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Published: August 6th 2007
The hard sleeper journey turned out to be very nice and I slept for most of the night. The train arrived in Xi'An at 6am and I spent the next 40 minutes hiking to the hostel in the eerily quiet pre-dawn streets of the city. I booked two nights at the hostel and then used the internet for a while before heading off to explore. I wandered to the south city gate and then walked along the city wall for about half a mile. I reached a point where I could climb the wall, but they wanted 40 yuan and I didn't think it was worth it so I turned around and headed back to the hostel. I showered and by that time the people in the room were finally getting up. I struck up a conversation with a Canadian named Julie who had also arrived on an overnight train. Unlike me, however, she had promptly gone to sleep when she arrived at the hostel.
Around 11, the two of us headed out to find some food in the nearby muslim quarter. We did a little wandering and soon stumbled upon a restaurant doing booming business serving a soup where
Chinese extension cord
These wires ran into the bathroom, where they had a power drill hooked up to them!
you break up thick pita bread and put it in the bowl to absorb some of the soup. It actually turned out to be delicious. Of course, I was hungry and I was getting tired of waiting for the soup to arrive so I ordered another pita and got the nutella out. Julie and I had some pita and nutella, much to the amusement of the locals we were sharing the table with. There was a little kid at the end of the table who seemed very curious about our eating habits, so with the permission of his parents, I gave him a piece of the bread with a big glob of nutella on it. Once he figured out that he was supposed to put it in his mouth, he sure enjoyed it! There were smiles all around as we finished the rest of our meal.
After eating we did did some more exploring and eventually decided to walk over to the history museum. It was a couple of miles and the walk took us well outside the city walls into a much more "local" Xi'An. The museum was interesting if a bit sterile and dark. They had a
Big Goose Pagoda
I'm not sure where the goose comes into the equation...
lot of pottery and other artifacts of the various dynasties. There were also a couple of cool displays on the terracotta warriors.
We left the museum around 5:30 and walked over to the nearby Big Goose pagoda. It was closed for the evening, but the surrounding area was full of people enjoying the (relatively) good weather and so we sat for a while watching the world go by. We also grabbed an ice cream at KFC, which was completely tasteless. That's strike two for KFC, I might not even give them a third chance. We walked back to the hostel as it was getting dark. Near the hostel I decided to stop at McDonalds and get a milkshake to make up for the poor ice cream. Micky D's did not disappoint.
We hung out at the hostel for a couple hours with another American (Nigel) before the three of us headed out to get some dinner. We went back to the muslim quarter and picked one of the several places serving meat-on-a-stick. The lamb was outstanding, but the beef was mostly globs of fat so we were a bit unhappy with that. We also had some great fried
pita bread. They put it on the charcoal grill and it fries up to a golden brown in the meat fat and then they dump some tasty spices on it. Mmm Good. We were pretty full after that so we headed back to the hostel and hung out for a bit before calling it a night.
The next morning we woke up around 9 and then headed off to see the terracotta warriors. We walked to the train station where we caught a public bus from a nearby parking lot. The bus took about an hour and we got an up-close look at the outlying factories and power plants that produce the smog that sits over Xi'An (and every other large Chinese city). Once we arrived at our destination we discovered that we had to walk 500 meters to get to the actual site. They force you to walk past scores of shops hawking all sorts of useless souvenirs. I really hate how commercialized some of these attractions are. Most of the shops are brand new so I suspect that the parking lot used to be a lot closer but they decided to make a couple yuan off the
In front of pit #1
tourist horde by moving it further away. Oh well.
Thanks to some excellent advice from two Danish girls at the hostel, we saw the three "pits" in the order 2,3,1. Pit 1 is by far the most spectacular, and if you see it first, the other two just wouldn't be that great. However, the way we saw it was a nice buildup and so we were quite happy. We also decided to have our picnic lunch (instant noodles) before seeing pit 1. It was quite an adventure getting hot water, though. We ended up wandering around the on-site restaurant for 10 minutes before I finally approached a waitress and showed her my noodles. She took us straight into the dining room and gave us water from one of the hot water flasks. Score! We ate outside in the sunshine before heading over to see the main attraction. Pit number one really is impressive. It's housed in a hangar-like structure with the warriors in various states of restoration. At the front are several ranks of the soldiers that have been pieced back together and arranged in their original formation. As you move towards the back you come across ones that
have been unearthed, but have not yet been pieced together, so they are lying as they were found. Beyond them it's just dirt that hasn't been dug up yet. At the very back are several warriors that are in the process of being restored. I assume that once they are done they will be put back at the front where they belong and they'll move on to the next batch. It was really neat seeing the various stages of the excavation process. I was a little disappointed with the enormous horde of people, but I guess this is China and I must have been really lucky with my great wall experience.
We caught the bus back to Xi'An and walked back to the hostel along a different route. On the way we stopped at a couple different places to try various snacks. I had a deep fried pita with some sort of magical spice on it that made my tongue and lips go numb for a while. Julie had some friend squid (on a stick of course), while I enjoyed fruit (yes, on a stick) that had been covered in a hard, sticky sugar syrup. Once we got back
to the hostel we watched a dvd. I hadn't seen Lost in Translation yet, so we decided to watch that with a couple other people from the hostel. I thought the movie was hilarious and really enjoyed it.
Afterwards, we decided to go track down some dinner. The LP mentions a local dish that seemed really appetizing -- meat in a pita. From their description, it seemed like a kebab to me, so I was sold. We walked over to the muslim quarter again and looked for a while, but weren't seeing what we wanted. Eventually, a really friendly chinese student approached us. "Oscar" walked with us and helped us find a place selling the dish. We ordered with great anticipation. However, what we got wasn't quite what we were expecting! Basically, the meat (if you could call it that, it was mostly fat) came out of a steaming pot and then was chopped finely before being scooped into a pita. Julie and I exchanged looks and I took the first bite. Wow. A bunch of the meat oozed out of the pita as I bit in and dripped to the ground. I spit out several large chunks of
fat before almost gagging. I decided to soldier on, though, and I was able to eat about 2/3 of it before giving up. Julie managed to eat the whole thing, which says something about her character! Oscar walked with us until we finished the pitas and then he said good night and took off. He was a really nice guy, and genuinely just wanted to be helpful and chat with us. A real breath of fresh air in China.
As soon as he left Julie said "I feel like a milkshake, let's go to McDonalds." My response was, of course, "Hell yeah!" So we walked across the street and she got a chocolate shake. I thought about a shake, but I needed something to restore my desire to eat meat which had completely evaporated after the pita. So, I got a cheeseburger. I think that pita was the first food I've had in China that I genuinely hated and would never consider eating again. There were some little fish we had in Liuyang that I didn't really like, but the pita was far worse. That was it for the evening, and I went to bed hoping I wouldn't wake
up in the middle of the night with food poisoning!
Luckily, my stomach (maybe it was the McDonalds that saved me) felt fine the next morning and I said goodbye to Julie before heading to the airport shuttle. I caught the shuttle and was on my way to Kunming so stay tuned for that entry.
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