SO MANY PICTURES. I apologize ahead of time for the length of this post. :)
So this past week I had off of school for National Day. So, of course, I made the simultaneously wonderful and terrible decision to travel to 西安 (Xi1'an1). Wonderful because I saw a lot of interesting things, met a lot of cool people, took a lot of pictures, and generally had a good time. Terrible because National Week is the time of year where the entirety of China decides to relocate all at the same time. This, of course, creates hell when it comes to attempting to purchase any sort of transportation. Now, the prices for plane tickets during this time are astronomical, so trains are kind of the way to go. Unfortunately, you can't buy train tickets very far in advance. Like, they open sales 5 to 10 days in advance for most trains (10 to 20 for the nicer ones). So I had a situation where I had purchased a ticket TO 西安, had booked my hostel for three days or so... and was unable to buy a ticket back. That was quite stressful. Finally, I managed to get a seat (not a sleeper) on Saturday night (incidentally a ticket that would make me miss two days of class because China is the only country in the world that makes up holidays on the weekend). I'd like to note that this process involved no less than six separate visits to the ticket office, where it is entirely likely that the salesladies blatantly lied to me on more than one occasion. :|
In any case, I spent three and a half days in 西安. It's a beautiful city 1100km southwest of Beijing, located in 陕西 (Shaanxi) province. It's best known for being the location of the Terracotta warriors, but honestly it's got a lot of other things to see as well. There was a point in China's history when it was the capital of the country, it was the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, and honestly, it just has a lot of history, much of which is still intact. The first thing I did when I got there after checking into my hostel was to go to the city wall that surrounds the entire downtown area and rent a bike. For 20块, you can get the world's worst single-speed bike and bike around the entire city (it takes about 2 hours). And honestly it's just beautiful, and I took a really large amount of photos, most of which are not, in fact, posted here.
I like this one in particular because it's cool to see the juxtaposition of new and old in the city. I mean, the entire wall is still intact, but there are a million apartment buildings and skyscrapers popping up all around the downtown area, and many more under construction.
Also, for a tourist city, much of what you see is brand new and very shiny. There's insane amounts of shopping (Diamonds, Rolex, Louis Vuitton, etc.) and tourist attractions, and yet hidden are also really poor areas, but it's not something you'll see unless you seek it out. I think a lot of China is like that, and I've noticed it in Beijing as well when travelling along the subway.
Here was a temple near the northwest corner of the city.
In any case, the city was beautiful, and after visiting the wall, I wandered into the city and specifically towards the Muslim Quarter to search for food and more things to visit. Here's a photo of the city's Drum Tower (to match the Bell Tower as shown in the first picture of this post) which borders the Muslim Quarter. Back in the day, the people would ring the city's Bell Tower and Drum Tower to open and close the city gates respectively. It seems like a lot of the cities have them, and in fact, Beijing has them in the center of town as well (More exploring!).
And of course, I had to munch on the dish that the city is best known for: 羊肉泡沫 (Yang2rou4pao4mo2), a sort of lamb and bread soup. Basically they give you two slices of what looks like pita bread and you crumble it up into a bowl. Then they pour this delicious broth onto it, and you eat! :) Yummy.
Day 2 was naturally devoted to seeing the Terracotta warriors. I paid for the hostel's tour, mainly because it seemed convenient at the time. In retrospect, it was kind of expensive (220块), especially given that I would have otherwise paid the student price if I had ventured out on my own. HOWEVER, it was was totally worth it, mainly due to this young lady (the one who's not me, obviously):
Our tour guide, the lovely Lady Jia Jia (No actually, that is what she introduced herself as) was superb. She was super adorable with her somewhat broken, yet still understandable English and her general friendliness and humor. She declared early on in her introduction that she was, in fact, still single at 27, and then proceeded to continuously pick on/flirt with/troll one of the male tourists on our trip. She also gave me a little Terracotta warrior at the end so that was pretty sweet. I think the biggest advantage was also just steering us away from all the tourist traps that littered the Terracotta warriors area.
Now the warriors themselves were kind of amazing. In the first pit we went to (actually Pit #3, I think), they had found 2000 warriors or so, but only actually restored five (It apparently takes like a ridiculously long time to restore a warrior). The five were on display and included this kneeling archer, referred to by Lady Jia Jia as the "Magic Archer". Apparently, this was the first warrior ever found, and it was found fully intact, something which is true of only one other warrior. More than that, while many of the warriors were originally painted in bright colors, exposure to oxygen has left most of them a dull greyish-brown. The archer was also colored, but for some reason, not all of it faded away and you can still see red on parts of the back of his uniform. Our guide also went into details on how to tell rank and position, about how each of the warriors are unique, etc. It was pretty cool.
Now Pit #1 was really the big exciting finish to the day. While they found 2000 warriors in Pit #2 and only 65 or so in Pit #3, 6000 warriors have been unearthed in the first pit, and 2000 have been restored. So it's kind of a big deal. hahaha. Anyways, the one thing you can't really see in this picture is the insane amount of tourists that were also present. Trust me, there were way more than 2000.
Honestly, the biggest advantage of doing the tour through the hostel is that I managed to meet this lovely group of people. We actually went out later in the day as well to see the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and eat dinner together. I'm obviously on the left. Then to the right of me is Maribel who lives and goes to school in 十堰 (Shi2yan4), a city a little ways south of 西安. To her right are Josh, Jason, Jamey and Priscilla respectively. They all come from the same city as Maribel and Jamey and Priscilla (who are married) happen to be Maribel's teachers. Then there's Wesley, an Englishman who I dragged along onto the Terracotta tour that morning after breakfast, Tomo, who's a teacher with all of the rest of them, and Vincent, who was from France (living in Shanghai? I think?) and also on vacation. BASICALLY, these people were amazing, tons of fun, and quite literally, from everywhere. :)
Of course, the best part of this outing was that I'm pretty sure Josh and Jamey simply have... no shame and photo-bombed pretty much every Chinese person's picture-taking efforts on the square, and well, ended up taking a lot of pictures with a lot of Chinese tourists. I think the highlight was when I (and Jamey, Josh, and Priscilla) was forcibly grabbed by a gaggle of squealing, preteen girls to take a picture with them. I just... don't even know how to react to that situation. China can be a weird place.
On Day 3, Wesley and I embarked on an adventure to 华山 (hua4shan1), an apparently sacred mountain near 西安. Basically we hopped on a bus for 22块, and took a cable car (I swear to you, walking would've taken 15 hours) to the top of this beautiful mountain. There was still a lot of hiking to be done at the top as well! We wandered around a bit, took some pictures, and generally enjoyed the scenery. I wish I would have like a full 12+ hours to hike this place, maybe stay at the hotel up top, but unfortunately we were limited by the last bus back to the city, which was at 5pm. Totally a wonderful experience though.
One of the cool things, in my opinion though, was that because the mountain is sacred, the entire top of the mountain is littered with gold inscribed locks and red ribbons. Apparently, there's some sort of tradition/superstition involved with this practice, and you can make a wish this way. You can see some of these locks and ribbons in the background of this photo of me and Wesley.
Day 3, my last day, was mainly a day of relaxation (Man, does being tourist-y make me tired), but in the morning I went with a newly made Chinese friend to 陕西博物馆 (Shaanxi Museum). Basically, in comparison to the Beijing Capital Museum especially, it was amazing. They had an English audio tour guide, which was helpful, but even so, they had a lot of descriptions in both English and Chinese. The exhibits were awesome. They basically tracked the entire history of China from many thousands of years BC throughout all of the dynasties. This post is already getting really long, but I'll end it with this beautiful image. Haha. I absolutely adore all the demons and monsters from Chinese mythology. They're kind of awesome.
Oh yes, and I'll probably post the full album from the trip on Facebook and Google+! :)
hearts and stars,