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Excerpt from the Journal of Olds – Day 47 – Xi’an

It’s well known to those who know it well that this time last week we’d spent the afternoon in Beijing’s Summer Palace and in the evening finally found Peking Duck. Monday and Tuesday were spent relaxing – something we really needed to do after the surge we’d forced ourselves to embark upon to cover Beijing’s highlights. I transcribed my previous rag-tag journal into website articles while Fi took on the task of planning our immediate future in China and cribbing info from the latest Lonely Planet on the places we were most likely to hit going forward.

Tuesday evening we boarded a sleeper train [hard sleeper class] and discovered what life was like for hand luggage. We reached Pingyao and were well looked after by the incredible Bob at his hotel within China’s foremost example of a traditional walled city. The place itself was the attraction and we trotted around it a couple of times during our brief stay. On Thursday night we boarded another hard sleeper train after my last reflective / ranty journal entry. Here we’ll pick up the tale in more detail.

We reached our rack [or cabin, take your pick] and the other residents were already pretty much settled to sleep. We were in the upper eves this time with little over 2 foot between bed and ceiling. We were, however, pleasantly surprised to find space for our luggage so after 5 minutes of shuffling and rustling [Fi’s expertise here is second to none] we were in and feeling that things looked good for the night despite the cramped conditions!

Cue Kim Jong-Un [sorry but he was the spitting image]. Man could this guy snore. If there was an Olympic Event it’d be a one horse race. And this wasn’t just loud inhalations – this was disgusting guttural phlegm-shuffling that made you feel sick. Rarely have I felt like laying into someone quite so much.

No sleep later we grumbled off the train into the early morning air of Xi’an [pronounced “she-anne”]. After a little waiting our hostel arrived to pick us up – a lovely girl called Beebrie [excuse the spelling] who was working at the hostel on a placement while studying [and clearly excelling at] English.

The place was incredible. I can’t think of a hotel I’ve stayed in that impressed me more as a venue. It’s a youth hostel association place [YHA] and there seemed to be more staff there than I’ve ever seen at a hostel, all earnestly trying to ensure that you were comfortable and had anything you needed.

Once again, despite arriving at around 7:30 am, we were booked straight into our room at no extra cost. A lovely huge room with an equally huge wet-room style en-suite for roughly £16 a night. Despite a very real desire to crawl under the covers and sleep the day away we forced ourselves to clean up and get our next few days organised. Breakfast was first on the agenda and boy did they have a treat lined up – Full English! For the first time on our travels we indulged in it and it was really well done – not too greasy and only missing mushrooms [oh, and black pudding if you’re into that]. Baked beans!

Afterward I set out to test the Wi-Fi while Fi once again made all the real effort seeing what the best options were for the Terracotta Warriors and onward travel.

With a plan in place we set out to pick up train tickets and visit the Muslim Quarter. After a little searching we found a nondescript window at the side of a bank that served as a ticket office and scored soft-sleeper tickets for the journey to Chengdu. I sit here scribbling these notes in our relatively spacious clean four-person cabin that we’re sharing with two amiable Chinese chaps who speak as little English as we do Chinese. If one of them starts snoring I will not be held accountable for my actions.

Returning to Xi’an – pleased with our effective planning we trotted off to see the markets of the Muslim quarter with me secretly harbouring hope of a fine kebab for lunch. We wandered through watching people go about their business and seeing all manner of sights. After a couple of turns we found ourselves on a street where the hustle and bustle had reached breaking point – the road had effectively jammed up for vehicle, pedestrian and small animal alike. We patiently observed and squeezed through here and there for a while until eventually a young Turkish fella clocked me and we had bit of a cross-the-street laugh about the ridiculousness of the Chinese approach to getting anywhere [push, squeeze, rush, force, must-get-there-before-anyone-else-and-with-no-regard-for-anyone-else].

A gap appeared and he called us over to follow him out. Outside the madness he introduced himself as Mekremy [again, apologies for the spelling]. He and his friend were over studying Chinese and had been in town for two months. They knew the place far better than we did so when we said we were looking for a bite to eat they shepherded us back through the chaos to the place they ate regularly where, after he’d ordered for us and set off on his way, we enjoyed a tasty authentic meal.

Interestingly the place we were in was the darkest cafe we’d ever seen which we were a bit wierded-out by until half-way through the meal when the power came back on. It proved a fortuitous encounter with a pair of thoroughly kind Turkish gents.

We mooched our way back to the hostel, stopping only to assist a young girl who looked to have fainted. The fella she was with looked to be struggling and a bit shell-shocked but nobody else seemed interested in helping so we just got her to a bench and went on our way.

We took a brief snooze and then hit the lobby for a stab at making traditional Chinese dumplings. It was great fun and the chefs and staff were very patient while we produced our terrible attempts. The bonus was that we got to eat our creations afterward which proved ample for tea. We rolled into the hostel bar for a bit of pool while at the same time hijacking the bar playlist and treating ourselves to a lesser spotted Kronenbourg 1664.

As the evening progressed we met a Canadian chap working as a teacher in Xi’an. We was an awesome fella and he introduced us to his friends who’d all been in and around Xi’an for some time. We spent hours putting the world to rights and discovering a lot about the differences in Chinese culture and the challenges faced by those to come here to work and live.

The gents took us under their wing and before long we were wandering the streets at 2am in search of a club. We found a wild one where a friend of theirs was DJ’ing and met another group who again greeted us with open arms and started pouring us drinks from their carafe. It was only after several of these that I realised I’d been on Whisky and Iced Tea. Over the course of the rest of the night I met the DJ, got upgraded to Foreign VIP and received a card for 2 free drinks every day of the year. I also did the obligatory poor dancing, watched some brutal rigged drinking games between bartenders and patrons, and generally looked like I’d been dragged through a bush backwards.

Realising we’d booked ourselves in for a 9:20am start to see the Terracotta Warriors [albeit realising this at 4am] we said our goodbyes and returned to the hostel – via the golden arches of salvation – and hit the sack.

Oh how I suffered for that Whisky.

We made the tour and met Marshall [an Engineer by trade teaching in Malaysia] and Kristine [IT Project Manager heading up a Beijing expansion for her employer] both in town for the weekend. They were great company and the tour itself proved interesting even with the headache from hell.

The Warriors date back to the Qin dynasty and were commissioned by the first Qin Emperor who was a nasty bloke that no-one liked very much. Despite prevailing public opinion he succeeded in unifying China’s previously disparate kingdoms into one feudal society. His reign was also responsible for knocking out one of the most significant efforts of the Great Wall. Apparently the disparate kingdoms had all had separate dabbles at walling up their own areas but when ol’ Qin Shi Huang united them all [or rather conquered them all] he had dividing sections ripped down and linked up the remaining northern portions.

Evidently a big believer in forward planning the Emperor kicked off the building of his tomb at 13 years old, and it was completed 37 years later – a mere 10 years after he died ironically from slow poisoning of the medicine he was taking to ensure his longevity. From what I could gather, as well as an 8000 strong army of Terracotta Warriors he also had all his concubines, scholars and no doubt a whole heap of other people buried alive to accompany him into the afterlife. What a nice fellow.

The warriors themselves occupy 3 separate tombs – all some distance from the tomb of the Emperor. Tomb 1 contains a force of 6000 – the main army – capable of handling most afterlife incursions. Should a more significant threat of after-death death be posed then the 2000 or so in tomb 3 can ride in on their horses and chariots and really go to town. Tomb 2 housed 68 more high ranking generals – the war cabinet for no doubt organising a more pro-active approach to standing still in the face of danger.

Tomb 1 is the major sight here – most of it is excavated and it’s certainly a sight to behold. Restoration work continues with warriors pieced back together one fragment at a time. Tomb 3 remains largely unexcavated. This is because they’re reluctant to continue excavation as – unbeknownst to me prior to the visit – each warrior was fully painted when originally crafted. When excavated the paint fades rapidly and the technology to prevent this is as-yet unavailable.

The detail of the warriors was pretty impressive with each one’s facial features different and their expressions or direction of their line of sight slightly altered to make them unique.

One final fast fact – there are only 4 different types of warrior, easily identifiable by their hair/head dress – Archer [hair knot to the left], Soldier [hair knot to the right], Officer [flat head dress] and General [more ornate head dress].

We were roped into a buffet lunch which was frankly terrible and not what a hungover Olds needed at all. Afterwards my body decided I had to brave a public toilet – and believe me when I say that this is a case of bravery – and I barely lived through it. The rest of the day was spent attempting to recover – a feat that was only achieved after Paracetamol, Ibuprofen and a mighty Spaghetti Bolognese.

My name is Olds and I’ve been sober for 2 days. That’s gotta be a record right?