As I continued with my studies and made new friends, I was presented with the idea to travel with my friend, Feli. Feli, short for a German name that means happiness, invited me to explore more of China with her. She asked me to come along to see Xi’an.
Now, I didn’t really know about this place, so I asked her what we’d be doing. To my surprise, I learned it’s where the Terracotta soldiers were first excavated. Being named an Eighth Wonder of the world, that was enough to make me willing to join her on this trip.
The trip took about 16 hours on a night train. I was a little anxious about it because of the rumors about the night trains in China and how dirty they can be, but I wanted to be an explorer and I put those worries aside. To my surprise it went better than expected.
The night train was filled with people and it was so funny how the sellers would shout throughout the halls announcing what they had on their carts. As Feli and I sat and got to know each other a little more, I really appreciated how I could easily travel safely to another part of China as a young woman with my friend who is also a young woman.
(Parents, if you ever struggle with letting your child travel around the world, China is one of the safest places. Especially for a woman.)
As the night went on, the lights finally turned off and Feli and I went to our beds. Before I went to sleep, I stayed up talking to my loved ones back home in San Diego. As I was waiting, an elderly couple turned on the light above my bed, probably thinking I was struggling to see. As I looked at them, they gave me the most genuine smile I have received in a long time.
Once I smiled back, they immediately started asking me questions in Chinese. Chuckling nervously, all I could respond was:
“Nǐ hǎo! Wǒ jiào Nasreen. Wǒ shì měiguó rén. Wǒ de māmā shì mòxīgē rén, wǒ bàba shì yīlǎng rén. Wǒ xuéxí hànyǔ.”
“Hello! I am called, Nasreen. I am American. My mom is Mexican and my dad is Iranian. I study the Chinese language.”
Not once did they change their grinning faces. In China, it is very common for people to ask foreigners, like myself, many questions and stare at you for long periods of time. Don’t worry, they do it out of innocent curiosity. Here, the locals are very sweet and welcoming.
After that, not only was the couple asking me questions, but my entire bunk. They tried everything to translate what I was saying and tried to tell each other what I said and vice versa. I gladly stayed up and tried to talk to them as I was just as curious as them. After a few hours of figuring out our stories in China, we went to bed to only wake up to a beautiful city.
Xi’an had many things to see. They had built a city wall that was beautifully decorated with bright colors in some areas. Inside the walls, there is a Bell Tower and a Drum Tower. The Drum Tower was built in the Ming Dynasty and was used for telling time for the city. The drums came in all shapes and sizes; some were even taller than six feet!
Right next to the Drum Tower, there was a market that took me by surprise — a Muslim Market.
After all my studies of history, I never came across the fact that that Xi’an — being so close to the Middle East — would be hugely influenced by Muslim culture. There were so many beautiful people all around me with their religious apparel and delicious food.
The food served there was Xi’an noodles, which are very short and wide noodles, known to be very difficult to eat. They had lamb served as kabob or in a sandwich. The drinks I could identify were fruit juices, especially pomegranate juice. There was also delicious stone oven baked bread with sesame seeds on top.
We came back every night to eat the food. After, we explored the rest of the market, finding mosques and learning about the history of the first Chinese city to accept the religion.
The Chinese Muslims here though were different than American Muslims; they seemed happy, happy to be Muslim. They didn’t seem scared or have their heads down, walking with pride. It gave me hope that one day Muslims in America will no longer be judged negatively and they, too, can be happy and proud to be Muslim.
Once our day ended, we headed to our little — and very adorable — hostel that was open to all young travelers. This was the first hostel I had ever stayed at, and man was it nice! I had always been scared of hostels from the stories people would tell me, but this was a very clean, cute and lovely place to stay. And it cost only $10 per night!
Feli and I decided to head out the next morning to see the ancient Chinese Army.
If you ever plan on going to China and seeing the army, I suggest taking a bus that costs ¥8 rather than the public bus that costs ¥3. That’s because the line to get on the public bus would seemed to be about two hours long. We even got AC on our bus!
As we approached the exhibit, I could not wait to see what was everyone in my history classes had been talking about. But as I approached the first exhibit, I encountered an even bigger army: an army of tourists. I looked at Feli with a war face.
I was going in.
I battled my way inside the huge mob of people. Finally, I reached the end of the crowd and I saw hundreds and hundreds of soldiers staring at me. It was immense! I found it incredible how so many there were in just one piece of the the three exhibit rooms. I also learned that they are still excavating more every day, piece by piece.
These terracotta soldiers were made during the Qin dynasty to protect the Emperor Qin, whose tomb is yet to be excavated. Not only are there thousands of soldiers protecting him, it is said that a poisonous gas would be released if one tried to open his tomb. It is definitely a sight to see.
After achieving our main goal of visiting the army, the next day we visited more attractions like the famous Great Goose Pagoda with the statue of Xuanzang, a famous Chinese Buddhist traveler who helped spread Buddhism across China.
Walking further away from the pagoda, we came across a street that truly appreciates the art of music and interesting digital display. At that moment, I did not know that the street I was stepping on had a value of more than $1 million. I love to see how art is appreciated around the world.
As our trip came to an end, we soon headed back to Shanghai on the fast train. This trip really opened my eyes to appreciate China and the Chinese people a lot more. I was so blessed to have had this opportunity — especially with such good company.
Nasreen Nabizadeh is a public health junior. She is studying abroad this spring at East China Normal University in Shanghai, China.