Xi’an: Terracotta Warriors and Street Food
Our last day in Chendgu happened to also be Mark’s birthday so we elected for a chill out day by having some tea and people watching in the ‘Peoples park’, situated an easy stroll from our hostel, before making our way down for what would be our first bullet train in China. 4 hours later, and some window shade wars with the people behind us wanting them down and us wanting to see the vista roll past, we were in Xi’an.
Xi’an is another large city, with 12m inhabitants, has banging street food markets, is the hub of science and research as well as the Chinese space program, is the start of the Silk Road, Capital of Shaanxi province, was capital during 13 dynasties aaaaaaand home to the Terracotta Warriors. So, as you can tell it has plenty going for it. Our first day we spent wandering around and went to the Big Goose Pagoda and Tang park, unfortunately though the charges to get in were exorbitant, so it was all a bit of a fail if anything, so to appease ourselves we set compass to the Muslim Quarter. People descend upon this area for the cheap amazing street food, skewers with huge chunks of meat, meat burgers, all of this of course is great for Mark, less so for the vegetarians among us, luckily there are fruit smoothies and fantastic sweet options available for those that way inclined. Later, a stroll along the city walls, initially built in 618-907, it has been reconditioned several times in the intervening years, it stands very imposing up close despite being oddly disguised among the Xi’an concrete jungle, it’s a lovely walk in the evenings when it cools slightly, although feel free to have the wall to yourself when it’s 35 and 90% humidity during the day.
The next day was an early rise, after some amount of consternation our hostel told us of a local bus that would save us some money, so we trotted off through the throngs of travelers at the train station and we were on our way to the Terracotta Warriors. The warriors, located about 45km from the city, date back to the Qin Dynasty, to protect the Emperor in the afterlife, probably a regrettable use of resources if you think about it, but hindsight has 20/20 vision and all that. Despite over investing in what is a somewhat glorified headstone, they are truly incredible feat of human fortitude. Dating back some 2200 years, they weren’t discovered in modern times until 1974 by some farmers digging a well, currently approx. 2000 warriors are on display in various battle formations featuring among others a cavalry and archery unit. One of the most amazing things is no 2 warriors are the same, the level of detail is incredible, and archaeologists painstakingly put the pieces back together again, perhaps Humpty Dumpty needed them more than all the kings horses and men (again a shocking use of resources). Currently, there is some talk of keeping from excavating the remains until they have the technology to get them reconditioned without tarnishing the elaborate paintwork they were buried with. No matter what you will have to battle an inordinate amount of people crammed into the hot cells to see the warriors, but it is a must!
Beijing: The Great Wall and Visa Runs
After a chill day following the warriors, not that well rested after the people in the dorm turned the lights on at their pleasure, drinking and their annoying fat son playing games on his phone we were happy to board the bullet to Beijing, along with more window shade wars, we gazed as cities gave way to countryside and back to city. One of the fascinating things we’ve noted is the levels of apartment construction are at scarcely believable levels, even as some projects appear to have been left to gather dust unfinished, there are cranes everywhere, whether required or not is debatable, but they are going all in. That evening, after grabbing a glimpse of the heavily militarised Tiananmen square, we met our Couchsurfing host Jingquan, a great guy and host. It’s compelling to get an insight into Chinese life with a local, seeing how they live is one thing, but to hear his thoughts on the country gives a deeper insight into this absorbing country, with broad late night chats that had us engrossed about his way of life.
Day one we managed to get our Mongolian visa successfully, found a place that sold Whittakers chocolate (an NZ delicacy), went to a drum tower and watched a traditional drum performance, found our way to another craft brewery for a couple of drinks, to the Olympic park and for some more street food, although not in the same league as Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter.
The next day, following Jingquan’s tips we made our way to the Mutianyu section of the Great wall. It’s a little further away than the more replenished sibling Badaling, thankfully being a little harder to get to, there are fewer people, relative to other Chinese attractions. So, after catching the 916 bus we caught a taxi with a local girl who looked like she was lost and started the trek up to the wall, eschewing the cable car, it was apparent early on that our new friend wasn’t use to our pace, but we made it up, and despite being just a restored section, it truly is a testament to human ingenuity and tenacity. As you see it snaking though the hills with sprinkled watch towers this monument to an empire past, its official length is over 8000 km, recent archaeological surveys have found tributaries for it to total over 21,000 km!!!!!! To put that in perspective the equator is around 40,000 km. The first walls are dated to around 2500 years ago, the sum of this according to Mark is apparently that “It goes to show how laughable it is calling ‘Christ the Redeemer’ a world wonder”, but mostly it’s highly impressive. We made it to the end of the tourist area, climbed out a window and went through a ‘no-tourist’ area where nature had taken over. It was nice to escape the crowds if even just for a 30 mins before battling public transport back to the big smoke, ironically not as smoky as we expected.
The next day we would be leaving for our overland journey to Mongolia, or more specifically to Ulaanbaatar, the capital. It was a truncated trip to Beijing mainly to give ourselves as much time as possible in Mongolia, to say there is plenty to do in the nation’s capital is an understatement and we’ve only scratched the surface, we’ll surely be back and hitting up Jingquan for more tips and maybe a camping trip the wall next time.
So until next time.
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