There have been a few times on this trip where, while wandering a city, just minding my own business, I’ve turned a corner… and inadvertently stepped into a completely different world.
Today was one of those days. I stumbled into Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter this morning, and felt instantly like I was 1,000 miles away from China, and 100 years in the past.
The Muslim Quarter is a series of tight, noisy alleyways, swarming with jolly Muslim men wearing white skull caps and women in burkas. The streets are full of vendors selling all manner of delicious steamed or fried snack; barrels of walnuts, carts of apples and watermelons, and boxes of dried fruit are at every turn; butcher shops where the proprietors lazily whisk away flies from their display of purple sheep livers; covered rickshaws transporting old men with round, coffee-colored glasses and scraggly beards; welders constructing giant metal basins from flat sheets of steel; bike carts overloaded with bricks and blue-colored eggs, darting through the crowds; little brown and yellow ducks waddling freely in the streets; old women weaving sandals and handbags from rough white fiber; and happy children with red scarves darting in and out of the courtyards. It’s one of those markets that has been doing things exactly the same way for a century, and will (hopefully) continue that way for a century to come.
Here are some of the pictures I took. I didn’t want to blatantly go up and take pictures of people, so many of the best photo ops went unrecorded. I also have certain qualms against taking photos of beggars, poor people, old people, etc., so you won’t see many of those either.
I noticed an inordinate number of people with vision problems in the Muslim Quarter. There were a half dozen blind men stumbling down the street with their canes, shouting every few steps to alert the crowd to part for them to pass. There were just as many blind beggars sitting along the alley walls, and I saw two signs advertising “massages by the blind” (apparently, their enhanced sense of touch makes them superior masseuses). There were also a lot of cross-eyed people – both old and young. Lazy eyes seem to run in the population. And the glasses! All of the old men over a certain age wore oversized, round, sepia-toned glasses, similar to the kind worn by John Lennon.