Hai Di Lao, Beijing, 2012

So at this point in our tour–about 10 days in–my traveler’s diarrhea was really taking a toll on me. It had not stopped since our 2nd day in China. Touring in Xi’An grew progressively stressful as they day went on: more breaking out in cold sweat, doubling over in pain, and running back and forth between the tourist sites and the filthy public restrooms.

The super spicy and oily (but delicious) Xi An noodles and dumplings we had for lunch definitely didn’t help. It got pretty bad when we went to see the Terracotta Warriors and by the time we went to the Shaanxi History museum, it was unbearable. Half of the time we were at the museum was spent in restrooms bathed in the nauseating smell of warm urine and fecal matter.

One of the more interesting pieces I found was a butt-pot.  The panther-shaped  “tally”, or “符” [fu] was my favorite, though. According to the description, “a tally was a special token used by the emperor to transmit his orders and to confer military power upon his ministers. It is made of two halves, the left and the right. The right was kept in the Imperial Palace, while the left was held by commanders stationed elsewhere. Only when both parts were fitted together would the inscription on the tally be complete, and would officers accept the order as valid.” Thought the bronze duck-lantern piece was cool too.

More terracotta warriors! And giant, ancient Buddha shrine. Hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny Buddhas line the walls. There’s a possibility that this was from the Mogao Grottoes, but I unfortunately can’t find any information on it.

None of the Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, or funky-smellin’ Chinese medicine did anything. I drank, chewed, and swallowed pills, liquids, and herbal powder to no avail. But nothing was going to stop me from enjoying another spicy and oil-packed dinner!

We were prepared to dine at the most popular hot pot place in all of China: “海底捞火鍋” [hai di lao huo guo]. “火鍋”  is the word for “hot pot”. “海底” means ocean-floor. “捞” means to fish. So the name “海底捞” is basically saying that eating hot pot is like fishing, which it is! Delicious. The wait for a table was about 2 hours. Thankfully we had reservations. Whew!

Sauce bar with about 15 different kinds of sauces. Bunch of mixed sauces, chili, peanut, cilantro, parsley, peppercorn, vinegar, soy, sesame oil, and toona “香椿”. Toona tastes like a hybrid between garlic, scallion, and cilantro or parsley. Super flavorful; some may find it a bit strong, but it tastes amazing when you stir-fry rice with toona paste. Or make toona pancakes. We had what’s called a “鴛鴦鍋” [yuan yang guo], which is where one side is spicy and the other is a clear broth. The spicy side was essentially 60% oil, 40% water oil. Yay for clogged arteries! Tons of Sichuan peppercorns, red chilis, green chilis, scallions. I stopped being able to feel my mouth after the first bite.

The hot pot itself was good, but not great; what makes “海底捞火鍋” famous is its service. While you’re waiting in line for a table, you can ask for a manicure. Or a pedicure. Or a massage. All for free. You can also get free snacks and drinks. Your glass is always filled, your table always clean, and your plates always stacked with food. Our tour guide told us that one time someone complained about having lost their iPhone at “海底捞火鍋” and about a month or two later, that person received a completely new iPhone in the mail.

In our case, we asked to have our hot pot changed 3 times because we kept discovering seafood or meat at the bottom of the pot when we clearly told them we were vegetarian. And all the times they were forced to bring in a completely fresh hot pot, they did it so happily and warmly. Refreshing to see service with such good attitude! Chinese restaurants aren’t exactly known for good service. Hence, the popularity of “海底捞火鍋”.

The noodle chef was only 15-years-old! He’s been doing this since he was 8. Crazy.

Hot pot made us so full that my mom and I decided to go for a stroll afterwards. Xi’An’s night scene is so vibrant; music and people everywhere. Street food. Dancing. Tai Chi. Artists showcasing their work. Face-painting. Caricatures.

大雁塔” [da yien ta] is called “Giant Wild Goose Pagoda” and a very famous landmark in Xi’An. It was built during the Tang Dynasty, around 652 AD, and was under heavy renovation when we were in Xi’An. The gates were closed to the public at night, so we could only view it from afar. Mom and I entertained ourselves with the swaths of Chinese Zumba groups and of people learning martial arts littering the many squares in Xi’An.

Because Xi’An was the capital of China for several dynasties, it has a very historical and cultural landscape. There were entire avenues of fountains with sculptures of Chinese poets (like Li Bai or Wang Wei) and generals, or large stone scrolls with excerpts from famous Chinese manuscripts. All the street lights lining the street were Chinese lanterns with poems written on them. It was gorgeous.

Xi’An is like all of Chinese history and culture vacuum-packed into one metropolis. What was really cool was watching the calligraphers on the street use these 3-foot long brushes dipped in water to write Chinese in different Chinese calligraphy styles. There are nine styles in total: two are pictured above, “行書” [xing shu], a semi-cursive script, and “隸書” [li shu], a clerical script that’s commonly used in newspapers and advertisements. What penmanship!

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