Friday, April 1, 2011

Xi'an Day 1

Finally, the reason we came to China: Xi'an. I can remember watching documentaries on the History Channel with Steve about these cute little terracotta warriors and thinking, "I want to see those!" Finally, that dream has become a reality. As Andrew's departure time draws near (April 28th; YIKES!), we knew it was now or never.

Xi'an is the ancient capital of China. It was founded around 1100 B.C., about the same time as the Trojan War, making it one of the oldest cities in China. Xi'an means "Western Peace". It was the capital of the first emperor of China, Qin, before he moved the capital to Beijing. Xi'an is most famous for Qin's tomb, which is guarded by thousands of terracotta warriors (more on them in the next post). Xi'an is also famous for being the start of the Silk Road.

We couldn't have picked a better time to go. The weather was warmer than it's been in Qinhuangdao in six months. We took a long weekend and booked bunks on the soft sleeper overnight train to Xi'an. If you remember, our previous forays into rail travel have been on hard sleepers. This means six bunks to a "room" with no door, little room to move, and filthy bathrooms. This time we upgraded and went with a four-bunk private room that had closing doors, manual instead of automatic lighting, and a bathroom with an actual toilet seat! It was luxury. Andrew didn't think the minor upgrade in comfort was worth the extra 150 RMB/each, but then again he can pee standing up instead of squatting over a hole in the floor, so his opinion doesn't count.

After twelve hours on the train, we woke up rested in Xi'an the next morning and checked into our lovely hostel, The 7 Sages. This place was centrally located near the train station, and the staff were wonderful. We were greeted with tea and polite questions, and then shown to our private room, which was cheaper than most shared rooms we can get in Beijing. The hostel itself was beautiful. It was situated in a traditional Chinese courtyard, and had a great restaurant. Best of all, there was a dog and two kittens running around the place who were very friendly. I can't tell you how long it's been since I've pet a cat.

After checking in, we showered, had breakfast in the restaurant, and then began a lazy meander through the town. We saw the Bell Tower and Drum Tower, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda (yes, there's a Small one, too), the Muslim Quarter, with the Grand Mosque, and the City Walls. In the Muslim quarter, we bought some cool souvenirs for us and family, and a big box of dried persimmons.
The Bell Tower
Big Wild Goose Pagoda
Grand Mosque

Then we decided to be adventurous and lunch at a busy eatery in the Muslim Quarter with only one thing on the menu: pita-crumb soup. First, you take two, pita-like, dense loaves of bread and crumble them into tiny pieces in your bowl. Then, you take the bowls inside, where someone fills the bowl up with broth, containing beef, cabbage, and onions. Then you add chili paste and pickled garlic to your soup. Even though it was a little difficult to navigate without Chinese language skills, it was totally worth it.

Next, we climbed the City Walls and rented a tandem bike to ride on top (our first tandem ride!). It was crazy fun, even if Andrew is an insane driver. It was close to closing time, so, thankfully, Andrew didn't make me ride around the whole 13.74km of the city walls. We still managed to ride from South Gate to East Gate and back.

We signed up for a Tang Dynasty dance show, but opted out of the pricey dumpling banquet that preceded it. First, we're a little dumpling-ed out, and second, dumplings should never cost 100RMB (about $15), even though they did come in cool shapes and sizes, resembling pigs, walnuts, and ducks. Instead, we made our own dumpling banquet by combing the quarter near our hostel for a tenth of the price. Then we went to the dance show. As expected, this was a touristy, unauthentic performance, but still interesting. We saw a total of 10 different dances and songs. There were some dancers who had long pieces of light fabric attached to a stick that they would swirl around (ribbon dancers) and the fabric mesmerized Andrew as it seemed like a snake flying twisting through the air. The costumes were very beautiful and elaborate. There was also an awesome percussion performance about "Gossiping Ducks" where they used various cymbals to mimic the sounds of ducks, and "Tiger coming down to hunt" where the drummer pawed the drum like a stalking tiger. Thankfully, there were no songs in English this time (see our Kung Fu show). We took our first (and last) rickshaw ride home. Let's just say I wish there had been something to hold on to.

After a long day of climbing, biking, walking, and eating ourselves silly, we had a quick drink in the hostel bar before collapsing into near comas on our comfortable bed.

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