Going Potty in Xi'an

Trip Start May 30, 2005
Trip End Sep 30, 2006

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Flag of China  ,
Tuesday, July 5, 2005

We arrived at some ungoldly hour of the morning at Xian Train Station. Why can't these Chinese organise trains so that they arrive at civil hours of the day, such as 10AM. Perhaps the staff could come around in the morning and wake you up with a nice cup of tea as well.

Xi'an gets a bad deal from many people that I've talked to, they say that the best way is to arrive on a night train, see the Terracotta Army and then get back onto a night train in the evening and go somewhere nice. I have to say that I disagree with that sentiment and I think that Xi'an has more to offer than that.

Firstly I'd talk about the Bell Tower in the center of town where you can pay 5 Yuan to get three bangs on the bell. Or as in our case pay 5 Yuan and get a bang each, milking it for all it's worth taking pictures of each of us with the banger ready to strike. You also get a great view of Xian from up there, the impressive south gate and the rather similar Drum Tower.

The Drum Tower would have been fantastic if it wasn't for the fact that we'd already visited the Bell Tower. Rather unsurprisingly there was only one major difference between these towers (can you guess what it is?). At least the big drum was free, sadly it wasn't very loud and nobody in the streets below would be able to hear the daft tourists up above thinking that they had some sort of Rhythm. You also got a nice view of the Bell Tower from here!

The Drum Tower also overlooked the old Islamic section of town. We went in looking for mosques and minirets, however we found markets, beggars and crowds. The market was actually pretty good with almost anything that you'd possibilly need on sale here. I was so fed up with getting lost in Chinese cities that I decided that I needed a compass (There just isn't the same point of reference - street names - that you find in other cities), and true enough I found exactly what I was looking for.

Early on in our stay in Xi'an we decided to try and get our tickets organised to leave (following the advice of others). My Goodness, what a hassle that was! We'd had it easy in Beijing thanks to the special area for foreigners to buy their tickets, Xi'an had no such service (despite the lying Lonely Planet saying that it did exist). The ticket office was a large area with about 30 windows, in front of each window there was a queue of about 30 deep, that gives you a room with about 900 people all trying to buy tickets, and they have the huge advantage that they all speak Mandarin! They did have an information desk with an old geezer behind it that didn't speak a word of english so all we could say was "Chengdu Chengdu" and he pointed us to the correct window. Even then it wasn't too easy to finish off the process and we wanted a cabin we could share, but due to some confusion with regards to top or bottom bunks we ended up with tickets for two different cabin. We didn't really care, we had tickets out and we were happy.

On our first evening in Xi'an we were hangind around the area between the Bell and Drum Towers, as there was a little park there with loads of nice lights and heaps of locals hanging around. There was a little concrete plinth there where loads of kids were messing around and doing all sorts of gymnastic type stuff. I'm sure that this plinth has seen its fair share of split heads and broken arms during its time, but I guess it's just the Chinese way of doing things. We watched them for a while as they were all really good at it. I thought that they may like to see my party piece so I pulled out my lonely planet (A good thick edition) and climbed onto the plinth. As soon as the locals say me up there a crowd started forming immediately. I put the book on the concrete and did a head stand for them all. They loved it. All the kids stopped what they were doing, loads of adults stood around the edges watching, and them some teenage kids came up in order to do a headstand as well. After I climbs back down the kids tried to do a headstand as well, but to be honest without a bit of padding its a bit of a lost cause, the pain, the pain.

Now the real reason to come to Xi'an is to visit the Terracotta warriors there. These were built to decorate the tomb of the ancient Chinese Emporer Qin Shi Huang around 2200 years ago. He had been a very successful (read bloodthirsty and bellicose) emporer that had united all of China. These warriors were built over many years, when he finally popped his clogs his tomb was decorated as he'd desired. Unfortunetly for him there was a bit of a peasant uprising a couple of years after he died. They broke into his burial site and ransaked the place smashing up the warriors and horses. Somehow the site was then left alone and forgotten about, fast forward over 2000 years to 1974 when some farmer stumbled across a piece of one of the warriors while digging a well and the rest is history. I find it amazing that the site actually survived as it was discovered while the Cultural Revolution was still taking place. And perhaps an archecologist can explain this, how do site such as these get forgotten and buiried by a ton of earth? Send me an email - I want to know.

We decided to get there under our own steam rather than take a tour from the hostel. It was so easy, just get to the train station and take the 306 for 5 Yuan. Beware of the touts that run a shadow 306 service for 35 Yuan - we were almost scuppered by that one. When the bus arrives - push. Don't queue, wait, or be polite. Sharpen your elbows, take care of your wallet and camera and get stuck in there, otherwise you aint going nowhere. The bus terminates at the site so no need to worry about missing your stop. The site itself if really nice and peaceful, once you've pushed your way past the market stalls that are crowded around the entrance. I'd also say that the short film in the 360 degree cinema is well worth a look before you look at the warriors as it gives you a really great insite as to why they're there. I'd even admit that their presentation was better than the description that I've given here!

We started in Pit 1, which is the main large pit. The sheer size of the place is imposing when you arrive. There are rows and rows of warriors waiting to go to war, facing you. Walking down the side of the pit gives you a chance to get a bit more up close and personal with some of them. The detail really is fantastic. We visited Pit 3 next which is a small Command pit, the warriors here are particularly well preserved, but the pit is so deep it's really hard to get a good look at them. I was a bit disappointed by these ones. Lastly we visited pit 2, about half the size of pit 1 but it had nothing to see! They were still exscavating this one. The authorities obviously realised that they needed to put on a bit of a show here so we'd not leave disappointed, to this end they had about 5 warriors in glass cages along one edge of the pit. Now this was really a superb chance to get that special photo that you'd alway wanted - so long as you didn't mind millions of Chinese in the background of it. Overall i'd say that I enjoyed the warriors but I certainally wouldn't rave about it, if you're passing through China then it's a must, but no more than that.

So go out and tell all your friends that Xi'an really isn't as bad as you may have heard, give it a go and don't take it on face value.

Next we're off to Chengdu, land of the GIANT Pandas.
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