06.10.2012 - 08.10.2012 18 °C
I arrived in Xian after a very comfortable night on the train, I was actually kind of sad I had to get off it so early. I walked out in the smog filled chaos that is Xian, with people and traffic everywhere and the horrifying sight that I couldn't see down the end of the street due to the smog. I walked through the streets, passing many shopping malls, a punch up and lots of people walking around to my new hostel. In Xian I seemed to have developed an aversion to going outside and being amongst the smog and people. I just need a little quiet! But after a while I had to go out, today was my day to see the city. I walked to the huge famous bell tower which now sits in the midst of a giant roundabout as the city has become too big, and traffic drives like crazy all around it. The bell tower and it's sister tower, the Drum tower signified sunrise and sunset in the ancient capital. I then walked towards the city walls and spent the next 90 minutes riding the entire length of the walls by bike. It was a strange thing hopping back on a bike, although the physical pain is long gone, the memory of the bikes in Lithuania still burns deep and I cautiously sat back on a bike. The walls are around 14km long and a bumpy 40m wide the whole way around, there were lots of people riding bikes in both directions and was a great way to see the walls and the city it was enclosing and keeping out. After the walls, I walked tiredly down the main street towards the Muslim quarter. This area is filled with shops and stalls owned and run by Muslim chinese. It was as everywhere seems to be in china, swarming with people, it was hard to move. In the area there were people selling the normal counterfit goods and many other souviner shops, but also lots and lots of food stalls selling meat on a stick and lots of dates and other dried fruits. It was chaotic really and I felt like I didn't have a great chance to stop and see what was on offer as the crowd kept you moving.
I escaped down a laneway and found the Great Mosque of Xian, not something I expected to find in China. This mosque is unique as it is entirely in Chinese architectural style and if you said it was a buddist temple I would have believed you. There was no minarets, no bells, and only a tiny amount of arabic writing in some of the gateways, otherwise it was all traditional chinese. The great thing about this place was that it was practically empty and I felt far more peaceful and relaxed here. Perhaps that is why people went to church or temples, to escape? I hung around here for a little while, contemplating napping outside on a bench underneath the trees, but decided it probably wasn't the most respectful thing.
After exploring the mosque I headed back out into the chaos, I think with a slightly better frame of mind and continued to look at the stalls and shops until I got back to my hostel where I actually went and had a nap.
I planned to go head out and get some dinner but frankly I couldn't be bothered leaving my hostel and dealing with all the crowds and noise so I ate in and sat talking to other travellers in my hostel. It was quite nice really.
On sunday, the last day of the national holidays I finally went to see the Terracotta Warriors! They were the only reason I came to this town and I was really looking forward to it. I joined a tour offered by the hostel which was great as we had a tiny little Chinese guide who was able to give us lots of facts and information about the warriors. Firstly we went to the tomb of emporer Qin Shan Huang (or something like that), who the chinese greatly admire as he was the first emporer to unify China. His tomb though is not that impressive, actually it is just a giant man-made tree covered hill. You can't see anything as the area is poisoned with high levels of Mercury. Apparently this emporer believed taking mercury everyday would make him live longer, instead he died suddenly in his 50's. It will be another 10-20 years according to our guide before the tomb will be opened. (out of touristic curiosity and it's related economic benefits, not because the mercury will have gone).
Then it was on to see the warriors. It is important to see the pits in the order of pit 2, pit 3 then pit 1. Pit 1 is THE famous pit and you definitely want to see it last, plus seeing it in this order helps tell the archeological story. Pit 2, which we did first, is a major archeological site, it has only recovered a few of the estimated 2000 statues that are in there. This pit is supposedly filled with all types of warriors - archery, officals, generals, infatrymen and cavalry. No completed statues sit in the pit, instead there are broken fragments of faces, bodies, horses etc in the uncovered areas and otherwise lots of clay hiding statues that are yet to be enclosed. For some reason I had assumed that all the statues were perfectly intact throughout all time but in truth only 1 statue out of the thousands that exist has ever been found completely intact.
Pit 3 is the smallest pit with only 68 statues. It was known as the command centre as the statues were all higher ranking officals and generals, controlling the military formations. This pit was not finished when the emporer died and so several of the statues are missing their heads. This pit has so few in number as it was supposedly evident that the pit had undergone lots of destruction after the emporer's death.
And so we finally made it to Pit 1, this HUGE pit at 230m by 60m houses thousands of warriors, with most of them still to be uncovered. It was really interesting as it is an active dig site, you could see warriors in various states of restoration. We came in at the back so that we would get the grand site right at the end and it really is impressive, standing down in front of you is thousands of lifesize infatrymen statues lined up in rows, each with a unique face. It was a crazy thought to me that it took the 33 years of the emporer's reign to create the statues, but it will take well over 100 years for us to uncover and piece all the currently known existing statues back together. They only recently discovered pit 4, much closer to the emporer's tomb so who know's how many more pit's of statues there are! I was really deeply impressed with the statues and so glad to have seen them.
We then watched an incredibly dated and strange movie about the warriors and got to see the farmer - My Yang, who had made the discovery of them, he is now 80 years old and doing quite well signing books for tourists to buy! A bet he never thought his life and farm would turn out like this!
We had a preorganised lunch at a restaurant inside the complex which had lots of things, good and bad that I probably would never order myself, like toffee potatoes. (bad!) Then it was an hour back on the bus to Xian.
I had to have another nap in the afternoon, I seriously don't know what is going on, but I am so exhausted here in china and then I headed out to get some dinner. I headed into a shopping area and got myself totally lost in an underground network of shops and stalls selling all the counterfit goods and real stuff until I found a walmart and bought yoghurt and fruit for dinner as the idea of eating more chinese food made my stomach turn!!
I had a very early start the next morning as I finally had to take my first flight in months and so I only spent a little while chatting to people in the common area.
I was glad at the prospect of leaving Xian, it is really not a great city, but I was really not excited by the prospect of flying and wished I had been more organised to get a train ticket. At least the flight will get me from Xian to Guilin in only 2 hours instead of 28! So at 4:30am I got up and headed off to the airport. It was a strange and slightly unnerving experience being in the taxi, apparently red lights don't mean anything, and when I expressed my gut reaction, the driver just giggled. Apparently also lanes don't mean anything, nor do indicators or speed signs for that matter. It is totally acceptable to drive 150km on a 120km road. Not the most comfortable ride, but I just had to go with it and I did get to see the bell tower with no traffic and lit up in all it's lights.
At the airport I ran into a swiss traveller that had been staying in my hostel and we were able to spend the time from check-in until my boarding chatting, which certainly helped past the time faster. Then finally onwards to Guilin!