Cruised into Xi’an on the high speed bullet train, bit better than northern rail, it was on time and travelled at 300km/h! First impressions of Xi’an are very grey, the sun can’t break through the thick polluted air so the whole city looks like it’s covered in fog. Despite the minging air and people spitting ALL the time and the fact that children can do their business where they please (right in the pavement in front of us at one point) the streets are surprisingly clean. Every street seems to have its own cleaner and this seems to be true for both cities we’ve visited, quite fortunate really seen as I don’t fancy getting kid poo on my nice running shoes!
Our hostel organised tours for the Terracotta Warriors so we booked on one of these to save getting lost in the Chinese bus system. We started by visiting Emperor Qin Shi Huang ‘s tomb, not all that much to see, he’s buried under a mountain and it’s never even been opened, but he’s the guy responsible for all the terracotta soldiers. The soldiers are actually 1.5km from the tomb so not sure what good they’d be protecting him in the afterlife but hey ho, sure he had his reasons. Our guide Lady JaJa (she chose her English name herself), told us about the history on the way to the pits, the emperor was the first of China and in 221BC he decided he needed an army building so he could carry on ruling in the afterlife, naturally he had everyone who worked on the soldiers killed once they’d finished so he could keep it a secret… Well some people found out about it and robbed all the bronze weapons the soldiers were holding and then torched the place so the roof collapsed and kept the soldiers hidden. It wasn’t till 1974 when a farmer digging a well came across the kneeling archer that archaeologists investigated and found the whole army. They’ve found 3 pits so far with about 8,000 soldiers but they reckon there could be more. Because the roof of the pits fell in everything got smashed into lots of little pieces and archaeologists have been piecing them together ever since. In the main pit they’ve finished about 2,000 soldiers nut there’s still 4,000 under the rubble, Lady JaJa reckons give em 40 more years and they’ll be done. The soldiers themselves are super impressive, the amount of detail gone into them is unreal, they were all kitted out with full weaponry once upon a time, apparently they used a special bronze coating technique which wasn’t officially invented until the 19th century. Not bad ancient Chinese emperor, not bad. The tour group was a good bunch, there were even two lads from Warrington on it so it was nice to hear a familiar accent. We headed for a buffet lunch with everyone and then had a traditional tea tasting ceremony, no PG tips on the menu but the lychee black tea is my new favourite.
Although we mainly headed to Xi’an for the Terracotta Warriors there’s actually a fair bit else going on. For tea we headed to the Muslim Quarter which is a bustling part of the city packed with food vendors selling everything you could possibly imagine on a stick. We decided to give the deep fried squid on a stick a miss and opted for the lamb kebabs and fried bananas instead, rather tasty!
It’s been well over a week since the marathon now so Rob’s excuse of ‘I can eat what I want, I ran a marathon’ has just about expired. We decided to take a run the next morning to the Big Goose Pagoda just outside of town. We soon learnt that running in China is not a pleasant experience. The pavements are just packed with people and there’s motorbikes and scooters ploughing through them constantly, also breathing the air is like smoking cigarettes and that doesn’t go well with running. We managed a few miles before we decided we valued our lives more than a 10k run and called it quits just outside a Chinese Walmart! After collecting a few bits (I found porridge!!) we stumbled into an upmarket mall. There was some a show going on so we hung around to see what was going on, Western people must not frequent this mall often because we proved to be quite popular! People wanted to have their pictures with us and then next thing we know they’re asking us to hold up their products and banners whilst they took more pictures. We are now officially Chinese advertisers. We had no idea what the banner said but we were given a leaflet to take home. Turns out it translated to something along the lines of ‘underwear, underwear, you can’t beat our underwear’; brill.
We checked out the Pagoda, it was a bit ugly but did host an impressive fountain display, then we saw a couple of parks before heading back for tea. Wednesday evening is dumpling party day at our hostel! We were the only names signed up but managed to recruit a few fellow partiers in the end, we were given a demonstration and then free reign to make dumplings, they never ended up looking quite as good as Rose the teachers but they were still just about edible! We were joined by a couple of American’s and Robyn from New Zealand. Just to put into perspective how populated China is, Robyn had been working in Shanghai whose population is double that of the whole of NZ, crazy. The boys got a beer tower and I enjoyed some £2 cocktails, then Corey the American, who believed far too much in his own talent, took to the stage to play some live music. Bless him, he did a lot of talking trying to get the crowd going, all the Chinese patrons just ignored him whilst the four of us he’d been sat with sympathetically cheered him on, I hope he never finds this blog because it was terrible. Me and Rob were lucky enough to have a song dedicated to us but I have zero idea what it was meant to be, thanks anyway Corey, don’t give up the day job.
The next stop on our Chinese tour is Jiuzhougou (don’t ask me how to pronounce it), we decided we’d get an overnight train and then a bus the following morning. So we had a bit more time to kill in Xi’an, we hired a tandem and biked round the city walls, it’s 14km all the way round, we didn’t manage a full lap as the seats were less than comfy and Rob’s steering felt less than safe. Apparently a young emperor had the wall built so he could hide inside the city and eat food until he felt confident enough to rule… Post bike ride we grabbed some food, my chopstick skills are improving, although I’m still carrying round my camping fork for emergencies! Then we headed for the station, fortunately the receptionist at the hotel checked our travel plans before we left and informed us we were heading to completely the wrong train station, thanks Rose. The station wasn’t very touristy at all, there was one group of elderly Chinese people (all wearing matching burberry hats) who took quite a shine to us. Communication consisted of them speaking to us in Chinese and then everyone laughing when we had no clue what was going on. But they were kind enough to fill our flask and invite us to play cards with them. Not easy to understand the rules of a card game in Chinese though! The train boards at 7:30 and then it’s 11 hours in the ‘hard seat’ class because the beds were sold out, could be a very long night!