I need to rewind a bit. So one thing I really wanted to do when I came to China, was to work somewhere in exchange for food and lodging. I used a site called Workaway. Unlike couch surfing, you offer your labor (typically 4-6 hrs/day) to be hosted. There is a plethora of jobs out there, but I narrowed my job search to something uniquely Chinese, or a job that was completely different from my past lifestyle. While I was in Shanghai, I was able to get in touch with two hosts. One who owned a traditional inn in an ancient Chinese town and one who owned a farm in the outskirts of Xi’an. I was equally interested in each one for different reasons. I had my reservations about working at the farm because my knee and wrist were still recovering. However, I ended up going with the host in Xi’an since she was quicker about confirming my available time frame.
Now fast forward! I arrived at the Xi’an train station the next morning and I made my way out along with a massive crowd. I saw my host from afar, holding a yellow sheet with my name on it. I could see anxiety creeping into her face as she swiveled her head in every direction. Unlike her previous workers, I could easily pass for Chinese, hence get lost in the crowd. I saw that she was losing hope and she slowly began folding up her sign. Thankfully her sign was easy to spot from afar, so I walked straight towards her. Turned out she came late and she wasn’t sure if I already passed by her.
As we were driving back towards the farm, we got acquainted. I told her I planned on going to Hua Shan, a sacred Taoist mountain. Apparently she already had three workers at her farm and they were planning on going the following morning! She took me to one of her regular restaurants for some muslim food. Xi’an has deep roots with Islam, as it was the first city in China that received the religion. After just eating a cup of noodles in the train (Korean cup noodles taste MUCH better…and this is not a biased opinion…hahaha), the food was SO good. I had some sort of boiled beef with sauce sandwiched between two crispy breads. On the side, I also had a vegetable and tofu soup with glass noodles.
We then swung by the farm to pick up the other three traveling workers and went to a small town called Yuanjia Village. Apparently it was recently built, but it was built to emulate an old village. Much of the food, souvenirs, and method of food preparation were traditional.
I tried my hand at using an old school weaving machine for 1¥. I also helped cook some popcorn. I think the man was pleased by my intrigue, but maybe it was also because I was doing his work for him. I also had a TON of different kinds of food. Fried and salted scorpion was delicious. Pig feet was incredibly fatty and juicy. I had a yogurt that was phenomenal. Probably the best yogurt I’ve ever had in my life. It had a gelatinous consistency with the perfect amount of tart. Had a sort of quesadilla thing. Two flat breads with what seemed like the Korean green onion pancake (파전) in between. I believe this cuisine comes from muslim origin. I then had a bowl of flat noodles with an assortment of vegetables. Including the breakfast, I ate all of this in the span of about four hours. The host was incredibly generous, treating us to all sorts of good food, but her generosity was flirting dangerously with torture…by gluttony.
They had noodles on racks that reached about 15 feet high. That makes the noodles about 30 feet long! Hmm…I wonder how long it would take to reenact the spaghetti scene from The Lady and the Tramp. I stood amongst a thick cloud of incense at a shrine, and even after I escaped the volatile smoke, I couldn’t stop the tears flowing from my eyes for a good 30 seconds.
The host got all of us a shoulder/neck massage. We also got our ears cleaned. The people running this intricate art looked like dentists with their head lamps and wide array of tools. It didn’t seem sanitary that they use the same tools on everybody, but before I could resist, he was already at work on my ears. He cleared out a lot of earwax and finished off with this fluffy ball on a stick which was vibrated by another tool that closely resembled a tuning fork. It tickled a bit and it actually sounded like a jackhammer in my ear. My guess is it gets any remaining bits of earwax out.
Anyways, our host was incredibly gracious and it was clear that she loved to share the joy and pride of her culture.