What’s Up With Looking Down?

When my family and I travel back “home” to China I like to explore.

After all, there’s plenty of new sights, sounds, people and foods in a big city like Xi’an, in the province of Shaanxi. When I have the chance to get into the city by myself I jump in with both feet. I’ll take the buses and ride in taxis and walk the backstreets without much fear of getting lost or getting taken out of my way by a potentially unscrupulous driver.

I have a pretty good sense of direction and sense of where I am.

I may have to thank Google for that, though. The company’s online map and satellite imagery enables me to peruse, from kilometres above, the city and its surrounding area, home to almost nine million people.

I can see from a different perspective bus routes I take to the city’s core tourist area, which almost literally revolves around the 730 year old Bell Tower 钟楼. I can see with stunning clarity the tiny streets I walked to find a tiny noodle shop which made the tastiest bowl of biang biang mian I have ever eaten. And it showed me how to get back to that tiny noodle shop the next day with my wife to have the second tastiest bowl of biang biang mian I have ever eaten.

The satellite images, being updated a few times over the years, have also kept me abreast of changes. The road outside our apartment complex, prone to traffic jams of immense proportions, is now six lanes wide. A new highway has also been completed connecting downtown Lintong, just east of Xi’an, with the museum complex showcasing the Terracotta Warriors.

But looking at the city from the Google Map site, one can find some oddities as well.

First, a very large park in the city to the north and east of the city wall’s North Gate.

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Looks like a fairly standard park. But if you look to the south end, just east of the midline, you’ll find a copy of the park on a smaller scale – a park within itself.

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There’s large circular industrial complexes on grand scales….

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And large circular military sites….

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Some places are large and undefinable. I’ll have to call my brother-in-law and ask him what this is next to the big river running east of the city….

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There are highways to nowhere….

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And there are even highways to nowhere from nowhere….

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And there is also beauty from above. Terraced farmland in the mountains east of the city with a road seemingly compressed into a ribbon of pavement….

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It’s enough to make me want to go back and see it from ground level.