I lived in Xi’an for nearly a year teaching university students english. By the time the year was over, I couldn’t wait to leave and start a new adventure. It’s been two years now and I miss that city like crazy. It was an incredible experience and I think sometimes I forget just awesome it was.
What’s interesting is all the things that I thought I’d miss about China are still true.
This was one of my favorite parts about Xi’an. I never went hungry. Xi’an is otherwise known is snack city in China so street food can be found easily.
Almost every morning consisted of Bao Zi (steamed meat filled buns) and I would drench it in sauce. It was my favorite thing in the world and I never got sick of it. The bigger and softer the Bao Zi was, the better. Usually I would get about six of them and mix it up between lamb, vegetable, and beef. In the afternoon, I usually went for bubble tea.
Then there was the BBQ. My goodness was this the best thing in the world. If you haven’t been to China, I bet you don’t think of awesome BBQ when you think of China. Believe me when I tell you that the lamb BBQ sticks were incredible. This became a weekly or more ritual between my friends and I. It’s best enjoyed with many friends, beers, and warm weather while sitting outside. We would order a stack of 50 or so sticks of lamb, beef, and wings. Can’t forget the naan bread too! Sometimes we’d be out there for 3 hours just drinking beer and eating.
I also miss eating with chopsticks and having tea for every meal.
And I can’t forget about the hotpot dinners! What an amazing way to eat. We’ve been going to a traditional Chinese hotpot place outside of DC and it always takes me back. We ate hotpot on a regular basis and pigged out big time. I left every dinner feeling super full.
I really miss this about China. I loved that eating wasn’t something you did on your own usually. I ate with friends and we ordered food that everyone would share in the middle of the table. It gave me the chance to have a bit of everything rather than have just one dish.
The Muslin Quarter was my favorite part of the city and especially in the evening. The whole place lights up and gets packed with people, vendors, and delicious street food. The best food in the city is located in this area. The streets are narrow and you could easily get lost in it’s maze that seemed to never end no matter how far I went. It’s so lively and I love it.
Living Like a Local
My apartment wasn’t great but it was comfortable. I liked having my own place for awhile. The only thing it was really missing was a decent kitchen to actually cook. Instead, I went out for every meal and luckily the food was so cheap. I had my favorite restaurants, the people knew me, and I usually went to a few of the same places over and over. I liked being a regular where they would know my order.
Being a Celebrity
The attention I got was amazing. I will probably never be that famous ever again. The university had over 10,000 students and there were only about 8 foreigners in the whole campus. The neighborhood I was in was 30-minutes from downtown which meant there was absolutely no reason for any foreigner to ever go where we were. It was university town. There were students that had never seen or spoken to a foreigner before. Pictures were taken of me in secret and sometimes I was asked randomly. During class a lot of the students would take pictures of me on their cell phone.
At the time I remember being annoyed by this too. I never had privacy and everyone constantly starred at me. I did enjoy the attention but there were times I just wanted to eat in peace or go where I need to go without being stopped or starred at. Looking back at it now though, I wish I had some of that attention again.
Karaoke / KTV
We have karaoke in the states but it’s just not the same. In China, they take karaoke seriously. We lived about 10 minute walk away from a great karaoke place. You get a private room and full service. We usually ordered a ton of beer and sang till the early morning hours. The best part was actually their outdated songs. Obviously the majority of what they had were Chinese songs but they also had a pretty decent list of english songs. Nothing past the year 2000 was in their library for english songs. This made it more fun because nothing we sang could be taken seriously. We rocked out to Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Beatles, Michael Jackson, Prince, and every other cliche track you could possibly think of from pre-2000. So now when going to karaoke in the states, I usually stick with the old stuff.
I got paid very well in China for teaching english. I got paid about $800 a month. Combine that with what I was already making on the internet and I was making a decent amount of money to live very well off. I use to go to the supermarkets and never even bother looking at the price of anything I bought. I didn’t care what was on sale. I just bought whatever I liked. The same goes for when I went out to eat. Breakfast usually cost $.50, lunch was usually $2, dinner was usually $5 to $15 depending if we were splurging, Beer was about a $1 for a liter. My apartment was paid for by the school and electricity cost about $15 a month.
A few times my friends and I would go to a nightclub downtown and get bottle service for the table that included a bottle of Absolut, a huge basket of fruit, soft drinks, and snacks. Total was about $50 to $75 for a group of 4. In NYC you get a crap bottle of vodka for $300 at a club and your table is located in the back room with no food and they still treat you like crap.
The Chinese were among the friendliest people I had ever met. No other place in the world have I been invited to so many homes and felt so welcomed. The people I had met and became friends with always made sure I was comfortable and was enjoying myself in China. I had so many random adventures. I could write many articles worth of stories just from all the odd and awesome things that happened to me there.
The one thing I regret most while I was there is that I didn’t put enough effort into learning Mandarin. Now whenever I hear it, it brings me back and I wish I could say understand and say something back. I can only understand a few words here and there but not complete sentences.
I’m not sure when I’ll back in China but I do hope I get to visit again soon. If you’re skipping China on your RTW, you seriously need to reconsider.