I can always tell when fall is approaching…not just by the crispness of the air or the shrinking hours of daylight but by the blueness of the sky in the morning. It’s a deep, rich, cobalt hue that you just don’t find in the steamy haze of summer. It’s that perfect kind of blue I always see in pictures of sunflower fields or white picket fences. And it is beautiful, especially when set as a backdrop to a spectacular landscape of multi-colored foliage. It’s a sight I both love and dread, because with it comes an end to my favorite season of all—my beloved summer in all of its temperate, leisurely bliss and a return to the rapid pace of a frigid school and holiday season that perpetually lacks enough hours in the day. And as I reluctantly face the end of summer’s sultry road, I, being the writer that I am, find some consolation in reflection, and it has been quite a summer to reflect on…However, for the sake of time and space, I’m not going to sit here and recap my entire summer abroad (and I mean, if you really wanted to know, all you’d have to do is scroll down a few posts.) But I will recap the last and latest memory of my Chinafide summer, that is, my trip to Xi’an…and my very first getaway alone. The ultimate declaration of my independence as a SSBF (for a full explanation of this abbreviation, please refer to “The Afric-Asian Relation” posted April 25.)
So unlike the thrilling gate faux pas, the joyous seven-hour delay, and the hilarious hostel bed mix-up that I encountered during my trip to Shanghai, this time around I managed to board, depart and arrive in Xi’an without incident…well, except that at one point for some inexplicable reason, the airport decided to change the gate to my flight about 30 minutes before departure, BUT fortunately, I’ve lived long enough to know that when everybody you’re sitting with in an airport simultaneously gets up and rushes to another location for no apparent reason, it’s probably a good idea to follow. So I did…and it was smooth sailing from there. Got to Xi’an. Got to my lovely little hostel (although, I’m pretty sure the taxi driver overcharged me.) And got ready for the next two days of independent exploration.
The wonderful thing about touring a city alone is you have no obligations to anyone else. You can go wherever you want whenever you want for however long you like and you don’t have to deal with anyone else slowing you down or hurrying you up. It is so liberating! So I strolled around my new temporary neighborhood…admired the looming majesty of the Xi’an Bell and Drum towers and the bustling metropolis that stood below, listened to a live performance, and snapped photo upon photo of all I surveyed…until I soon became aware of the lone traveler’s classic dilemma: the freedom to go and do what you want…but no one to take pictures of you actually doing it. So after several unsuccessful attempts at one-handed, self-portraits, I was approached by a short and pleasant-looking Chinese gentleman who’d apparently taken notice and taken pity on me. He offered to take my picture for me, and taking notice that he too was alone, I offered to return the favor. A few more photos, a broken English/Chinese conversation, and a walk through the Drum Tower later and I guess we’d both silently resolved that we would be each other’s “picture buddies” for the rest of the tour. Since, he spoke a little English but didn’t understand much English and I spoke a little Chinese but can barely understand it, he spoke to me in mostly English and I replied in mostly Chinese. It worked out perfectly. After touring for about an hour or so, my new friend—“Edward” as he is known in English—invited me to join him for lunch, which I thought was quite fortunate since ordering food at any cheap, local restaurant on my own would be a bit of a challenge (especially, if the menu had no pictures for me to point and grunt at) so I accepted…and thus, began the longest inadvertent date of my life.
During lunch, Edward asked me what else I was planning to do for the day. I said I was planning to check out the City Wall and the Wild Goose Pagoda. Then, I asked him what his plans for the day were…Oh, well, whattaya know! He was planning to go see the City Wall and Wild Goose Pagoda too! Well, I’ll be darned! He also kept mentioning something about this Tang Dynasty Construction something or other that he was looking forward to seeing that night and how he would love it if I could go. At this point, I was starting to get the feeling that this guy was not planning on going on his separate way anytime soon, but I figured he was nice enough, so I’d oblige him for the next few hours. After lunch, we headed to Xi’an’s massive 1,500-year-old City Wall, and at Edward’s prodding, I reluctantly agreed to rent a two-seater bike with him and rode the entire 33 km-long wall (roughly 20 miles.) It was actually a lot of fun with a truly amazing view of the city. I was glad we did it, but I was growing more and more annoyed with my new friend, who by this point had taken to holding my hand and asking other people to take picture of us…together (which are probably floating around some Chinese social network as I write this). By the time we had gone through the Wild Goose Pagoda, I was seriously done with the whole stupid make-believe date that my solo trip had become. Meanwhile, Mr. Pepe Le Pong was stuck to me like glue and still trying to convince me to go with him to see the Tang Dynasty Construction site or whatever after I’d repeatedly told him I was tired and just wanted to go back to my hostel and rest.
He kept saying: “You can have a drink and sit and have a rest, ok?” or “You can eat something and sit in the restaurant and have a rest, ok?”
To which, I repeatedly replied: “No, I’m not thirsty/hungry. I want to go back to my hostel and rest.”
He didn’t get it, and he was getting more and more on my nerves, but I felt kind of sorry for the guy, so I said I’d hang out with him for a few more minutes, check out this Tang Dynasty thing and then I was out. He said, “Ok, ok,” but I knew by now, that getting rid of him was not going to be that easy. I was pissed. Here I was on MY vacation by MYSELF and yet, once again, agreeing to do things I didn’t really feel like doing out of obligation for somebody else. How did I get myself into this? And how would I get out? And then, it came…the golden opportunity for my getaway.
On our way to the Tang Dynasty Construction site, we stopped in this little mall area, so Edward could get some new batteries for his camera (I guess all the incessant pictures he kept having people take of us finally wore his camera out.) And despite my insistence that I was not thirsty and did not want a drink, he ordered some kind of large latte bubble tea at a vendor near the entrance of the mall. Since I really couldn’t understand what he was saying, I thought maybe he was just ordering it for himself, since I had clearly stated (in Chinese) that I didn’t want it. He told me he was going to quickly buy some batteries and kept saying (almost pleading) “Please, stay here, ok?” And honestly, I really was planning on staying put, because I felt sorry for him…until, the vendor lady turned around with two large cups of bubble tea and I realized that Edward had completely ignored the fact that I’d repeatedly said I didn’t want one. I don’t know why, but that was the last straw. I was over it. I quickly peeked down the hallway to see if he was anywhere in sight, then I smiled cordially at the vendor lady as she cheerfully stood there with the two cups of nasty tea, took out my phone to fake a phone call and told her I would be back shortly. I walked outside and jetted down an alleyway, hailed a cab at the nearest intersection and bid a fond farewell to my dear friend/stalker. Honestly, the thought of him returning, camera in hand, to a lonely counter of two large bubble teas as anxiousness and disappointment gradually crawl across his face still haunts me now… Sigh…Ah, well. I’m sure he’s over it now. On the up side, I did achieve my long-standing covert mission of dating a Chinese man (well, sort of.)
The next day, was spent on a tour of the Terracotta Warriors with a bunch of Europeans and Australians—which to my glee, consisted of mostly tall, attractive Australian guys :o)—and led by the cutest little tour guide ever named “Zhe Zhe” (pronounced like “Zsa Zsa” Gabor) It was phenomenal—6,000+ clay soldiers uncovered and reconstructed from a world a millennium years old, and countless more to be excavated. Like the Great Wall, it is a total testament to the infinite creativity, ingenuity and insanity of the human mind.
Of course, there are a handful of other more mundane anecdotes I could share about my time in Xi’an, but truthfully, they’re really not worth the space (and this post is already occupying a gross amount of space as it is). In any case, I highly recommend that anyone living or staying remotely close to Xi’an visit it at least once—the architecture, the history, the diverse collage of culture along its peopled streets just make it such an incredibly rich experience. And it was an absolutely wonderful way to cap off an absolutely unforgettable summer. Now, on to the next season. Stay tuned. :o)