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Published: September 17th 2012
being all clean and pretty
Xi'an quickly became our favourite Chinese city so far. The large cities in China are so well run that it's hard to not love them. Getting around is unbelievably easy, the streets are spotlessly clean, there is plenty of shopping, a million places to eat, tonnes of historic sites and enough culture to keep you as busy as you want to be.
Our guesthouse was fantastic! We would definitely recommend Shuyuan Hostel to anyone spending time in Xi'an. Not only does it have friendly helpful staff, the entire hostel is immaculately clean, the three courtyards are great places to hang out and they have pets. There is a beautiful golden retriever named Terra and a fluffy white cat whose name we didn't catch (Ty decided to call it snowball). These loveable animals are just as friendly as the staff and make the hostel seem like a home away from home.
A huge highlight of Xi'an is the food. We are always in search of the best cheap street food and within the first few days had our favourite breakfast stand, pastry shop, coffee/tea/juice shop, ice cream place, noodle/pulled meat sandwich hole-in-the-wall restaurant and dumpling lady. The first place we
came across was the hole-in-the-wall restaurant. After getting settled in at the hostel and napping (after the restless over night train ride from Pingyao) we were looking for food and came across this mom and pop shop. At first we just ordered the cold noodles (delicious with a spicy sauce), but then the owner guy came over and asked us a question in Chinese pointing at a pot of something that looked great and smelled even better. We nodded not knowing exactly what we would be getting and then he brought over a pulled beef sandwich in a thin slightly toasted bun. OMG... it was the best!! The meat cooks for hours in a delicious sauce/broth so that it melts in your mouth. The next place we found was the lady selling giant freshly made dumplings. They were easily the size of Rebecca's fist and cost about 13 cents each. Our favourite one was the spicy green pepper/eggplant which also had a little tofu in it. Yum, yum, yum. Anyway! That's enough mouth watering for now. Needless to say the food in Xi'an is spectacular and totally backpacker budget friendly.
The fact that Xi'an is a totally loveable city
is secondary to the most famous archeological find in our lifetime, maybe even history. The terracotta warriors are about an hour away from the city and a must see if you are spending any time in China. They were discovered by farmers in 1974 who were drilling a well and excavation started immediately after. To date just over 2000 Terracotta warriors and horses have been uncovered, with an estimated 4000-6000 still buried. The statues are incredible! They were built under the direction of China's first emperor Qin Shi Huang and stand in battle formation near his tomb. It is commonly believed that the emperor had them built so he could take them with him into the afterlife where he would continue his rule. The life-size Terracotta Warriors are displayed in three pits where they were originally buried over 2000 years ago.
We visited the smallest pit first which contains 72 warriors and horses and is thought to be the army headquarters due to the high number of generals and officials unearthed there. You are able to walk the circumference of the pit, which isn't all that deep putting you about 3-4 meters away from some of the statues. From
there it is easy to see the different facial features and armour styles that definitely proved to us the fact that no two warriors are the same. We then went to Pit 2, which is still being excavated. It was huge, covering the area of a few football fields but most of the statues are still buried. Upon their completion they were placed in the pit and then the pit was covered with large timbers and then woven mats, with earth packed on top. Again you can walk the circumference of the pit and see that process up close. Also in Pit 2 they have on display five different warriors in glass cases that you can examine close up. There is a kneeling archer, a standing archer, a cavalry man and his horse, a mid-ranking officer and a general. The level of detail is exquisite: the hair styles, facial expressions, armour and even the treads on their footwear is all unique. We then went on to Pit 1, the most impressive of the three. Housed in a building the size of an aircraft hangar, there are over 2000 statues on display all lined in battle formation. The vanguard of three
rows of archers are in the front, followed by the main army and chariots (the chariots were made of wood and have long since disintegrated). Walking around the pit you can see every style of warrior or officer as well as horses and in the back of the pit there are archaeologists still working away.
After spending a day exploring the terracotta warriors, we had two more days to enjoy our time in Xi'an. This is where our story gets interesting. While walking around on Saturday, we saw crowds of people outside of a fancy hotel. We weren't really sure what was going on but thought maybe some sort of celebrity was staying at the hotel so decided to get a closer look. That's when the crowd started breaking the glass windows and throwing things at the hotel. As soon as we realized the crowd wasn't all that friendly we headed back to our hostel. On our way back, we could hear the swarm of people getting increasingly louder. We passed a flipped car and when looking back at the fancy hotel saw something was burning. To our surprise, the cops were just standing around letting all of this
happen. It was not what we had expected of the Chinese government and were really interested to get on the internet and see what was going on. Just around the corner from our hostel we saw a couple of other westerners and thought it would be a good idea to let them know what was going on just down the road. They were apparently staying at a hotel right by the flipped car we saw and went on to tell us that the mob of people had also attacked a Japanese bank. Apparently this had been going on most of the day but since we stayed away from the main streets we hadn't even realized it.
After a few minutes online we realized there was a dispute over some islands between China and Japan. We spent that night partying with some Americans and when we went out for breakfast the next morning, the city appeared to be back to normal. Our train was leaving that night anyway so we were content laying low for the day and then giving ourselves plenty of time to get to the train station before our 8:00pm train. Around 5:00 we went out to
Pit One 1
Thousands of soldiers all facing east, ready for battle
get supplies for our 16 hour overnight train and found the street barricaded off by riot police. They were closing down the central parts of the city (to hopefully decrease the chances of more protests) which made it extremely difficult to get around. Our hostel was at the south gate of the city while the train station was just outside the north gate. We couldn't get through the centre of the city so had to go all the way around. Once outside of the south gate we bartered with a rickshaw driver to get us to the station. The traffic was insane – absolute gridlock. At that point we made a decision to walk the 5 or 6km around the wall (with our full backpacks) and set a good pace. After walking a few blocks we luckily found a street going through the city that was allowing cars. We found another rickshaw driver who put a heavy foot on the gas and was able to get us to the train station in great time.
We made it safely to Chengu and apparently the protests here were much less agressive. No worries folks, we are safe and sound 😊
Pit One 3
Putting the pieces back together
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