Terracotta Warriors and climbing Hua Shan

Trip Start Aug 27, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2012

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Flag of China  , Shaanxi,
Sunday, October 30, 2011

Xi'an, China - Hock, spit! Hock, spit! Hhhhhhhhhhhhhhock........spit! Annoying to read? Just imagine hearing that every corner you turn in China, every bus you ride, every hostel you stay in,

As an example, Lauren and I were eating breakfast one morning when I heard a hock! I turned and saw an old man with a coffee. I told Lauren it was him but he hadn't spat it out, The old man then stands, hobbles over to a bin and without seeing first hand, Lauren told me the spit dripped down his top instead of landing in the bin! It is gross! Sick!

So Xi'an. Come here and you will be disappointed with the city, The city has years of history and wonderful culture. Once the termius to the Silk road, as well as home to emperors, poets, monks and warriors, now it is home to a roaring modern day city inside the glorious old wall. When I was picked up from the train station, I asked if we in the city walls as we passed Pizza hut and Starbucks, sadly we were. A completely different set up to the quaint and peaceful Pingyao. My train ride was fine, I got a hard sleeper but joined the train half way through it's journey. Instead of the double bunks on Russian trains, this one had a triple bunk and I was up top! I found my cabin and one empty bed. Pushed my bag up top with the use of my head, slipped off my shoes and found a way to climb up. I just wanted to lay there and cause as little noise as possible. Within minutes, an old man is talking to me, it felt more like he was shouting at me. Was I in the wrong bed? The wrong cabin? I smile at him and told him I do not understand. He then pushes a card at me, no buddy, I don't want to buy your phone card. This stand off continued for a few more minutes before he gestured the card needs to go in my pocket, What I wasn't aware of was that when you give up your train ticket, a conductor has a photo album style book containing all tickets, so he can remind passenges when to depart, The conductor must have forgotten to give me my plastic card so asked the old man to. He turned out very friendly, made space in the luggage area for my belongings, helped me remove my coat, seeing as my head kept banging the ceiling and even helped lift down my bags when I departed the train 12 hours later. When I put my shoes on, I thanked him and over enthusiastically waved goodbye. He waved back.

I met up with my friend Lauren in Xi'an after meeting her in Leo Hostel in Beijing, She told me to wake her when I arrived but when receiving an email saying she went to bed at 5am, I let her sleep some more, Hostels in China are not like your everyday hostel. There is no kitchen to prepare food, no fridge to store treats, no funky person on reception to hang out with. They are run like travelling hotels, with military precision. Each one has it's own restaurant but no common room. You have to pay to use the internet and the wifi signal is poor as the hostel computers are wired into the router. Of course, the hostels are modern, with electronic key card rooms and cleaners with walkie talkies. I miss the cuteness of a small hostel with a little kitchen and only one person working. Not a Chinese hostel with a FTE of 40.

There were only two real highlights to Xi'an, in my eyes. The Wall and the Muslin quarter.

Lauren and I entered the wall and hired bicycles for 100 minutes. Every minute over your time allocation was a 50p (5yn) fine. Someone I met in Beijing said it took about an hour and a half to cycle the wall so we set off at a steady pace. The wall was cobbled and the bikes had no suspension. I thought back to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and my incredibly sore ass after that cycle ride. It was fun to have old style Chinese bikes, no gears and pretty poor brakes. We stopped repeatedly to enjoy the view of the wall but constantly disappointed in the modern smog filled city. Cranes towered above the skyline, building sites lined outside the wall, China is in progress!  

The wall was around 9 miles long in total. The last thirty minutes meant we had to push on a little harder. It was relaxing to be peddling around such a historic site in China, but I was finding breathing very difficult. I picked up a snotty nose on the train trip. My duvet on the train was wet, so I would wake shivering in the night (it was wet when I boarded!!). We managed to cycle fast enough to be back on 101 minutes. The cheeky guy in charge of the bikes put us down for 100 minutes which was surprising. The we got our 20 quid deposit back!

The other highlight of Xi'an was the food in the Muslim Quarter. The Muslim quarter is the place for delicious street served food in Xi'an. You wander down the street following your nose. Common dishes are Majiang liangpi (cold noodles in sesame sauce), fenz hengrou (chopped mutton fried in a wok with groud wheat) and best of all yangrou paomo (a soup that involves crumbing a flat loaf of bread into a bowl and adding noodles, mutton and broth. Lauren and I entered once place and were unaware we ordered then found a seat. We found no seats downstairs, nor upstairs but were then motioned into a small bedroom size room with two other tables and no food in sight. It's normally easy to point and say 'that one' please (Andy style if you wish, LB) but we couldn't. We didn't know they only served one dish and it took a giggling teenager to come over and ask what we want, even though there was no choice. Other members of the crew came in with cell phone cameras and continued the giggling. Eventually, we paid, waited and finally enjoyed the delicious yangrou paomo. Another time we had goat on a stick and the picture you see with Lauren was some soup, a meat style pancake and spicy jelly cubes, The cubes looked like potatoes outside but who knows what it was but it was delicious and so far (touch wood) everything has been welcomed by the ginger stomach! It is also just fun to walk down the street, duck into side alleys and see what is on sale.

We ventured outside of Xi'an for the other two days I was there. Firstly, we headed north to Hua Shan, one of Taoism's five sacred mountains and granite domes of Hua Shan used to be home to hermit and sages. These days, the trails that wind up the mountain are occupied by day trippers seeking the sights from the peak. We left Xi'an at 8am and arrived at the entrance by 1030am. We only had till 5pm to catch the last bus back to Xi'an, so the clock was ticking! Then the shock of being charged 150 yen, that's 15 quid British, 24 US! All we were doing was climbing a mountain! I wasn't going to pay that much. As usual, the lonely planet is out of date and suggested 100 yen. Lauren asked if I had my driving licence on me, I did. Seeing as she asked twice, I went to the counter with my bank manager face and asked for two student tickets. She looked over the pink cards a couple of times and seeing as we had already wasted 15 minutes annoying her, she gave us two student tickets at half the price of the normal ones, Well, almost half. It wasn't helped that out of picture Lauren was smerking in my ear, I kept the straight face but it was difficult. So, one point for travellers who are constantly getting screwed over.

The day was warm, the sky bright and we headed up the dreamy scenary. It is infact spectacular, knifeblade ridges and twisted pine trees clinging to ledges as you ascend. The first hour or so was walking up flat concrete, not quite the hiking we imagined. For the next two hours, it was stairs! Staircase after staircase! More stairs. Steep stairs followed by more stairs. It is not natural for our legs or our bodies to make the stair climbing motion for two continuous hours! I started to curse, slowly at first, then repeatedly. I cursed my legs, my heavy heavy legs. I cursed my knees, they ached with every lift. I cursed the steep stairs. I cursed the spitting Chinese! I cursed the mountain! We stopped every so often, but the pressure was on to not miss the last bus. We arrived in cold weather gear and it wasn't long before both of us were down to a tshirt. I don't know whether the Chinese knew, but the only distraction was seeing and playing with a few kitty cats along the way.

Some of the staircases were 70 degrees steep, not only were you using your feet, but also your hands. I was like a four legged animal crawling up staircase after staircase. It got to the point of lifting my body up two steps, stopping, bending over, breathing, cursing, standing up, two more steps, stop, breath, curse. It was mental torture as well, as in the vertical distance, you could only see more and more staircases!! Ahhh! The most interesting climb came at a 75 degree angle, sharp narrow steps that ascended into a rock and disappeared out the other side of the large rock. It was like climbing into a cave and there was no way to go back and so you plodded on, slowly. This is when I was mentally telling myself to keep moving, the top is near, you can't stop now, keep going and as the Koreans say 'fighting!!'! About twenty minutes from the top, Lauren needed to stop for food, I just needed to stop. I wasn't hungry, the thought of food was making me reach. I sucked on a bottle of Sprite and thought about the oxygen swimming around my body. I breathed in as much as I could. One thing about the mountain, at least the air was fresh, cool and contained no pollution. With stiff legs, legs that felt like concrete blocks, we ascended the final few steps before reaching the top of the north peak. The summit offered transcendent panoramas of green mountains and countryside stretching to the horizon. The worst part, hundreds of Chinese tourists who caught the ten minute cable car and populated the mountain peak. There were other peaks but time was not on our side. We were unsure how long it take to descend so we stopped for a little while then made the trip down the other side, the soldiers path, We felt good. We felt relieved and we had both defeated the mountain, sorry, the staircase!

The climb down was only an hour. I got back my cheeky spirit and some energy. The path down led to the cable car entrance and a mini bus that drove you 7kms to where the Xi'an bus would take you away. Some parts of the climb down were 90 degrees, but whenever these sections turned up, there were two paths to chose from. It was amazing seeing local people climb up with a log on their back with large containers on either end. I struggled carrying the gingerman up to the top, let alone two barrels! We got back into Xi'an around 6pm, ate like kings and went to bed early. It's at times like these when I wished for a jacuzzi, a hot bath, and a leg massage. I got neither  but we did have a beer.

The last day in Xi'an, before our overnight train to Chengdu, was spent at the Army of the Terracotta Warriors.The bus was an hour to get there and our student card trick worked again. A guy from New Zealand joined us as well. This is one of the most famous archaeological finds in the world. This subterranean life-sized army of thousands has silently stood guard over the soul of China's first unifier for over two millennia. It was discovered in 1974 when peasants were digging a well and uncovered a vault that housed thousands of the warriors and horses in battle formation. One of the famous features of the site is that not two faces are alike. Each soldier has a unique face.

We started with the cinema to gain a little history into why they were created. An emperor (Qin Shi Huang) at the age of 13 ordered the building of the site so that he was guarded in the afterlife. One of the largest masoleums every constructed. He died before it was fully finished. When finished, the majority of the warriors and horses were broken. Either through tombs collapsing, but more likely, were damaged by vandals at the time who did not agree with the emperor. At the site, we discover that only one warrior was found intact. All the others have been slowly rebuilt with patience and skilled Chinese jigsaw champions.

Start with Pit 3 and work up to Pit 1. Pit 3 contained 72 warriors and horses, believed to be army headquarters due to the number of high ranking officers unearthed. Pit 2 contains around 1300 warriors and horses and you get to examine five up close through a glass cabinet. The largest pit is Pit 1 and is the most imposing. Housed in a building the size of an aircraft hangar, it is believed to contain 6000 warriors (only 2000 on display) and horses, all facing east and ready for battle.

The site was breathtaking and definitely worth a visit.

The last hour in Xi'an involved some tasty Muslim food near the train station and then boarding a more comfortable hard sleeper carriage for a 16 hour journey to Chengdu.

Next stop, Chengdu,
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