Xi’an: The Tour

Having had little rest on our arrival day, I wasn’t very disappointed when we didn’t get to see the terracotta warriors that day.  By the next day, however, I was in much higher spirits.

For my entire stay in China, Caitlin had influenced me into being a local — that is, going places locals go, eating things locals eat.  The few touristy things we did in Beijing were all short trips we took on walks or subway rides.

By the time we got to the lobby to leave for our tour, I was excited that we finally got to play tourist.  We packed a small van full of white people, many of whom were middle aged and spoke little English, and we headed off like naïve sheep to a foreign land.

Since the older people got in first, Caitlin and I were forced to sit in the back of the bus, making snarky comments about it on the way.  It was obvious we were the kids on the trip, but all of the fun younger people sat around us and laughed at the unusually funny things.

The tour started off with the usual semi-awkward period of nobody knowing each other and me being excited, but once our guide Jia jia started talking in her idiosyncratic way, we all started bonding over that. Enough that I took a picture:

Most of the older people kept to themselves and in their own languages, but I did sneak a picture of a funny face one made at the factory:

In the several hours we all spent together, we came to take on many ongoing jokes. Jia jia’s flower was one, since it was a rather common and fairly important part of us all staying together. Once, when she needed to get tickets, she left the flower to the largest member of the group in order for us to all stay together:

Johnny.

Johnny was probably the most interesting person we have met on this trip. When I first saw him in the lobby of our hostel, I was kind of hoping he wasn’t going on our tour because he looked extremely strong and easily provoked. Turns out this is true, but in a good way.

He’s your typical testosterone-filled male, featuring a classic Australian accent and prominent muscles. He was a bit taken aback by Jia jia’s request that he hold the flower, but I think the juxtaposition between the masculinity and innocence really made for a good shot.

In the course of our conversations, we learned that he and his more reasonable friend Jaime were traveling all across Asia, and Xi’an was near the end of their journey. While Jaime works on Wall Street, Johnny is an electrician in a coal mine in Western Australia.

Their travels throughout the vast nothingness of Central Asia proved to be informative and the subject of several conversations. We had heard previously that they aren’t too fond of guidebooks in China, particularly ones like our Lonely Planet that cover the entire country in one book. They had a copy, but a border official confiscated it. Apparently the book is banned.

As the story goes, the guard looks at the book, opens it to the map, and indicates that Taiwan. “Taiwan is a different color than China. This is wrong. Taiwan is China. This book is banned.”

We’re in the process of making a cover for our book.

After everyone was pretty much done with eating, Johnny made it known that he was still hungry. Throughout the course of the meal, he decided it was too difficult to pick up the noodles with chopsticks — which, agreeably, it was —, so he started using his hands. This extrapolated into other areas of the meal as well, but it was a little hard to notice because he cleaned every plate on the table.

We had a giant bowl of soup that was barely touched, so several people were jokingly mentioning it to him. At that point, Jaime warned us that if we dared Johnny to do it, he would. No joke:

There was also a giant plate of rice, which Johnny understandably didn’t want to eat. Instead, he made a fist-sized ball and shoved the whole thing in his mouth:

The experience of being with all those people was hilarious and the most memorable part of the trip so far. I was worried that we would feel overly touristy and cheesy being bussed around, but the people overshadowed all of that by a long shot.