Hidden Treasures Exploring Shu Yuan Men
posted at  2012-03-05 23:47  Zhong Yi Jia
For expats or those who are visiting Xi’an and looking for a unique gift, Shu Yuan Men is the place to find it. Affectionately known as Old Street- is located near the South gate (Nan Men) inside the Wall of the city. Wander through a street of painters within Ming and Qing Dynasty Architecture. Its old stone slab streets lead to small alleys and courtyards filled with everything from calligraphy to sculpture. This is a place that you will want to stay and spend some time and the Bell and Drum towers and the Muslim Quarter are a walk or short taxi ride away.
If you need a place to stay there are several hotels within walking distance or try an inexpensive hostel. The new Ancient Street Youth Hostel is just within the wall at the big South Gate. Just turn right as you enter the wall and it is located 50 meters east. The rates are reasonable and one particular room upstairs has three beds a porch that overlooks the south wall for 130 RMB a night. Wifi is available and there is a place to sit and read or enjoy a cup of tea. The rooms are simple but clean. Single rooms have their own toilet and shower.
After you have settled in, head over to Shu Yuan Jie and take a look around. When you enter the gate, you will find booths in the open and shops on either side of the walking street. One special item to be found in Xian is shadow play puppets made from donkey hide. These are traditionally used in telling folk stories. Walk down and you will approach a hallway on your right. Mall artists sell paintings, paper cuts, scrolls and silk paintings. Some are Farmer’s paintings and created in local naïve style. This would be a treasured gift and framing is available and reasonable.
The Xi’an Forest of Stelae at Shu Yuan Men contains tablets bearing copies of the Analects, Mencius and the Dictionary of Terms - a haven for those who have a philosophical bent.
As you walk back outside you will see vendors selling celadon pottery and simple flutes made from porcelain and others that resemble gourds. One particular shop sells fans in the storefront but at the rear of the shop there are all kinds of musical instruments. Music from a Chinese flute drew us into the shop and we left with lovely decorated fans. Bargain for the price. Begin with half the asking price and work from there and don’t be afraid to walk away.
You may want to purchase some of the calligraphy Old Street is famous for, or perhaps brushes and paper to make your own. If you live and work in Xi’an and enjoy artistic pursuits you might want to take a handwriting class. You can also have pieces made to order. Chops with your Chinese name are a small but unique souvenir of your time in Xi’an and easy to pack.
If you enjoy antique furniture, peruse small shops and find that special piece as a remembrance of your visit here. Adorned with flora and fauna, Chinese stools, chairs, cabinets and even traditional beds crafted in lacquered wood will make a handsome addition to your home. Old and new bronze sculptures range from the figurative (cranes) to the practical (basins).  These kinds of things really reflect Chinese culture and history.
At the end of the main street turn right, and continue walking to find there are many more merchants beyond. As you exit from walking underneath the old wooden structure that is suspended over the street, turn left and walk down this hidden treasure of a lane. Framers are available to finish and protect your painting, scroll or paper cut. About two blocks down, before the road narrows, there are framers on both the left and right side. The staffs are warm and friendly and prices are excellent- especially if you have multiple pieces. There are a variety of moldings to choose from. You may drop off your work for later pick up.
For those of you wanting to make a cultural connection, whether you are a tourist or an expat, walk back up the street toward the backside of the Forest of Stelae Museum and on the left you will find Fang Fang working in her father’s shop. She creates beautiful oil paintings at reasonable prices. She can take your photograph and reproduce it in oil or you may choose from one of the paintings on display. She is a favorite with local expats and enjoys meeting foreigners and is able to speak a little English. Have a seat and try a cup of tea. Her father is a calligrapher and he will create pieces according to your specifications. There are art reproductions available -such as Tang Dynasty horses and six-foot terracotta warriors - as well as decorative tiles that could be incorporated into your interior design.
Spending the day seeking out hidden treasures and making a cultural connection whether you are here as a tourist or an expat is something that will make Xi’an home to you for however long you are here.