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This Place is Really Old

CHINA | Thursday, 14 April 2011 | Views [554] | Comments [1]

We decided to change up our mode of transportation yet again and in anticipation of some long flights ahead of us we took an overnight train from Beijing to Xi'An. It was quite slick and we actually had enough time to get a full night's sleep. When we awoke at 8am in the Xi'An train station we were relatively well rested and ready to take on a new city.

Yet again, luck was on our side and low and behold a sign with "Travis Titus" came into view as we waded through all the people outside the train station waiting to pick up their friends and family. We were whisked off to the hostel and before 9am we had our room, and were enjoying a complimentary cup of coffee with a delicious American breakfast of eggs, toast, fruit, and juice. With some food in our bellies we were ready to take on our next big feat. Getting our permits to get into Tibet. China was in a way the big ugly stepsister of our trip. It was at the end of our trip and therefore more difficult to plan and book since it was so far away, the visa process was one that we couldn't start until shortly before leaving for China, it was one of the few countries neither of us had been to, and we knew very few people who had been there either who could offer advice. So we ignored the problem until about two days before our departure from Auckland when we finally had our China visas in our hands. This is very unlike us and not at all in the style of the way we had traveled thus far, but we were both intimidated by China and all it had to offer and didn't know where to begin. A big part of that problem was going to Tibet. Another BIG unknown. Our original plan of trying to get a permit and go without a guide didn't seem to be working, so we were forced into "plan" B which could be equally unsucessful but was worth a shot. We spent the next 5+ hours working with "Betty" at our hostel to get our Tibet permits, train tickets, and a flight out of Tibet. You of course need a flight or way out to get the permit but didn't want to get that before you knew you had the permit. Quite a tricky line we had to walk but it was there way or the highway so we got our tickets, crossed our fingers, and went out to see the city that was just outside our door. It was sunny and warm and we were itching to get out and enjoy the day!

Xi'An is a city of only 4 million, so just over one-fourth the size of Beijing and much more manageable to walk around. In Beijing we had to walk 30 minutes just to get to the subway. In Xi'An we just had to walk outside our door and things were awaiting us. Our hostel was located just inside the city wall which is not like a little fence someone puts in their backyard to separate their property from their neighbors. This is a huge, tall, thick wall made of brick that is 14 km all the way around. It circles the old city area though todays city has pushed well past the gates. We walked the busy streets full of families and young folks enjoying their weekend, past the various bell and drum towers along the wall to the Muslim quarter. Immediately the smells changed from the ones we associated with Chinese food and plugged our nose for to new smells of food we might actually want to eat! We were both very excited for the change and wandered around looking at all the street food, dried fruits, breads, etc. that were being sold along the road. Long ago, Xi'An was the end of the Silk Road which may be the reason there is a Muslim congreation that has settled here.

We strolled around and splurged on a 50 cent soft serve ice cream from McDonalds to eat while sitting in a nearby park. Our view from the park included lots and lots of brightly colored flowers that were lovely as well as two McDonalds, two Starbucks, a KFC, and a Baskin Robins. Are you sure we are in China? Oh yes, there is a little boy peeing on the street through his open croch pants...Turns out the Chinese are more environmentally conscientious than we had given them credit for and don't use disposable or reusable diapers. Nope, they put their kids in pants with an open seam from the front to the back so whenever they have the need to go they can just squat and do exactly that. Perfect! It is pretty funny to walk through the streets seeing little baby butts hanging out. The idea does seem to have its virtues in that it seems that kids here are potty trained at a much younger age than back home and as mentioned before, diapers are one less thing going into their landfills. Rebecca and Jeromy, we can bring you back a pair if you would like?

Hard to beat a day in the park, but we had come to Xi'An for other reasons. People come here for one reason, the Terra Cotta Warriors, and we were not about to miss them. The next morning we boarded a bus with 12 others from our hostel and our Chinese tour guide Jah Jah. Words don't quite describe our day both in terms of the warriors and our lovely guide, but it was well worth it. Seeing 2000 year old artifacts that were just discovered 30 years ago by a farmer trying to dig a well is amazing and hard to even wrap your head around. The history here is so old and just being uncovered it is interesting to think what they will unearth next. The Terra Cotta Army, 8000 Warriors strong, was built by an emporor so that he would be protected when he died. This along with his 3,000 concubines would keep him happy and safe. And just for extra measure he also had a "river of mercury" surrounding his body. Just in case, you know.

The warriors were each made by hand by an army of hundreds of thousands of laborers. Each face was unique though since it was the face of the artists who made it. No detail was overlooked. You could look at the type of shoes the warrior was wearing and know what class they were in, the bottoms of their shoes would tell you if they were married or not, and the type of armor they wore as well as their top knots could tell you their position in the army. Only one of the 8,000 wariors, a knealing archer, was found intact. All of the others that have been restored were put back together from various pieces found at the site. They think it will probably take at least another 100 years of work to assemble the rest of the army.

After a full day of taking in the warriors and trying to grasp the idea that we spent the day among 2000 year old artifacts, we got to enjoy Jah Jah serenade us with Chinese lulabies on our ride back. Fortunately our names are too hard to remember so she picked on Tom, another person in our group, to sing English songs to us all. She may have been half the size of Travis, but boy was she a little firecracker so Tom had little choice but to oblige. It was a memorable day and Jah Jah will probably be what we remember most from that day rather than the Warriors. Sad but true.

Having accomplished our most important goal in the city we decided to stretch our legs and head up onto the wall for a better view of the city. Unfortunately the city was yet again in a cloud of smog, but it was apparent that the outside had the new ugly modern buildings and the inside of the wall was full of old traditional buildings. A stark contrast, but it made for excellent sightseeing as we biked along the cobblestone wall on our rented tandem bike. Every once in a while we would pull over and see a flattenend lot getting ready for construction on the outside, and a beautiful park on the inside. Quite the contrast.

Having seen all of the nice parks from above, we went in search of them on foot. Along the wall there is a nice walking park/path that has beautiful blooming trees, people strolling, and lots of others doing their tai chi and aerobics. There are simple but functional machines scattered along the path that can be used for "exercise" (a "treadmill" that is basically a bunch of rolling pins attached together) and stretching machines that seemed much more popular. We had a good time entertaining ourselves with the "guess what this machine is supposed to do" game before we found the real gold. Ping pong tables! Travis was just about as excited as a little kid on Christmas morning and apparently others must have noticed his delight as well because sure enough within a few seconds a paddle was in his hands and he was rallying with a woman who seemed to be quite good. Turns out everyone here is quite good at ping pong and they all took turns schooling Travis with their finess and rediculous spin. To say Travis's ping pong game was humbled is an understatement. These people are good! It seemed to be a social event but also something they took very seriously. They brought their own nets, paddles, balls, and workout towels of course. After a few hours we walked away with our tails between our legs having had a good laugh at oursleves and provided a great deal of entertainment to anyone who walked by.

We sat in the sun on the porch of our hostel soaking up the last of our sunshine before heading off tomorrow morning at 5:30 for the train to Tibet where we will spend the next 36 hours before arriving in a much cooler and less oxygenated environment. Hello altitude training!

T&V

p.s. Sorry for all of the awful spelling in our recent blogs. Neither of us are very gifted in that regard and there is no spell check. We also normally attach a map but it is all in Chinese characters and won't do you a whole lot of good.  Look it up if you are one of these people.

Comments

1

Funny that you should mention the diaper issue...I just ordered a set of cloth diapers from China yesterday and wondered if you guys would beat them back to the U.S. or not. We'll see how they are; the whole situation seemed a little sketchy, but they were highly recommended in the class we took.

The warriors sound amazing...can't wait to see pictures!

Rebecca

  Rebecca Apr 15, 2011 2:27 AM

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