape that it was some kind pineapple cake. We had past many of these stands. We though surely it must be great! Well, it really wasn’t. Instead of the sweet pineapple cake-y taste we expected, we were met with sticky rice. But, I guess you can’t win every time.
The second night we spent in Xi’an we veered off the beaten path and decided to go down a lonely alleyway. It was only after stopping at the first shop that we noticed we had entered a whole labyrinth of small shops.
Now there’s something you should know about shopping in China before I write any more. At home everything has a price tag and every price tag means that is the items price. Here in China it couldn’t be more different. Not only are price tags scarce, but most items don’t have a set price. Upon finding an item you like, you approach the owner of the shop and ask for the price. It’s normally much higher than it’s worth, so offer the owner of the shop a price lower than the one you want. If they don’t want to barter down, or won’t go down to the price you want, your best bet is to just walk away. That usually makes them change their mind about the price. The trick is that you have to actually be ready to walk away, because the owners can tell a faker. Also if you find an item you really like, but it’s to pricey just go next door. There is a good chance that the same item will be in the next shop… and the next one…. and the one after that…
Anyway, we found multiple t-shirt shops, a ton of china shops, and dozens of knick-nack shops. There were only three shops we found that were unlike anything else we have seen.
First was the finger painting shop. There a young man was painting very intricate paintings like the one above only using his finger tip. When we asked him how he learned how to do this he told us that it was a trade he inherited from his father who had learned from his father.
Second was the calligraphy shop. The woman who ran the shop, Helen, chose to paint most of her scrolls and wall hangings with a Bible verse in both Chinese and English. The scrolls were beautiful in and of themselves, but we thought it especially unique because of this. She also had hand painted fans, which were my favorite!
Third was the “flesh eating” fish shop. Put your feet in a tank and let the little fish nibble off the dead skin on your feet. Mom said this was her “souvenir” from China and paid 20 yuan (about 3 dollars) for 10 minutes of a very unique pedicure! After the initial tickling, she said it felt pretty good . . . although she said as rough as the skin on her feet were from a summer of walking in sandals . . . she’d need piranhas put in the tank to really get the job done!
So if you are ever in China make sure to drop into Xi’an. It is really worth the visit!