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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Biejing to Xi'an

CHINA | Friday, 25 July 2008 | Views [1225]

Tue 22nd Jul - Headed off for Beijing West train station on bus 823 early, as it takes a while through the traffic and wanted to get something to eat at the station. Bus stops right outside, so couldn't be easier. It is an enormous place but easy to navigate. The entrance is straight forward enough, once you have waded through the sea of bodies crashed out on the floor outside of the building. Baggage scanners on arrival and then follow the electronic display board for your platfom at the top of the escalators. I'm on T43 leaving at 9:36 carriage 10, bed 3, upper. As usual, the 'upper' bit is in chinese so you just have to know what you've booked.

Got talking to a canadian couple in the waiting room  who were on honeymoon. She was chinese and it was the first time he had met his in-laws. Long way to come for an inspection!

Fairly easy boarding without too much anarchy as the throng tried to push through after they let us board. This train seems slightly newer than the last one I was on. Mellow female announcer with no english this time. Had picked up a noodle pot meal at the station for 5 Yuan and a load of fruit. So cheap compared to railway station food in some countries. All carriages are equipped with hot water dispensers to make your own tea and food. Plus there are regular trolleys coming around.

So, while I have some time. What did I think of Beijing?....

Considering the timing of my visit, I expected it to be a bit crazy, but it has been better than expected. This is one massive city with nearly 12 million people to accommodate, and that excludes the tourists. Everything is on a big scale...wide dramatic boulevards (Dajie)....a complex but extensive bus network (max 2 Yuan), and a developing metro network that must rate as one of the world's cheapest at 2 Yuan to go almost anywhere. Taxidriver must be the most common job here - at times there seems to be one each for everyone!  As a military state, the omnipresent police are in control everywhere, but it doesn't have any adverse effect. You certainly don't see any trouble on th streets.

The people I came across were all inquisitive of westerners, but accepting and friendly, and willing to help. Olympic fever is gone on overdrive...an undisclosed amount of money has been spent by the government on building the infrastructure and employing the vast number of people to manage it. What will happen to this infrastructure and those people after it is all over is my major concern. It is like the cean-up operation after the party of all time, when the guests have gone home. Who knows? Merchandising is paramount and the beijing people are buying it as the fashion to be seen in. Toys for the kids seem to be selling like hotcakes.

It isn't a glitzy city like Shanghai. Mainly I guess as the latter does have the advantage of a pretty cool waterfont location.

Hardly a vestige of old china outside of the Hutongs, and even there they all seem to dress western. I wore a chinese shirt one evening that I would feel more comfortable wearing outside China than within. I'm sure they thought I was eccentric wearing a chinese shirt in China!

Overall, for someone who isn't a fan of big cities, this one does have many attractions and has been interesting. Will be nice though to get somewhere smaller....not sure if xi'an will be small enough. Will see.....

Wed 23rd Jul - Train was due to arrive in Xi'an at 8am, but didn't make it until 9am. A pick-up was waiting for me and we only had a 10 minute walk from the station to the QiXian (7 sages) hostel. Set in a courtyard environment adjacent to the 8th Route Army Office, it has a nice feel to it and plenty of friendly people around. I got a shared en-suite dorm for 60 Yuan per night.

A cosy bar area and free internet and wifi too.

The location is within the old walled city. The walls were built in 1370 during the Ming dynasty (12m high and upto 18m thick), are one of the few in China that remains totally intact. As normal, no sooner do you arrive but the task of what to do, when to leave, where to go next and how to get there. Booked myself onto a trip tomorrow that includes the infamous 'Terracotta Warriors', more on that tomorrow. Also went through some travel options and ended up having to change my plans again. Now going to Chongqing on 25th July and then board a ferry to cruise down the Yangtse river and Three Gorges Dam to Yichang. Originally wanted to go the other direction, but would apparently pass through the important sections in the dark...now that would be a waste of time wouldn't it! Organised a train down to Chongqing, so all sorted hopefully. As Yichang is a sort of non-entity of a place to stay, on arrival there, I will have to catch a 3hour bus to Wuhan and stay for a day or so.

The day is moving on so off to catch bus 610 down to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. There is also a little goose pagoda, but not going to bother with that one. The bus takes a route passing through the centre of town, past the focal point of the center, the 'Drum and Bell Tower'.

Having spent about 40 minutes getting there, the pagoda is prominent but I am a bit templed out after Beijing and just explored the peripheral areas. To be honest, I think it has been ruined by vendors and gimmicky stuff, which are just too excessive for the situation. What is nice though, are the many brass sculptures scattered throughout the grounds.

Decided to jump on a random bus and see where It went...completely opposite direction to the center of town. Ended up near to the convention centre and a rather ugly transmission mast that looks like it should be ripped down. Walked for a while but had no idea where I was as it was off my map. Fortunately, I spotted a local with a map so took a look to get my bearings. Seemed to be going for ages with no sign of a bus. Stopped a taxi who refused to take me to my hostel, so told him to get stuffed....which he couldn't understand of course...and walked on. Eventually the first bus I had seen in a while passed, so I waved him down. He wasn't going my way but took me somewhere to get the right bus, which was nice of him. Just oes to show the problem with taking random buses in China. All part of the learning curve. Aimed back to the hostel and crashed out for a bit.

Thu 24th Jul - On a tour today which includes the famous 'Army of Terracotta Warriors'. But first a visit to the Banpo museum. A 6000 yr old village that still hasn't fully opened due to renovation. What you can see, gives a flavour of life in their mud and stick huts. Part underground, part above. Not a lot of time spent there due to the main village being closed. Then off to a Terracotta warrior manufacturer to see every size of warrior and horse in production, as well as their opportunity to pass you through a massive craft store!

The main event of the day.....Over 2000 years old, they existed to guard over China's first unifier Qin Shi Huang in the afterlife. As China's first emperor he was a great achiever...established their first centralised government, standardised their weights and measures system, their currency and most important their writing system. He also instigated the building of over 6,400km of roads and canals. He was a fanatic control freak and apparently buried 460 people alive who critisized him! He is remembered as a tyrant who set the stage for the future forms of autocracy. So, his tyranical personality lead him to have the army of thousands of warriors contructed to protect his spirit. They were discovered by accident  in 1974 by peasants drilling a well. Arranged in battle formation with their horses, No two faces are alike! Quite a legacy I think.

Arrival at the site is a bit of an event, chinese style, as we were dropped off the far side of the 'Terracotta village' for want of a better term and provided with a superb lunch. Then onward to the warriors....a massive tourist village is in the making, full of souvenir vendors and the opportunity if you like to have your photo taken as a warrior....standing in a deadless bronze casting...very tacky...but funny.

Tickets in hand, through the first of three check gates, then a fair walk through a nice paved area to another gate with a baggage scanner. The warriors are grouped into three 'Pits', each within its own covered moisture controlled building. Pit 1 - 6,000 warriors and horses. Pit 2 - 1300 warriors and horses. Pit 3 - the army headquarters containing 72 high ranking warriors and horses. Irrespective of your expectations, it is an awesome sight. A formidable feat of human endurance in constructing such a monumental display of insecurity in the afterlife. It is no surprise that it is one of the wonders of the world.

One thing I hadn't mentioned yet, is the 'Chinglish' signs you see around China. Chinese as you know consists of separate sounding graphic characters. The make sense of english, they split the words up into separate semi-phonetics that can look amusing, and totally confusing as to what they mean.

Last stop of the tour was the Qin Shi Huan Tomb. Promoted as the grandest the world had ever seen from historical accounts.....palaces filled with precious jewels...rivers of flowing mercury! Supposedly taking 38yrs to complete by a workforce of 700,000. For now it hasn't been excavated, so you get to see a mock-up. To be honest, I thought it was a bit tacky. There is one model that looks like a guy has fallen asleep with his head on the rear end of a cow...what's that all about? 

Back to the hostel and luckily my train ticket had arrived for tomorrow, so relieved. Will be on an overnight sleeper train to Chongqing. From there I am sailing down the Yangtse river for three days or so, passing through the Three Gorges Dam to Yichang and then a bus to Wuhan. A few stops along the way for some sightseeing are planned. All will be detailed in the next blog....


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