15. loka, 2016

A day in the life of a caravaner - a taste of Xian

My new, Chinese Vivo phone, wakes me up with a melancholy Chinese melody at 7.30am. We wake up to a rainy morning in the metropolis of Xian. We’ve stayed on a guarded parking lot, right next to the Fungyan metro station. I prepare our usual breakfast, which includes an omelet, natural yogurt, raspberry-coconut muesli, apple juice and instant coffee. I heat up some water in a pan and wash up our morning dishes and tidy the kitchen up a bit. After that we sort through some laundry, picking out the most urgent stuff that we’ll take to the launderette later. The rest can wait until we reach the countryside and we’ll get to have our own laundry day.

Our guide Jackie arrives, and we set off together to find a launderette. After several phone calls and conversations with local people, we find one, about a kilometer away.  Without our guide there’s no way we would have recognised it as launderette, from the outside it looked more like a haberdashery business. We leave our bags of laundry there, pay the bill in advance and receive a couple of receipts, to hand back tomorrow when we collect our clean stuff. Launderette services are quite pricy here, but once you’re out of underwear there isn’t much choice, suppose!

Yesterday, Pekka had to navigate the streets of jam packed Xian en route to its most famous attraction; the terracotta army.  Today he’s got it a bit easier, since we’re leaving the car on the parking lot and making use of public transport. Before we know it, we’re sat on a metro, headed towards the city centre. Thankfully, rush hour has already been and gone, so it’s both quick and comfortable to travel. I have a look around me at my fellow passengers and note that local women seem to wear mostly fitted, synthetic suits with plastic shoes and handbags. Their high heels and platforms don’t look the comfiest, I must say.  I notice that nearly everyone is holding a phone and a lot of youngsters are also wearing headphones.  In big cities like this, people look stylish. There are lots of trendy haircuts around and especially the younger generation sport lots of international labels in their clothing.

This home city of some 8,000,000 people is covered in thick smog. It has seen some glorious days as China’s historical capital and also as the most eastern point of the silk road. Now its face is very industrial and business-like. We make our way up to the city wall and rent pushbikes to cycle around the city on top of the 13,7km long and 12-14m wide wall. We take a few brakes here and there and take photos of the city from different angles. After our tour of the wall we climb up the famous bell tower, just in time for a traditional folk music performance. We also take a look at the drum tower, which used to work in conjunction with the bell tower, beating out signals to those inside the town. We walk along little streets that host a vast number of artisan’s shops and art boutiques. Among the items on offer are calligraphy equipment and traditional instruments. We wonder why, in Asia, they tend to place all the shops selling similar merchandise, right next to each other?!

We grab some burgers for lunch, at an internationally known fast food retailer. A Big Mac tastes exceptionally good after weeks and weeks of mainly vegetables and noodles. On our wander through the city it becomes apparent to us why it’s a good idea to drag our own bathroom and kitchen with us to the ends of the earth. As I squat  over a “hole in the floor”-type loo, trying not to slip on the previous guests “products”  while reaching for a scrap of toilet paper from my back pack, I realise that the hygiene and comfort levels of our motorhome are top class compared to the facilities on offer on these streets.

Since we’re in town anyway, we want to try and sort out a few issues to do with our phones. Our Chinese phone cards suddenly stopped working yesterday, as we arrived in Shaanx-province. Upon purchase, we were told that they would work anywhere in China, and we seem to have about half of the credit left still too. We walk in the biggest store of the mobile operator in question, but the customer service representative there just smiles and says there’s nothing they can do, they can’t even check it on the computer since they have no online connection to Xin Jiang province.  Our only option is to buy another phone card and pay the start-up fee again. Our guide must once more ask us to be patient; “keep calm-this is China”

On a more positive note, we’re very impressed by the agile-fingered man we encounter, at a slightly dodgy looking phone repair shop. My iPhone gets a new screen fitted and tested within twenty minutes. The microscopic screws find their places using tweezers and the guy does it all using only the light from his phone. We pay a little extra for his speedy service and his whole face lights up in a big smile.

As the evening draws darker the city comes alive. The streets of the muslim block get filled with people of all different ages, enjoying an evening stroll. The street kitchens, all side by side of course, are filled to the brim with local delicacies; deep-fried crab, steak skewers, chocolate rice cakes and coated nuts. Their aroma gets mixed in with the lingering scent of smoke and spices. The sellers are enticing potential customers by yelling their sales pitches, someone’s breaking coconuts with a sledge hammer and there’s music blaring from different speakers all around. The loud buzz of people talking gets mixed in with honks from moped horns.

We realise once again, that time has gone way quicker than anticipated and that we’ve got less done today than we’d planned in the morning.  We must leave the old town to its usual evening business and head to a supermarket to get our fridge stocked up for the travel days ahead. We drop our backpacks on the security scan belt and leave them in electronically locked lockers, like we’ve got accustomed to.  We fill our basket with meat and dairy products, since they’re not always easily found in smaller towns. We leave the housing estate’s supermarket happy, with four full bags of shopping.

When we get to the car we carry on with our day-to-day stuff for a bit longer. After our nightly showers Pekka fills up Epeli’s water reserves. To end our evening we sit on our computers, filling in spreadsheets and writing the blog. Once the lights are out I notice that it’s 11.45pm. We set our alarm for a slightly earlier time than this morning, because we’ve got a long day of driving ahead of us, towards a new city and new adventures.