I was unimpressed.
The airport bus to “Zhonglou”, touted for its convenience and affordability, actually terminated at the edge of Xi’an, which means first-time tourists were left stranded literally in the middle of nowhere, to flag a shared cab into the city. In hindsight, I should’ve taken the airport bus for “Xi’an Railway Station” instead, against the advise of the Xi’an Xianyang Airport staff. It was only via the courtesy and generosity of a willing car driver (who extended it to 3 other similarly lost and confused souls) that I managed to get to what was supposed to be a central location.
By the time I checked in, it was 2 hours to sunset – I was tired, and hungry.
Downtown Xi’an, as it turns out, is not only not historic or ancient, but is in fact, very modern and incredibly commercialized. It’s a capitalist consumerism nightmare dystopia of flashing neon lights, blinding LED flashes, loudhailers repeating in-store promotions, all fighting for attention, and the same few brands one after another. You had large electronics department stores Gome and Suning at every other block, and spliced in between were Xiaomi, Meizu, Huawei, Oppo, ZTE, Samsung and Apple stores. Then, there were alternates of the sports brands: Li-Ning, Erke, Adidas, Under Armor, Nike, Timberland, Colombia, Vans. Then, the fashion retail stores, Semir, Yishion, Uniqlo… Then, you turn and see the Gome and Suning, and it repeats again and again. It was a fucking nightmare. From all accounts, I had expected Xian to be somewhat cultural, if not like Kyoto, at least a healthy mix like Beijing, but it was all commercialized!
Even food, there were no small restaurants off the street. Just chains, like Dico’s. If HeHeGu and Xiabu Xiabu are China attempting to localize fast-food, Dico’s and its sister brand, Wallace (renamed CNHLS), are their predecessors. Founded in the 90s in Chengdu, Dico’s looks like China’s answer to KFC. Adopting the the color scheme of fast food restaurants – bright gaudy yellows, oranges and reds, serving the western fast food essentials of fried chicken and burgers, there was nothing really outstanding to Dico’s, except to be the reaction to a foreign brand.
However, two decades is an eternity in China. Dico’s began a slow rebrand, trading its generic red and yellow, and repositioning itself as a more nature-oriented, lifestyle brand, with emphasis on sky blues and grass greens. Its menu also expanded to include more local-infused items. Wallace, became CNHLS, a decidedly more Chinese-influenced fast-food chain.
For lunch, I ordered the Double Crispy Chicken Burger, and to be honest, the moment I ate it, I forgot what it tasted like. I suppose it tastes like a crispy chicken sandwich.
Maybe there’s a reason why KFC is still China’s most well-loved fast-food restaurant.