Xi’an, China

The year is hurtling on and so are the recaps of my China trip.

We arrived in Xi’an from Shaolin having got a fast train. The fast trains show that Chinese people do indeed know how to do good trains, but that most of the country just can’t afford it yet.

Xi’an was our guide’s home city. He gave us a free day which may have been part of the itinerary or may have been a chance for him to visit his wife. We were all happy though. Apparently his train back from Hong Kong to Xi’an would take 48 hours, which makes me wonder what other jobs must be like if this is the lifestyle that you’re choosing to lead, especially as he didn’t seem the most dynamic person, or the type of person that you would usually think a tour leader would be.

It was raining on arrival which made me think of home.

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A pretty chill mask in the hotel room. I took the slippers.

The hotel was another Home Inn. As with the Beijing Home Inn it was dirty and vaguely smoky, but it was substantially better than the Shaolin school accommodation.

We had noodles at a place near the hotel. The average cost of a dish was 50p. I misheard what the dishes contained and ordered spicy noodles which I could hardly make a dent in.

I think that was it for that day. The sole guy in the group went to a club.

The next day, all of us except the guy and the guide went to the Terracotta Warriors. Looking back, I am still very impressed that we managed to find it as navigating in China was petrifying. We met an American girl on the coach who got talking to us and bragging about her China knowledge, which I think she may have been overegging.

We got a guide at the Terracotta Warriors. It is advised that you get a guide. I remember now. Our tour guide said that he couldn’t take us as he wasn’t an official Terracotta Warrior guide. What a load of hooey. I’m pretty sure people could walk around unaccompanied. Also, if you say you’re a student and show literally any form of ID, they will give you discounted tickets. I was the youngest in our group but I had left all of my IDs at home, for fear of losing them, so a 40 year old woman got student ID and I had to pay full price. Life isn’t fair sometimes.

You are always the most grateful that you are paying for a guide when they read information off the wall at the exhibit.

“Oh, I didn’t know that. That’s interesting!”

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The ever enthusiastic but mildly enthusiastic guide just before she was berated for handling the objects

She was a sweetheart. She picked up something, saying that you could because it was a replica, only to have a security guard run quickly over and tell her to stop.

Ah, whatever her name was.

The Terracotta Warriors themselves are stunning and mind boggling and, expense be damned, are definitely worth the admission fee.

I hope that one day I will be mad and powerful enough to demand that a full army of terracotta people be crafted and buried so that they can protect me in the afterlife. A whole underground city, too, with working plumbing. Truly astonishing.

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The largest of the pits of the Terracotta Warriors. Breathtaking in scale and detail.

My favourite fact of the day was that the Terracotta Emperor died from mercury poisoning as he drank mercury every day, thinking that it would make him invincible. Those crazy old kooks!

We found our way back okay too. What success!

We told the guy in our group how impressive the Warriors were. He googled them and saw that they are regarded as the 8th wonder of the ancient world and was momentarily regretful that he didn’t go, then concluded that he was hungover and his day of massage, laundry, gym and college basketball was a good choice.

To the Muslim quarter!

I haggled down some sunglasses and several other items for members of the group. The sticker price is a real rip off, but who are we rich Westerners to refuse to pay anything more than tuppance for shoddy wares from people who rely on this as their livelihoods? Bargain hunters, that’s who.

Apparently the street food in the Muslim quarter is quite famous. I didn’t have any that evening. There are also apparently some 700,000 Chinese Muslims in Xi’an.

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Muslim Quarter street vendors

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Begging for a haggling

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Another street vendor, loving life

Dinner was Muslim/Chinese food, of which lamb and another meat kebabs are the only part that I can remember. Oh, and soup dumplings. I tried the lamb kebabs but still my dislike of lamb hadn’t gone away. The meal was fine.

We watched some of the street performances in the night. The others went to a bar but I wanted to go home.

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Bell or drum.

Having walked there with ease, I figured that the walk back would be fine. It was not. I got horrendously lost and had to get a tuk tuk home. I tried to barter with the tuk tuk driver which is astonishingly difficult when you don’t speak the same language and also don’t have any change to try and barter down with. I gave him my hotel card (always get a hotel card with their address for such an occasion as this) and I went on a journey that I genuinely thought would end in my death.

I paid and exited. He saw someone he knew and they both laughed at me.

Bed.

The morning brought a cycle around the city wall. The guide tried to impress us with the history of this city wall, which dates back to the 14th century or something, which I quickly dismissed as not being as old as Canterbury’s city wall.

Another chance for cycletography.

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View from the wall: light exercise

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View from the wall: rhythm and funk

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In which I inadvertently nearly ruined a road race

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A ‘Where’s Wally’ of a street market.

The group ambled along the wall, trying concurrently to avoid the foot race that seemed to be happening and to take pictures.

If you are trying to photograph Xi’an, I would recommend doing so from the city wall. It’s around 14km all in all. The bikes are not comfortable.

About half way around, we realised that we had spent 3/4 of our allotted time covering very little distance and that now we had to race around the latter half.

Others cycled ahead of me, and I ended up in a pair with the other half Chinese girl. We were both concerned that we were going to be the last, so we stopped infrequently.

The cobbles and the non-suspension bike made for quite an uncomfortable ride, particularly after the half way mark.

The city was less interesting at speed.

Somehow we were the first to arrive back at the meeting place. How we missed that we had overtaken everyone I will never know. The others took a good five or ten more minutes to arrive, meaning that we could have afforded to be much more plodding, and to stop for more photos.

The afternoon was more free time. We were all a bit annoyed at our guide’s giving us so much free time. One of the joys of a group tour is not having to think of what to do or eat or much of anything really. This is why I enjoy yoga classes: the teacher even tells me when to breathe. Several of the others had travelled with this tour provider previously and had said that their other guides were better.

We went again to the Muslim quarter and tried a famous Chinese burger. It was good, but possibly not worth the 20 minute queue. If there are a people that enjoy queuing more than the English, it is the Chinese. As I am half of both I should super love queuing, but instead they have cancelled each other out and I find it one of life’s great labours which should be avoided at all costs. The potential of food poisoning is preferable to a queue in my book. When we got a plane later that day, our in flight meal was a burger, which further rubbed salt into the queue wound.

We returned to the hotel and departed for the airport. I am eternally grateful that my fellow travellers had a workable sense of direction as otherwise I would have spent most of my Yuan on taxis.

I think this was the stop that most people clocked that the German/Cypriots were lesbians. Mother picked this up within half an hour of meeting them.

Xi’an was my favourite city in China (we didn’t visit Shanghai) and, while I got lost, it felt vaguely navigable, had good markets, and was a gateway to many an impressive relic.

The smog was dissipating.

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