Xi’an | Experiencing A New Corner of China

M. James Thompson

One Fine Adventure: Xi’an, Shaanxi, China

This article picks up around 6 am, term hours after leaving Wuxi on the overnight slow train to Xi’an.

By 6am I was delirious, exhausted and at the end of a desperate search for a comfortable place to sleep. My unfruitful attempts at resting had come to an inevitable end. I gave up hope that I would have a well rested first day in Xi’an. The curiosity of my new Chinese friends had dissipated throughout the night and everyone in the train car looked equally as miserable as I felt.

Chinese slow trains were not created for comfort and the long haul travelers find any place possible to get some rest. Men sleep seated back to back in the aisles, on top of their luggage in the vestibule, and slumped over on the miniature tables. For me this trip was an opportunity to become closer to the Chinese culture of necessary travel. The majority of people in the “hard seat” section of long haul trains are traveling out of necessity related to family ties. So many people have moved far from their birthplaces in search of work that on any day of the week these trains are packed with people heading home for brief visits, funerals and weddings.

When our train finally arrived at Xi’an Railway Station, just after 9am, my senses had returned to me. I was ready to experience an all too comthe phenomenon of international travel, the chaos of leaving a train station and trying to find a ride. Rickshaw  and taxi drivers hawked for customers along with hostel and hotel workers. Food vendors were selling bottled water, noodles and all flavors of chicken feet. All the while families were attempting to reunite with their relatives and friends. The press of the crowd leaving Xi’an Station was met by an equally forceful crowd pushing their way toward outbound trains. Every sense was stressed beyond a standard comfort level. After a long and uncomfortable journey loosing your sense of direction and attention to belongings can become very easy. Minding your possessions and keeping your wits about you is a constant challenge.

Our small group of travelers managed to find a taxi driver with a connection at an ideally situated hostel at the center of Xi’an. After being driven around aimlessly in the past by taxi drivers that I met outside of train stations I was reluctant to get into the taxi, but I was too drained to argue. Our hostel was clean and within walking distance to the majority of the sites in Xi’an. We checked in, set our bags down, showered and decided to head out for lunch.

The Muslim Quarter of Xi’an is a busy section of town that is filled with food and souvenirs. Chinese and international tourists will pass one of the most intricately constructed Starbucks restaurants that I have ever seen on their way to centuries old buildings. That being said, the area is nice and the food is excellent, but there was little that i had not seen in other parts of China. Go for the dumplings, biang biang mian and postcards. Do not bother with the overpriced brisket cuts used on roja moa or the wood paneled tchotchke shops that are common throughout China. Find the Great Mosque of Xi’an and some of the other buildings that are tucked away off the main streets.


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