Published: March 5th 2012March 5th 2012
Xi’an (Late October)
Post Huashan while still with the same crew, 3 American teachers and 4 Chinese college students, we hop on a bus to Xi’an. Xi’an is an interesting city with a lot of culture and history. It was the eastern terminus of the silk road so it has a sizeable Muslim population. Xi’an also served as the capital of China for a handful of dynasties, but Xi’an’s claim to fame is the terracotta army/warriors located about 45 minutes outside the city. If you didn’t have a decent world history class in college or you slept through yours I’ll give you the shortened Zac version to get you up to speed. First emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, quite eccentric and crazy, the one credited with unifying China. Reigned over 2000 years ago. He died. Upon his death he ordered 8,000+ stone, life size soldiers, chariots and horses be constructed to guard his tomb. 2000+ years roll by and a farmer in 1970s stumbles on it while digging a well. The majority of the soldiers still remain unexcavated. If your intellectually inclined it’s a story worth reading, if not, I just saved you 5 minutes of your life while
force feeding you a little Chinese culture. Thank me later.
The excavated soldiers are housed in what looks like an airplane hangar. It’s like they built the hangar over the excavation area so you’re seeing the statues in the ground not in a museum, which was cool. Some of the soldiers were headless and I just assumed the beheading occurred sometime during the 2000 years of aging but Bai, my friend and tour guide, explained otherwise. Even though highly illegal some of the heads end up on the black market and people pay $250,000+ for one hella'va mantle piece.
Aside from the soldiers Xi’an is still a cool city. You can ride tandem bikes on top of the large ancient city walls, see traditional looking Chinese architecture and enjoy the Muslim influenced cuisine, all while staying in a Super 8 hotel too. No joke, that’s the hotel we stayed in. Xi’an had the most western people we had seen in two months, and for anyone reading this who is also residing in a rather non-westernized Chinese city, Xi’an also has strategically located public western toilets, keep your eyes peeled. Thirty minutes after eating a lamb-burger (our name for a spicy Muslim sandwich of lamb and peppers sold on the street) my stomach begins to rumble and tighten and I am dreading what I feel is inevitable. It is here I should take time for my clueless western friends to discuss the Chinese “squat pot.” 95% toilets throughout China and most of Asia are level with the ground, hints the name, and for about half of them I would rate the cleanliness just above a biomedical waste truck. Now that you have a mental image, hopefully on an empty stomach, you understand the predicament I am about to find myself in. In Zhengzhou however this would not pose nearly the problem. After being here for two months I have developed a mental map of western toilets in my area of the city. I know which nice restaurants, hotels and malls I can run in on a moments notice to find serenity. I see a McDonalds, which no, in ZZ still has only Chinese toilets, but I mentally psych myself out to bite the bullet. I walk in, see two stalls walk into the first one but I get that gut feeling to check the other stall. Low and behold like an oasis in the desert, like a beacon to a lost ship at night! Civilized culture somehow found its way into half of that McDonalds bathroom and I am forever grateful.
We only had about 38 hours in Xi’an before we had to jump on a night train to get back in time to teach Monday morning at 8. A train ride I would later learn would be the demise of my laptop screen, but I guess in a way I deserved it for trying to stay “plugged in” on such adventures.