Leaving Chengdu bound for Xi’an provided a yellow fringed landscape until dusk, and a third-tier top bunk to rest the night and reflect. As much as I love traveling by rail, more and more so these nights turned to battles with insomnia and emotions as I strained harder to try and find my father in the long nights framed by the clackclacking of the rails.
Amidst the darkness of the carriage and the otherworldliness of Asia I would lie awake in my bunk, listening to the same songs on repeat and reliving memories. The purpose of this trip was to visit his places, to grieve the loss and experience the hole that was left. So many overnight train-trips provided a perfect opportunity for such a thing, but I can’t say these were easy times – only that they were necessary for my healing.
As the eggyolk sun crawled up above the fields, we crept slowly into early morning Xi’an as people were just starting their days. Disembarking from our carriage out into the heart of one of China’s oldest cities, the beginning of the Silk Road, and home to the Terracotta Warriors, I realised Xi’an was already everything I’d hoped to find in China.
It was during this early morning pilgramage across the old city of Xi’an that I stumbled upon the tiniest baozi house I had ever seen. It sat around four people, and a flour-covered couple were working away at pillowy mounds of snow-white lotus leaf dough to turn into baozi – steamed buns filled with a deliciously oily pork filling and served up alongside a broth starter and a dipping sauce.
These baozi are breakfast buns, and this tiny hole in the wall was already popular with takeaway breakfast orders at five in the morning as we sat there and took in the new environment, the rose wallpaper, the endless kneading of the old couple and the delicious smells emanating from every corner.
I was enamoured, I could return here to eat every day for the rest of my life. These buns make up one of my all-time favourite food experiences since on the road, and I can’t express highly enough how good such a simple looking bun might taste.
When I was younger and my father would return from trips to China, Xi’an is the kind of place I would imagine as I would rifle through my imagination to try and place something as different and exotic as I could possibly envisage. As far as I am aware, he never made it to Xi’an himself, but I have no doubt it would have charmed him in all the same ways it did me.
Every turn provided glimpses of dancing, martial arts, and beautifully manicured trees and gardens to walk through. The city is flanked by a four-sided old city wall, and maintains a very traditional feel of an old-world China. Tea houses and calligraphy stores line ornate alleyways and bustling night markets serve up excellent streetfood until late in the night.
I was in love again, with yet another facet of Asia I hadn’t before experienced, and much like leaving Ao Nang in Thailand, it was difficult to choose to move onwards.
This is a city steeped in incredible culture and national importance, and visiting was such a pleasure. After a far too short time spent in magnificant Xi’an, it was time to hit the rails again and make way toward Beijing.