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Greetings from Xi’an!

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Again, it’s been a long while since I’ve posted anything, and I probably wouldn’t have done so for a long while still, because I am currently in Xi’an (a city about 11hours on a train south west of Beijing). The longer I leave it, the harder I know it will be to write about what we’ve been doing here though! So here goes..

Two of us (Nafeesah and I) departed Beijing on Friday afternoon, for an overnight train to Xi’an. The train was exactly like you might hear in stories of train travel in China – crowded, noisy and uncomfortable. Our train was a double decker, and the seats were more in bench-fashion, rather than singles. It was honestly tough to get any decent sleep, and we arrived at some early time (before 7am), cranky, in Xi’an. Obviously this isn’t the best time to arrive, but unfortunately, other train tickets had been sold out. We got a taxi to the apartment hostel we’d booked, and after asking some people who turned out to just be security guards about getting into a room, we ended up standing around in a chair-less and dead lobby, by an un-staffed reception desk until 9am. Finally, when we were able to check-in, we were told that we couldn’t get into the room until 2pm, but this absolutely lovely man who was serving us found us a room we could rest in until then, after we told him that we had nowhere to go until 2pm anyway, having been on the train the whole night. So we paid up the deposit, and went to nap in this temporary room until we could move into our own. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, we headed out later in the afternoon to explore the area, and find some dinner, seeing as we hadn’t really eaten since Friday afternoon, and found out that the Hui area (well-known Muslim district in Xi’an) was very close to our hotel, with lots of halaal street food and little stalls selling many random things. We picked one of the better looking places to eat, saw the customary weird things on the menu, such as “Debate group of milk”, and left pretty disappointed.

I’d actually been crazily homesick for the past few days, and arriving in a foreign city did little to help. Seeing all the street food, although it said it was halaal, made me feel very queasy… I’d read online and heard about the foods you have to try in Xi’an, but I just couldn’t make myself want to. I also realised that this would be something I’d probably regret later – the fact that I went to Xi’an and didn’t try their specialities  The thing is, I am in Xi’an NOW and now is the time I can change that! But still, I don’t want to! My friend told me that if that’s the case, I shouldn’t regret it, but it’s still a very self-contradictory feeling.

On Sunday early morning, we were joined by our friend (Beth) who had made the train journey with some other friends, who were only staying one night in Xi’an, so we all went to see the Terracotta Warriors together, seeing as it’s a definite must-see when you go to Xi’an! It’s about an hour and a half bus journey south from the city centre, we stopped on the way at the Huaqing Hot Springs, which was a past bathing site of emperors, and got to see some interesting old paintings, one of which looked scarily similar to Gandalf’s “You shall not pass!”. Pictures to follow, they’re currently refusing to upload.

The Terracotta Warriors are pretty much an underground life-size army, built to ‘protect’ an emperor in his afterlife. They were made life-sized and each warrior’s face is different, with intricate detail. They are in three pits, and completely by accident, we happened to start with Pit 3, then 2 and finally 1, which worked out for the best, I think, because Pit 1 is by far the best. We were somewhat disappointed by the other pits, expecting to see what we see in pictures: rows and rows of terracotta warriors standing to attention. Instead we saw half-broken horses and mangled messes of various limbs strewn about. However, leaving the best til last, Pit 1 was more like what we had expected. Apparently, they used to be painted – you can see traces of colour on some of them still. Beth and I mused about how scary they could actually look, and what an excellent horror movie it would make if they were made to come to life…until Nafeesah informed us that such a movie had already been made, so it’s now on our lists.

Before going into the museum and pits of the Terracotta Army, we had been looking for somewhere to get some lunch from, and kept getting approached (pestered) by people trying to advertise their shops to us by shouting out “Hello, rice!” and waving menus at us as we walked past. It was incredibly tempting to call back, “hello noodle!”.

On Monday, we went to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda – yes, the name does sound fascinating – but the pagoda itself wasn’t really that exciting. Probably nicer, were the things around it, for example  a large fountain area, which holds nightly musical fountain shows (we plan on going back to watch this on Thursday night), stone statues of famous historical Chinese people, including poets, musicians and tea-makers, and people writing (calligraphy style) with water on the ground, which was actually really pretty! Around the Pagoda, there was what was called a ‘theme park’ (they don’t know the meaning of the word, we were expecting something like Thorpe Park) which turned out to be a “folk cultural theme park” and was really just an ordinary kind of park, with statues of various scenes in Chinese life, and lots of people taking pictures of them and with them. Of course, we followed suit. I also spotted a little shop called ‘Hello Coffee’, which just reminded us of ‘Hello rice’ and ‘hello noodle’ again. It’s clearly more common than we thought.

After an unfortunate incident on the journey back to the hotel involving a possible thief, we spent a good part of the evening learning how to pick locks, and succeeded in opening a locked suitcase, thanks to Youtube. Having not eaten properly in a few days, we went to Big Pizza (pizza restaurant in the food court of the mall next door to us) for dinner. Again, I was surprised by the Chinese pizzas; forget fruit pizzas (which they did also have here), why not try some “Strawberry and chocolate crisp pizza”?

That night, the three of us went to KTV (China is famous for their karaoke), and woah… English music is, well, music to my ears!

Today, (Tuesday), we went to Xi’an’s city wall, the most complete city wall that has survived in China. Much to our surprise, it was more than warm enough to shed our coats today! You can rent a bike to cycle around the wall on, so we rented out one tandem bike and one single bike, and took turns. Actually, the view from the top isn’t particularly special, and mostly we rode in the middle anyway, but it was really a lot of fun, especially given the good weather, and I’d definitely recommend it. Walking around wouldn’t be anywhere near as fun. The tandem bike took a bit of getting used to, and we all realised how long its been since we’ve ridden a bike, complaining of aching legs before our 100 minutes were up. Research had told us that it takes approximately 90 minutes to cycle around the full wall at medium speed, and we assumed we’d be going faster than ‘medium speed’, whatever that was, but in fact, we were rushing at the end to make it to the bicycle stop that was at the 3/4 point from where we’d started. The muscles are definitely going to protest tomorrow, when we’re going to Lishan Mountain (the Huaqing Hot Springs are located at the base of this mountain). Alright, I admit, we’re not actually going to climb up AND down the mountain, but instead, (so I’m told >_>) we’ll be taking the cable car up, and then trekking it down, which (for anyone who know me well will know) is almost just as bad.

On a good note, walking back to our hotel from the City Wall today, we came across one of the type of restaurants we ate at often in Shanghai (the chain of ‘Islamic Restaurants’ I posted about in my food posts), and stopped there for an early dinner. I found what is my favourite dish in Beijing, tudou niurou gaimian, and discovered it was only two thirds the price I usually pay for it in Beijing. It’s funny how I miss Beijing, now that we’re in Xi’an. As Beth puts it, I guess it is “a home away from home away from home”.

I’ll be going back to Beijing alone on Friday evening, arriving in beautiful Beijing on Saturday morning, as the other two go on to continue their travels, and will be flying back to beautiful-er home (the real one) on Tuesday. I ABSOLUTELY CANNOT WAIT.

More on Xi’an to come!

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About Ibtehaal

I graduated with a degree in Chinese and Economics, which involved spending a year studying Chinese in Beijing. This turned out to be the hardest but most rewarding thing I think I have ever done. I've now returned to China for another year, to study in Shanghai and figure out my next steps.

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