We began yesterday morning by taking a trip to see the ancient Pagoda in Xi'an. Like many of the landmarks in this city, this pagoda carries a wider cultural significance, as it was in this city that Buddhism, having originated in India, was introduced to China. Again, like the other famous landmarks in this city, the Pagoda itself has been expertly preserved and is situated in immaculately maintained grounds.
After our walk around the ancient Pagoda we stepped firmly back into modernity, as our next stop was a visit to the biggest shopping mall in the Shaanxi province; a sprawling, 8-floor high, commercial palace of designer shops, sci-fi escalators and dramatic water features. Having arranged a clear meeting point and set a return time we split up into smaller groups to explore the mall. Considering the face melting temperatures that were reached yesterday afternoon (just the 41 degrees), the cool, air conditioned walkways were a godsend.
As Mrs Qiao and I made our way through the calm and quiet floors it was apparent how expensive the goods in the shops were. Contrasting the prices of items in that environment to our experience in the busier, livelier and much cheaper night market on our first full evening, in many ways highlighted the economic divide in the city. Fortunately however, the popular food hall still offered excellent value for money, as Mrs Qiao and I devoured a giant bowl of noodles, beef and sweet chilli sauce for roughly £2.50 (!).
From the mall we returned to the international school for an afternoon of language and traditional Chinese dance classes. It had been a long and hot day so arriving back at the hotel everyone was ready for sleep and to begin the next day anew.
This morning we made our way across the city to visit the historic palace of the Tung dynasty. Like the city wall we visited on Tuesday, this site is of tremendous cultural importance to the city of Xi'an and to China, as it shows how forward thinking and progressive Chinese civilisation was thousands of years ago. The structure and features of this heavily stonewalled (due to fears of attack) enclosure demonstrated anancient society that placed agriculture, education and recreation at the centre of its community, as one of the student's noted - 'just like our own'.
After stopping for lunch at an unconventional, western/ eastern buffet restaurant, the International school had organised a trip to the foothills of the Qin Mountains (a two hour drive away) to visit a famous Chinese water bottling plant. The factory was a state of the art, fully automated facility, which prided itself on taking water straight from the neighbouring mountain springs. The factory tour team went to great pains to inform us about how the company rejected purifying the mountain water to maintain the natural minerals. Although not exactly the first destination I would have picked for a day out with two coaches full of teenagers, from an engineering and technology perspective it was well worth a view and more importantly we got free juice.
Earlier this evening we headed back to the night market, happy for a change of scenery from our hotel but mainly to hunt for bargains. I don't think I have ever witnessed such a swaggering display of bartering, especially from Callum, Danny and Lenny, who look and act like seasoned pros. So much so that Mrs Qiao asked the boys to haggle for a bag that she had her eye on and felt they would negotiate a better deal. As with the rest of the trip - they didn't disappoint, and they secured her bag for her at a cut price deal. In terms of my own haggling skills, there are still plenty of areas for improvement...
By Mr Rafferty