Made in China

Trip Start Jul 16, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of China  , Shaanxi,
Monday, October 15, 2012

Our departure from Beijing was one of the most chaotic moments of our stay in Beijing, we arrived at the station and immediately got caught up in the flow of people going into the station. We found our train on the board and were immediately infuriated with the design of the station that all the food outlets were upstairs with not a lift or escalator in sight, grrr!  So we lugged our bags upstairs and had some dinner ready for our first long distance Chinese train journey.  Beijing to Xi'an, the home to the Terracotta Warriors.  We were looking forward to this journey as we had managed to book a luxury sleeper cabin which meant just two beds in the room, when we got in we realised it was even better as we had our own private bathroom with a western toilet and an armchair, pimp!  Sadly this was the shortest of all our sleeper trains around China and the next morning we were awake and on the platform in Xi’an.  My knowledge of Xi’an is that this is the place to come to see the terracotta warriors, my knowledge of the Terrcotta Warriors is that a farmer found them whilst digging a well in a field in the 70’s, so I expected this to be a sleepy farming town with a few hotels and hostels.  Oh how wrong I was.  This is yet another smoggy metropolis with crazy traffic and sky scrapers as far as the eye can see (which is not very far because of the smog).

We had not paid very much attention when we were booking our accommodation around china, we pretty much used to make sure it was near a train station or subway and made sure that it had reasonably good reviews. How we managed to strike gold and find this hostel in Xi’an is anyone’s guess.  It is one of the top 10 YHA hostels worldwide in that it is created from an original Hutong.  The walkways through to the rooms were the traditional round arches and there were little courtyards outside each block of rooms.  What made this even better was that the room was really modern with our own bathroom and for me the best part of all, the hostel had a family of cats!  These cats were adorable, a big ginger tom cat, a little white lady cat and a cute little ginger kitten.  I tried to lure them to our room but they were not having it but they did eat pretty much all of my breakfast, lunch and dinner whilst we were staying there.

Our first afternoon we decided to head into the town to explore to see what Xi’an had to offer, like Beijing our first stop was the Bell and Drum Towers.  These were quite cool and offered reasonable views of the city, although the fog/smog somewhat limited what we could see.  We arrived at the Bell Tower just in time to see the show, and after the Drum show in Beijing we were quite excited.  We needn’t have ben excited, there was not a real bell in sight it was just a small Chinese orchestra and a woman in her pyjamas spinning a napkin, brilliant.  From the Drum Tower we could see a cool looking street full of stalls so decided to go and investigate.  This street was really cool, full of the usual trinkets and as we got further through we hit a street lined with food stalls, then butchers with huge carcasses hung outside.  The further we walked the stalls seemed to dwindle but kept walking taking in the sights and the sounds assuming that eventually we would come out on a main road.  After being lost in the ghetto maze for a good two hours we finally found a road, oh joy.

As a side note, as I am writing this we are sat in Yangshuo and it is 6pm here.  There was a terrible screeching outside so I just had a look out the window to see what was happening and seemingly the neighbouring family are having chicken for dinner, mental note to self - do not investigate strange noises in China!

Now that we are hardened travellers we opted not to take a tour to the Terracotta Warriors but to get the public bus and DIY it.  With our trusty notes from the Lonely Planet forums we found ourselves at the bus station with people, buses and bikes left, right and centre.  We pushed through, literally, and found ourselves on the number 306 bus with 50 other Chinese people.  90 minutes later the bus comes to a stop and we follow the crowds and find ourselves at the entrance, yay we made it.  One slight error we made before making this journey was that we forget to go to a cash machine, so having paid for our tickets and audio guides we had exactly the bus fare home and that was it, no snacks or drinks for us then!  We got into the complex and for some reason following the crowds let us down as we ended up lost in the museum for a good thirty minutes wondering where the heck the warriors were.  There are three pits of warriors, number one being the best and luckily when we eventually found them we had saved the best for last (totally unintentionally).  The first couple of pits were cool and had a few warriors and horses, all with the odd arm or head missing but you got the general idea, and then we arrived at Pit 1.  It is every bit as amazing as you imagine it from the pictures.  Just row after row of warriors and horses stood facing you.  Despite the fact that the museum has been open to visitors since the early 80’s they are still excavating the pits and finding more warriors and horses.  What neither Tim or I realised was that all the warriors are smashed to pieces in the ground and every one of them has been painstakingly dug up and glued back together.  It is no wonder they are still going 30 years on.  Some of the best parts of the pit were the warriors and horses that are partially rebuilt and lined up drying, and also the parts that had been dug up and pieced back together ready to be assembled.

The Terracotta Warriors represent only a small portion of the eight thousand strong underground army buried in front of the Emperor Qinshihuang's tomb, which were there to protect him in the afterlife.  Each warrior is said to have his own individual hair or facial expression and would originally have been fully painted.  How they have survived in any state is something of a miracle, but the workers that rebuild them are like magicians, give me an impossipuzzle any day over a box of broken terracotta warrior.

As we were leaving the terracotta Warriors we walked through the shop, where coincidentally you can buy full size replicas of the warriors and horses for your garden?! We found the man who discovered the warriors in the 70’s.  He now sits in the shop signing books and you can pay to have a photo with him.  It was pretty funny to see him just sat behind a big desk smoking a fag waiting for the next tourist to come along.

Whilst we were in Beijing Tim discovered China’s version of X-Factor which seemed to involve a lot of Chinese Opera and people in crazy costumes so we decided to check out the Tang Dynasty Show in Xi’an.  I was also hoping that this music might stop Tim singing his own Chinese opera song of " Nee-How Nee-How, How do you know brown cow"!!  We bought the cheap tickets, but our hostel was amazing and not only paid for the taxi to the show they escorted us there!  We arrived once everyone had finished their dumpling dinner and we were sat at a table with a lovely retired couple (Sandra & Pelwyn) from New Zealand.  The show was brilliant, singing, dancing, musical instruments, lots of crazy outfits and some really long sleeves. We enjoyed every minute and were so pleased that we went.  To top it off Sandra and Pelwyn gave us there address and offered us a bed in Wanganui, New Zealand if we happen to be passing, so nice!

The weather in Xi’an really took a turn for the worse when we were there, cold, drizzly and generally not very nice for exploring.  Luckily the terracotta warriors were the only thing we really wanted to see so we passed up on the Big Goose Pagoda in favour of lazing in our hostel making the most of the heat from the air-con unit and tv with an English movie channel in our room. Lotus Macau is amazing, non-stop movie blockbusters, Rocky, Mission Impossible, Harry Potter, Independence Day, Water World and Braveheart to name but a few, definitely an improvement on Chinese Opera X Factor. All we really needed was a take-away and we could have been at home on a cold Sunday afternoon.

My plan to stop Tim singing was unsuccessful and he added a new song to the repertoire… “Terracotta Warriors – Living underground, Terracotta Warriors – Waiting to be found”!!

Our final day in Xi’an and we set off to explore the city walls, I forgot to mention that Xi’an has the oldest and best preserved city walls in China.  Factoid alert….  The wall is 12 meters tall, 12-14 meters wide at the top and 15-18 meters thick at the bottom. It covers 13.7 kilometers in length.  It really was quite something and was very nice to look down on the hustle and bustle of the city from the tranquility up on the walls.

Our train from Xi’an to Chengdu was going to be our worst yet, a hard sleeper for 16 hours.  The bunks are top, middle and bottom in sets of 6 in a completely open carriage.  Once in the station we eventually found our platform upstairs and we seemed to be the only westerners getting in the train, brilliant.  After the usual pushing and shoving and fighting to get to the train we made it onto the carriage and it was just as bad as we anticipated.  We had a top and middle bunk so could hide away from the madness below (that is if we could get up the ladder to our beds).  My top bunk was exactly like sleeping in a luggage shelf, with about half a meter of space there was no way to do anything except lie down, thank god we had some TV to watch on our iPhones as our fellow travellers just sat up playing cards in the bottom bunks till the lights went out.  Despite having to sleep with our day packs under our pillow leaving very little room to lie flat we had a surprisingly comfortable night with just a few passengers smoking and spitting throughout the journey.  Thankfully the next morning our carriage emptied before our stop so we moved down to the bottom bunks and managed to stretch our poor little bodies before we arrived in Chengdu, or as I like to call it Panda Country!

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