Welcome to Xi'an, April 2019

Monday evening, sitting comfortably in our home away from home in Xi’an seems like a good time to pen a few words and send a few pictures.We are fortunate to have an apartment to use throughout our stay, courtesy of one of Helen’s relatives here. We are relatively close to the centre of Xi’an (a small town of 8-12 Million people) and within a few minutes’ walk to a new and efficient Metro system to get us around town.

There seems to have been a lot of work done on public open spaces here and so far, we have all been impressed by the scale and quality of the work.

There is a new walking street nearby, a cultural and arts precinct with galleries and museums, open spaces for performances and decorated with a million colourful lights so the evenings are spectacular. The place is buzzing every evening with locals and visitors alike coming to enjoy the traffic free space and free entertainment.

There are a couple of festivals going on, a Fashion Week (looks huge but we are too shabby to get inside to see what’s going on) and then some sort of music, drama, culture festival providing live singing, dancing and other “busking type” activities.

Cash is dead – long live Wechat and AliPay.

The most amazing thing by far, is the use of Smartphone payments systems for just about everything, everywhere. Cash is almost dead, it’s almost useless carrying it around because most people now prefer to use WeChat Pay and AliPay from their phones. From the smallest street vendors and snack food stalls to every mainstream shop – WeChat and Alipay.

Credit and ATM cards are dying if not dead here, not sure Union Pay, Visa or Mastercard have figured it out yet, but they are so “yesterday”.

Foreigners are at a distinct disadvantage not usually having local access to these payment systems. Helen has an account, so we are local, kind-of.

Shopping online for new shoes (for me) the Li Ning web site generated a QR code that was scanned on Helen’s phone, payment was made in the blink of an eye. Shoes were ordered Friday evening 5pm, they arrived Sunday lunchtime. Amazing. Truly amazing but normal here.

Traffic – There are no rules of the road, just suggestions

I lived in China for a few years and have been back, on and off, for the past 15 years, the traffic just gets worse, jams are the order of the day and China is now the second biggest car market globally.

Amazingly there is little road rage, the traffic moves with an uncertain and unstructured fluidity that needs to be seen to be believed, pedestrians are 3rd class citizens and crossing the road is usually a game of risk.

Lane Discipline (for my English and Australian readers) does not exist here, and the phrase “Expect the Unexpected” is just normal driving; of course the guy in the outside lane is going to “slide” across 4 lanes of traffic and exit the highway without indicating, and everyone else just moves slightly out of the way and the ripple effect continues. Crazy to watch but perfectly normal.

And finally, the use of the horn; it always reminds me of a line from the film “Hunt for Red October” when Sean Connery says “One Ping to Target” it’s just a polite warning system, it’s ubiquitous. Pretty sure the horns get serviced every 1000kms.

Electric Motor Scooters

A new dimension here in Xi’an is the rise of the Electric powered motor scooter, these have become really popular for getting around and beating the traffic, and if you thought the car drivers took liberties with the road rules, these E-Scooter drivers/riders ignore them completely. It seems perfectly OK to ride on the footpath, road, go the wrong way down the road, through any traffic light, especially red, all without a sound. Spooky and just a little un-nerving as we are all used to road users giving way to pedestrians in Australia 😊

So, there you go, a few random thoughts for our first week, we are off to Beijing tomorrow on the new high-speed rail for a week catching up with friends and visiting some sights.

When we come back we will be in the midst of the May holiday celebrations and will get out and about to visit some of the amazing history and culture Xi’an has to offer, it was the ancient capital of China for about 800 years so there is plenty to see here.

Xuan Zang (The Monk in "Journey to the West") and the Wild Goose Pagoda

Regards Roy, Helen, Zoe and Sophie

PS. I am fortunate to have the girls all helping me with translation duties, I really should go to Chinese language school when I get a moment or two spare. 😊

PPS: For anyone reading this far, the Great Firewall of China is very real and posting this is a bit of a challenge.

I need to use a VPN to get out of the Internet in China to my web site. Google is not here, the BBC, Facebook and a myriad others are not allowed. The VPN connection is a bit "hit and miss" and usually pretty slow. And just for fun, because of the VPN, Google thinks I am hacking my account and wont let me log in from the PC which makes life a hassle. Welcome to China. End.

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