Xi’an – Day 1, Part 2
The Muslim quarter – A great fancy food market with some other trinkets – nothing too annoying on the main street. We passed a bakery and bought all manor of sweets and treats. Something I bought that I thought was halvah has turned out to be made of ground walnuts. Yum! Hope the leftovers pass customs. . .
We looked at the various food dealers and I suddenly locked on something in a huge vat outdoors that looked like a thick stew. “I want that!” Victor was hugely uncertain. Really tried to talk me out of it. What if you don’t like it? I’ll get something else. How hard is that? We finally convinced him to come into the restaurant and help us order. Julia got dumplings. Dumplings were 40 Y on the menu. This was OK, but we find out that means about 60 dumplings! So we convinced them to make 18 lamb dumplings. I also ordered a cold drink that was swirling in a chiller. Hopefully no ill-effects because it was delicious. Somewhat sweet, somewhat smoky, somewhat spicy and very cold, cooling the fire of the chilies added to my soup. See Street Food – 3.
In the mean time a trio of Muslim ladies sat down with us. These are the first women our age that we’ve seen out and about. They’re dressed in pants and sensible shoes, very floral and colorful tops, vests and jackets, and their headscarves are made of beautiful lace in a variety of pale shades. No black hijab here. These women are earthy and earthly and we start enjoying each others’ company even though we have no common language. They have travelled 1000’s of kilometers from a place called Urumqi, which is far to the west of anywhere. We get into taking pictures of each other, various groupings of westerners and Asians, laughing and giggling and being girls. Victor inteprets that they want to send the pictures home to their children.
After lunch Victor became a new person, although still curious that I really had enjoyed the food and the company. Continued walking up the hopping street to a side sales gauntlet that lead to the Great Mosque. He cautioned us at the beginning of the alley that all the vendors spoke every language imaginable and that everything in there was “fake.” Oh, so true. The gauntlet of junk that we have become so familiar with in tourist China. But the mosque is worth the trip.
Five beautiful garden courtyards lead through lovely gates to the plaza in front of the prayer hall. If the octagonal central structure had not been under construction, one could have had an unobstructed view from the first gate through each of the others to the central door of the prayer hall at the far end. Parts of the mosque are over a 1000 years old, although most was built during the Tang and Ming periods. Unlike the restored Buddhist temples we have seen, the structures here remain mainly unrestored and showing the patina and wear of their very great age. The complex is one of the most beautiful places we have seen in China.
It was here that Victor started telling us about the cultural revolution and the direct impact it had on this mosque. The imam at the time died at the hands of the Red Guard, defending the prayer hall against their attempts to destroy it. His sacrifice scared them away and saved the building. He said that older people won’t talk about it, but younger ones will, and they universally agree that the cultural revolution was a giant course of madness and a great mistake. Then he talked with us about the internet and government interference in access to the outside world. The truth about China, he called it. Checking the water meter being the euphemism for getting arrested for having the wrong ideas. Here’s where I’m not sure about facts. I read something about “checking the water meter” before I left home, and I’m not certain of the context. But Victor was a great enigma anyway.