Xian Update - September 2014

As I stated before in my Portland Update for September, my friend TJ and I have decided to start writing "updates" from our respective cities for the time that he is in China teaching English. (My friends Rheea in India and Rachel in Korea have also agreed to contribute to this series…look for their entries soon!)

Here is Tj's letter/update:

The pictures of your trip to the river made me a little sad, I never made it to a river this summer. Scrolling through my newsfeed on Facebook I saw dozens of pictures from my friends wearing shorts, drinking beers, and smiling in the sun. Everyone seemed to agree that summer was ending and they had to make the most of it. That cathartic Portland experience of making sure you don’t ‘miss’ the last nice weekend of the summer. It’s not that it’s not hot here; it’s very hot, and humid, and rainy. Xi’an only has two rainy months and September is one of them. I’ve only seen blue sky twice. I wonder if it’s the rain or the infamous smog. I was given a facemask for ‘when it gets really bad’, whenever that is. A smell hangs in the air here. If you haven’t been to a big city in Asia it’s hard to explain what that smell is like, it’s hot, and stale, and sour. Do New York and LA smell bad if it’s humid? It’s been such a long time since I’ve been to either. In my room I turn on my air conditioner and everything is fresh, the air outside is thick and the smell can’t seem to creep in through the cracks in the doorframe.

There is one part of Xi’an that smells great, Beiyuanmen, the Muslim market street in the heart of the city. There have been Muslims in Xi’an for over 1,000 years; one of the oldest Mosques in China is here in the city. I’ll go looking for it one day. Everywhere there is meat cooking, charcoals burning, dried fruits, and bags of spices. The street is noisy, restaurants hawk their goods using megaphones, street vendors sell wooden noisemakers that sound like frogs, Chinese and American pop music drifts out of shops, men play Chinese fiddle, and scooters honk their tiny horns as they push through the crowds of people milling around. There are neon lights everywhere. It’s familiar to me in a way; it reminds me of night markets I went to in Thailand. I haven’t seen a much else of the city yet.

The campus where I work is on the edge of the Xi’an, it takes an hour to get downtown by bus and subway. It’s isolating, I’ve traveled a long ways to sit alone in my room on weeknights. The buses are small, dingy, and overcrowded. The subway is also overcrowded, but clean and modern. There isn’t much out by my campus, a lot of industrial parks and apartment towers that are under construction. Rows and rows of apartment towers, often identical, awaiting some hypothetical thousands and thousands of people who will be arriving in this city. There are 8 million people in this city; they expect another 3 million in the next 10 years as people move out of the countryside and into the cities. I thought the development on Division was bad (Did you see that the Press Club closed? I’m gonna miss that place). There are also huge swaths of land that are hidden behind huge stone walls. Future apartments I imagine. 

It wasn’t until I decided to leave Portland that I realized that it felt like home, because I changed jobs and apartments about once a year I didn’t notice the little routines that built up my affections for the city. I’m thinking a lot about when I come back next year (as of now I’m not planning on renewing my contract), I have a similar feeling to you, that Portland’s housing market has beaten me and there won’t be a place for me (a place I can afford) when I get back. I liked living up in the Williams neighborhood, even though it changed a lot while I was there. I think a lot of the one-bedroom I shared with my ex-boyfriend, how it was the perfect apartment, spacious and quiet. Maybe if we had had a perfect relationship I’d still be living there. But we didn’t. So I don’t. Instead we broke up and I decided to go to China.

When I get back next summer will you take me to your secret spot on the Sandy River? I want to be somewhere quiet, with lots of trees and not a lot of people.