The Conquest of Xi 'an, the West Capital

OUR TWO days of boredom in Shanghai resulted to push the wanderer in us (naks), myself and John to purchase a train ticket during the National Holiday. Really, it was only when I step inside the train coach did I realize I was leaving Shanghai to conquer a far far away land, former silk road city called Xi ‘an (西安) the capital of Shaanxi Province nestling in China’s vast northwest. Armed only with an A4 map that lacked Hanzi, John’s prowess to converse in Mandarin and few notes and online readings, we were ready to conquer Xi’an by storm.

Day 01 10.02.08AD

The train fare cost us 510rmb. It’s quite expensive but we were provided a small but comfortable bed inside a train cabin for 4 passengers so we could survive a 15 hrs ride to our destination. In Shanghai, the ticketing office did not give us a return ticket and said we could purchase them in Xi ‘an only to find out later we made a big mistake.

In our cabin, we met this middle age and a very interesting Chinese lady now carrying a Swiss passport. I forgot her name but she conversed in English very well. She shared tales of her life inside and outside of China, personal experiences during the Mao era and the Cultural Revolution, her thoughts about Zhang Yimou and the Beijing Olympics. We spent like 3 hrs talking with her until we realized it’s time to have dinner.

After dinner we slept awhile and woke up nand still we were not there. Spent few hours in the dining taking booze of local beer served uncold with the train employees on the other side talking and talking loud before calling it day. I had a hard time sleeping on my bed except that I thought it was cool ala Harry Potter going to Hogwarts, but luckily, no Dementors around to piss me off.

Day 02 10.03.08AD

We arrived in Xi ‘an rail depot by 8am and greeted by the City Walls nearby. The morning weather was colder and foggy (or was it smog). In the ticket area, we saw ocean of people (人山人海)on queue buying ticket this scene we expected but the news that there were no available train seats to Shanghai this coming weekend really blew our minds and thought we were dead and stranded.

So, half day we spent looking for the hotel and thinking how on earth we would go back to Shanghai. Motel 168 was full so we tried the one beside it and luckily we got a room for 230rmb but only after manager’s intervention. Her counter people weren’t friendly to check us in for reason we did not know of. After considering a lot of things, we decided to take a plane back to Shanghai. It would cost us a lot but it’s faster, more comfortable and so sure we would get back. Thanks to John’s Mandy for taking care of us on these all the way from Macau.

Knowing everything was ok we went inside the City Walls to it’s center, where the north, south east west streets collide, taking pictures of the Bell Tower (
西安钟楼), it’s people and the city itself. Xi ‘an was one of the four ancient capital of China with it walls still preserved. The southern gates provide you access for 40rmb to the walls, climbed its stairs and walk and see from a 4 storey high view point the life inside and outside the walls though the fog ruined every far away panorama. There where structures like sentry towers in the walls but to walk its perimeter was very exhausting and we made a descent. We headed south, taking a ride on this 3 wheeled motorcycle with our driver avoiding wisely traffic jam, slithering on the city thoroughfares and driving like hell.

On our destination, we were welcome by these big jets of fountains dancing on a square with many spectators encircling in awe. Paid 40rmb again, to enter to a Buddhist territory and had a closer look of the centuries old Giant Wild Goose Pagoda (
大雁塔). I concluded that it’s a remarkable piece of ancient ecclesiastical architecture still towering to live another day. Late afternoon we headed back to the hotel to rest a bit and to get some things. The taxi’s flag rate here by the way pegged at 6rmb.

Dark came early, so we returned inside the city center again, roamed and took night shots of the Drum Tower (鼓楼) in Xi Da Jie. There were a lots of lots of souvenir shops in the area but did not buy any. memento What we need that time was to feed ourselves and the Muslim Street (回民街) nearby was a mecca for exotic food you’d never imagined people would eat. There were people everywhere walking, selling, haggling, buying, eating and eating again. I loved the festive atmosphere in the street it was like silk road of the ancient times and we his nomads from the east. In Xi’an you’d see people with caps on their heads and sometimes women with veil in their heads and really felt how diverse the culture of China was.

Day 03 10.04.08AD

The next day we got up early, check out from the hotel, got a cab and rode the number 306 bus for 6rmb to take us in one of the most important archeological treasure of China, The Army of the Terracotta Warriors and Horses (
兵马俑). It took us less than an hour to get to the place non stop from the city walls. How popular is the site could be read on hundreds of cars parked outside that early morning. The ticket a bit pricey like 90rmb and there were like three checks and a one long walk to get inside the compound. The first museum we visited gave us a look on these 2 wheeled chariots and story of the finds and the constructions of the museums. The next one housed the biggest pit and there they were Emperor Qin’s Terracotta Army and Horses (and weapons of bronze) unearthed to tell to modern man the history of what was once a great dynasty. I was like 10 minutes in the viewing platform beholding these artifacts of great magnitude. The size and scale and thinking that it’s 210BC material really amazed me but that did not stop me from taking pictures trigger happy. There were 2 more pits and they were great and I love the way the interior space of the museums, generally the architecture, adjusted to the treasures it sheltered. It was really amen to the intricate details of the warriors learning them up close.

On our way out, there was long line of commercial spaces with souvenirs selling figures of the warriors from tiny to life sized. Interestingly, there were many shops selling wolf and fox fur, in all sizes and colors, which would make PETA screaming for foul.

The taxi driver learning that we were going to Qinshinhuang Mausoleum next commented that it was not fun there at all. But still we made a stop. Examining the spot from the gate we knew we would go climbing so we didn’t go. We thought our feet had enough of walking and made to believe that perhaps the cab driver was telling us the truth.

The next taxi driver was again a very kind and Samaritan Xi ‘anese. He was so very helpful and friendly to us in giving us a lift to the foot of Li Shan (Mount Li). The nameless soul even taught us where to leave our bags safely and gave the direction of the bus going to the city.

To pamper ourselves we took a cable car to the top of the mountain. On the top, we saw Lintong county covered mostly of afternoon fog and personally felt disappointed. In the brochure, the tour to the mountain was promising but we have less time to carry another that adventure and so we headed back to the inside Xi’an walls and feasted on chicken, beef, egg and rice western style in a cozy restaurant downtown.

By 4.30pm we were Starbucks, near the Bell Tower, sipping frapuccino and buying the only memento for this grand escapade, Starbucks city mug. How’s that? And what do you know, there were plenty of buses waiting for us across the Nan Da Jie to take us to the airport for 6rmb.

It was a great trip. Using Pablo Coelho’s cliché, we believe the universe was conspiring with us all the while. This was a tour really prepared come what may but the outcome went fine, really really fine.


eio said...

it feels non-stop........

kcalii...the dreamer said...

nakakainggit ka tlga kuya tops parang di ka nagtatrabaho, parang gumagawa ka lng lage ng documentary dyan sa china...

pero ang galing... kahanga-hanga... pede ng howie severino...

daye said...

Kuya Tops, I would love a city mug from Xi'an too. =) hehe.

Chateau said...

Oh wow! Xi'an is on top of my to-go list. Very beautiful photos. Got here through plurk.