One thing you notice right away about Xi'an is how uncosmopolitan it is compared to Beijing and Shanghai. Granted it is a second-tier city, but the comparison is so stark that it makes you wonder what third-tier Chinese cities are like.
There are hardly any foreign brands here, save for Starbucks, Nike and Adidas, and where I'm staying in the business district, there isn't even a supermarket, but for some strange reason there are many medicine shops. They're large, have many staff, and have marble steps, showing off what a profitable business it is.
When I arrived in Xi'an, I was hoping to buy some fruit, but the best I could find near the office were stands selling peaches and watermelons, both in season.
As I'm allergic to peaches, and watermelons are hard to eat without a knife, I was on the hunt for apples. My colleagues said I'd have to go to a big supermarket to get them, but there wasn't one in the neighbourhood, even though my walk to work is 20 minutes long and through some big streets.
It wasn't until yesterday after work I finished dinner near the office, and on my way home I saw a man on a scooter with a woman sitting behind him carrying a broom emerge from an alley. My instincts hit me to see where they came from.
However, I was immediately hit with the putrid smells of the neighbourhood waste depot, where men were shoveling garbage.
But beyond that was a bustling market of small stalls lined down the small street, selling everything from vegetables to fresh chicken (yes, sitting out there for who knows how long), tofu, stalls making a variety of snacks -- and then yes -- apples! There were also stalls selling household goods like brooms and cans of food, clothing, toys, and beauty creams.
I continued along the street towards the end which led to a perpendicular one lined with small tables and stools for more neighbourhood dining.
It's these little nooks and crannies that reveal real life in Chinese cities, and here in Xi'an you just have to hold your nose first -- and then it's a feast for the eyes and mouth.