Silk Road, Noodles, People Mountain, People Sea

Familiar Faces in Faraway Places; Bill knows this is culturally and archaeologically inappropriate. At least Chelsea had fun.

Sorry for the delay, dear readers – too much work. And travel: Last week I was in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province and the birthplace of Chinese civilization, intercontinental trade and dumb delicious Liangpi noodles. Xi’an is considered a ‘second-tier’ city by the socioeconomic metrics the People’s Republic uses – but its history is as rich as any city in the first tier.


Xi’an was also particularly germane to my studies, since I am working on an independent research project regarding the Belt Road Initiative, a behemoth infrastructure plan to link the Asian and European continents that promises to pour Chinese investment, commerce and ‘soft power’ influence into countries encompassing more than half of the world’s GDP. It is ambitious, and still more of a concept than an implemented policy. And it has deep roots in China’s ancient Silk Road. Xi’an was the departure point and cultural hub where merchants from around the world first saw and learned about the Middle Kingdom.

Ye Olde Passport
Would love to see that LinkedIn profile

Today, Xi’an boasts a steaming bowl of cultural, hot-pot goodness that wouldn’t exist without its role at the crossroads of global trade centuries ago. Muslim food is the crown jewel of Xi’an’s cuisine, chiefly 肉夹馍 (ròujiāmó), a juicy lamb burger served between two naan-like pieces of bread. It is freakin’ delicious, and an unlikely gastronomic staple for a Chinese city without some much-needed historical context. Muslim soup dumplings with lamb and oxen were also a big hit. IMG_2101.JPGIMG_2099.JPG

Liangpi is an equally tasty, and somehow thirst-quenching sesame noodle dish that I could probably eat daily, without pause, for the rest of my life. Educate yourselves, or just go to Xi’an Famous Foods in the city sometime. /

The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda is a Buddhist temple that still stands from Xi’an’s heyday. Erected in the 7th century, during the frothiest commercial period of the Silk Road, it is a beautiful testament to religion’s ability to take advantage of economic prosperity. From here, departing merchants said prayers before conquering lands unknown, and foreign travelers would leave scripture and souvenirs at the temple’s base. A Tang poet, after climbing to the top floor of the temple, wrote that he could “bypass the world’s bounds” – a sentiment some of today’s world leaders could use to refresh their views on the benefits of global trade.

“wild goose pagoda”的图片搜索结果
Not my picture, but point still stands

Of course, Xi’an is best known as the home of the Terracotta Warriors, an unreal display of manpower and handiwork in honor of one dude, Qin Shi Huang, and his tens of thousands of concubines. The uncovered tombs – which are housed in what looks like the biggest hockey rink outside of Canada – are just a small part of a much, much larger underground necropolis that was built around the emperor’s tomb. The amazing thing is that the ruler, credited as the first to unite China, wasn’t religious – he simply feared getting to whatever life was next without his army and officers – I really don’t know if you can find anything more Chinese than that.

Since oxidation causes the figures to lose their original coloring, they will stay underground until scientists can figure that one out.


The only figure with original coloration


For good reasons, the place is a tourist mecca, and aptly described by one of my favorite Chinese idioms – 人山人海 (rénshānrénhǎi) – which literally translates to ‘people mountain people sea’, or figuratively: “way too many frigging people.”


One thought on “Silk Road, Noodles, People Mountain, People Sea

  1. Loved your blog ! You actually made my mouth water for those dumplings and sesame noodle soup ! You’re a great travel writer, Sam.


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