November 16th, 2012


china part 2: we get xi'an'd

the italics are from the itinerary, & my notes follow each section. photos are inline per day.

China Golden Route 10 DAYS
part 1: beijing | part 2: xi'an | part 3: shanghai | extras

D6 | Nov-8 (Thu): Xi'an (B/L/D)
Arrive in Xi'an in the morning. Eastern terminus of the fabled Silk Road and one of the ancient capitals of China, Xi'an is home to the Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses. Designed to follow the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) into eternity, the Terra Cotta Warriors Museum located about 30km east of the city represents one of the greatest archeological discoveries of the 20th Century in the world. Visit an Art Ceramics Factory followed by a special Imperial Dumpling Banquet and spectacular music and dance show reminiscent of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), a period generally considered a golden era of the Chinese civilization.

i'm the last to bed & the first up, but i sleep decently on the train for about six hours. this sleep is interrupted by only a mild heart attack when joe returns from the restroom & accidentally grabs my leg to climb to the top bunk. thanks, pal.

we unload from the train early - too early for the hotel to accept us, but also, & more importantly, too early for the bus to pick us up. we're wrangled to the only breakfast spot that can accommodate us with our luggage - a fucking KFC. this is a horrible waste of a meal in my opinion, but i understand & grudgingly accept a "chick sandwich" over a "hamburg", & "soybean juice" instead of coffee. the sandwich is repulsive, oily & over-fried, but it's full of peas, carrots, & corn, so that's weird at best. i eat half of the bottom bun & the middle of the patty. the soymilk isn't terrible, served hot, but half a cup still makes my stomach unhappy & i give up on it.

our new local guide introduces himself as howard, but his real name is dai fei. he says we had to be careful of the pronunciation of his name, as "mandarin is a sophisticated language" - different inflections turn his name, which means "flying", into "strength", "gossip", or "bullshit". (for the last one, pronounce it "fay" & say it angrily & quickly.) for our convenience, he chose howard after a sports star, but we can call him fei if it's said happily & with a smile.

we drive past a park with a bunch of people using full-on bullwhips to spin tops, & arrive at the shanxi provincial historical museum. (today's itinerary is half tomorrow's.) they have some terra cotta warriors on display, but we're going to the real site tomorrow. we also see some gold plating done via mercury, still shiny hundreds of years later. a woman working in the gift shop tells me i have "special hair". joe notices nearly all the paintings of horses for sale are running to the left, & he jokes that they all have important business over there. only one painting is going right, & he was obviously the only horse to finish all his chores.

we visit an amazing buddhist temple off-itinerary; fei explains that he went here weekly with his parents. the carvings & sculptures are amazing. an old man follows me & repeatedly asks in mandarin where we're from until someone finally translates; i answer "america" & he finds this HILARIOUS. we have a calligraphy demonstration & i get to see the ancient & current characters for horse. the guide says that "all chinese people like horse", & it means success & prosperity. there's a papa john's & a pizza hut both in direct line of the temple, which is understandably "very controversial".

lunch is mediocre except for the moon cakes! omg, yum. we try bites of one with red bean paste & another with some kind of nut meal, & they make lunch worthwhile. the restaurant also has a beautiful bathroom. it's of note that restrooms here are not what we're used to in the states. there are usually some western toilets around, but many stalls have squatting toilets - what looks like a toilet seat but flat on the ground, textured a bit for shoes. (i declined to photograph any, but you can google image "chinese squatting toilet".) due to the length of my dreadlocks, i wasn't interested in trying it - i have enough to balance above a regular bowl. some toilets have two flush buttons, one in a crescent moon shape & the other filling it to round, which is a good way to save water. restrooms are also not consistently stocked with toilet paper - some nicer ones have paper in the stalls, but others have either a communal roll outside of the stalls or no paper at all, & it's up to the individual to bring their own. though china invented paper, they're surprisingly stingy with it - napkins also cannot be counted on at restaurants, & when there are napkins, they're small & thin & rough, like half of a tough tissue.

we go to the xi'an city wall next & see the big wild goose pagoda before checking in at the opulent titan times hotel. our room has a sitting area & an enormous bathroom with a tub, glass shower stall, & a large window into the main rooms. i can lay on the bed & watch joe take a shower... why don't we have this at home? there's wired internet in each hotel room & usually wifi in the main lobby; i sneak the better wifi password from another tour group & share it out to my group. i'm finding nowhere in china really lets you use google; yahoo is much more reliable. (google images works fine though? got me.) we're given a couple of hours to relax after last night's train ride, & i use it to watch a bit of tv while joe naps. weirdly, a lot of this week's shows mention china, including south park (which usually veers japanese iirc).

the restaurant has a huge sculptured wall outside, & our dumpling banquet dinner is likely my favorite meal of the trip. these dumplings are firm-skinned, not like the ones jakson took us to on day four. many of the dumplings are shaped to look like what's in them - fish, pig, cabbage, duck. the fish dumpling has peas for eyes, & joe thinks it looks more like a chestburster. No Pork has to ask about every dumpling, & it's not an easy task - she's often told things like, "no pork! just ham." this is hilarious but less than helpful. the tang dynasty show is pretty good, though joe & i agree we would've liked it more had we not already been completely wowed by the acrobatic show. (the cost of the meal & show is normally 360¥ each. surprisingly reasonable!)

after dinner, joe wants to walk all 15.97 miles of xi'an's city wall, but bails in favor of snkkzzzzzzzz. i stay up to catch up on email. the bed here is slightly better than jade palace's; it's still hard & unpleasant for bony little me, but at least i don't have to stack pillows.

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