My nasal senses were killing me, my allergies uncontrollable. Despite consuming multiple pharmacy-dispensed pills, similar to chocolate-covered-candy, my nose was spilling mucus like a free-flowing river after the monsoon rains.
It was the one thing the people from Beijing were definitely afraid of; that and having less wealth than their neighbours, all the while living in some nondescript apartment block in the shit, in the shade and in the smog.
It was the second time I had the carriage on the Beijing metro all to myself – the first time was when I first arrived in the city, after a 24 hours stretch in a sleeper bus and 40 hours without a shower. The smell must of being too much for their tender nasal senses. Originally smelling like a Western dog, now I was ill, uncultured and spreading disease.
They packed up their daily belongings and moved…sculling away, shuffling.
Like me – once I had my New Zealand passport, Chinese visa and Tibet visitors permit I was off; leaving Beijing behind and carrying my allergies with me all the way to Xi’an.
Departing the confines of the Xi’an train station, the first thing I noticed was a fortified wall, wrapping round the old feudal confines of the city. The second thing I noticed was a Mr Lee fast-food beef noodle-soup franchise.
In northern China Mr Lee was my home-away-from-home, the only place where I was not followed by staff, checking I was not stealing state secrets, once I entered the confines of the store.
Was this assumption of thievery personal?
Or given the omnipresent money machines checking for fake currency, should I just accept it was the part of the world I was currently travelling in?
Wanting to take on the world and lose, I preferred to think it was personal.
I was in the city famous for the Army of Terracotta Warriors, buried beneath this earth, standing guard over their saviour, protecting his soul.
But it had already been lost.
Absolute power corrupts, and as this was China, his soul never stood a chance.
So it had been left to the tourist operators espousing Old Chinese Proverbs:
And so the tour of the Army of Terracotta Warriors was a tad disappointing; the clay figurines standing at a distance within a darkened hangar, despondent, missing the green grass and blue skies of their youth, as well as the reinvigorating fragrance of fresh clean air.
But the city of Xi’an could stand up as interesting enough on its own – with its fortified walls, towers, temples, pagodas, Muslim Quarter and, not forgetting, a Mr Lee.