Xi'an

October 26

It had been smoggy in coal producing Datong with an average distance of view about three blocks so Xi'an surprised us when distance of vision was cut down to about one and a half blocks. 

Hotel touts were in abundance outside the station's exit gate and we avoided most as we ploughed through to regroup and get our bearings.

Before leaving home, we had made a list of accommodations we would prefer but a persistent tout, David, had caught our attention and offered free taxi fares to a hotel so we might have a look before committing.   We agreed.  Since there were four of us plus David, we had to take two taxies.   Terry and Sherrie got in one with David and Stephen and Angela got into the following taxi after David gave the driver instructions as to destination.

At some point between here and there Stephen and Angela's taxi took the lead and disappeared.  Just as Terry and Sherrie were turning the corner onto the side street where the hotel was Stephen and Anglea's cab made the corner.   Surprise and then fear took hold when a look into the back seat revealed no Angela ... no Stephen.  David translated that the driver had dropped Stephen and Angela off at another hotel of the same chain by mistake.   David walked us into the hotel lobby and explained to the staff that he would return shortly ... with more guests ... then left with the second cab driver.

While we were offered coffee by a hotel staff member, who obviously did not make many coffees and was trying very hard to please, Angela and Stephen were having a panic of their own not finding us ... or David at the hotel where they had been left.  Kidnapping entered their minds as it had with Terry and Sherrie.  

The young fellow had finally succeeded in making the cup of coffee.  Terry was taking his first sips when the missing two of our foursome showed up.

Sherrie and Angela checked out a room and reported to the fellows it was not great but would do.  We checked into the Nan Fang Hotel [Later found it on the internet as a budget hotel listed mostly under hostels.  Don't mistake it for the more upscale hotel of the same name ... as Stephen and Angela's taxi driver had].  After freshening up we set off walking the smog filled streets of Xi'an.

The drum tower was a short distance away from the hotel and we followed Lonely Planet's map towards the Muslim Quarter crossing over a wide street while watching a sidewalk badminton game being played by a man in a shirt and tie and a lady in a suit with tight skirt and high heels.  

As we turned a corner into the Muslim district ... the architecture changed from modern to old town and there was a vibrancy to the living here ...
a man gave another a neck massage on the side of the street, players and spectators huddled around a large paper with squares moving large round discs in a game we do not know;  down a side alley a group of happy people spilled out a door laughing and taking pictures of two gentlemen whose faces had been covered in black; a man walked down the street holding his sore bandaged thumb up in the air and another man sold birds from his sidewalk perch; another man sat on a short

stool with a demeanour and a face which made the inept wish they were artists to capture such a wizened man.  Yes, this neighbourhood seemed alive and well and most intriguing to we four foreigners.

Around another corner we came across a vegetable market and there were giggles when asked if we might take pictures of them doing their everyday tasks.   Outside on the sidewalk men were washing dishes.  There were lots of eateries around and some had their specialties piled high on tables outside their doors.

 

We avoided the narrow tourist streets with their gewgaws and tacky plastics and enjoyed the locals doing what they do.   We watched a young lady stirring a large wok of lava rocks and roasting chestnuts.  It was a local who steered us in the direction of good eats for dinner ... and she was right.

Dinner was a stew-like concoction with bread instead of potato.  If you like roast beef and turkey stuffing, you would like this.  If not, there are plenty of eating options along the street.

At sunset, we left the Muslim Quarter through an archway where there was another market.  Again on the modern streets of Xi'an we walked back to the hotel passed two different McDonald's outlets and a fast food chicken outlet.

                                            

October 27

We checked out of the hotel in the morning.  We had hired a car and driver for the day who would take us to the Terracotta Warriors, watch over our luggage while we were there and return us to the Xi'an train station in time for our overnight train to Chongqing.

Emperor Qin's Terracotta Warriors are in three large pits covered by airplane-hanger size buildings (the largest being 230 meters [755 feet] long).   It is assumed that more than 6,000 warriors and horses will be (they are still working on it) unearthed from this pit alone.   All the statues are a little bigger than life-size and each is different from the other (many held bronze weapons).   Their purpose was to be a forceful army for the emperor in the afterlife.  It is believed the project started in 246 BC and it is estimated that it took 700,000 workers and artisans 38 years to complete.   

One of the many sidebars to this massive pottery army is that there was never any mention in historical records.   This sensational treasure, located 1.5 kilometres east of Qin Shilhuang's mausoleum, was only discovered in 1974 when local farmers, digging for a well, came up with shards of pottery.  World archaeologists have claimed it as "the most significant archaeological find of the 20th century".

The first pit was opened to the public in 1979.  In 1987 it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site with UNESCO claiming then "masterpieces of realism and also of great historical interest.".  Now that they are being unearthed the warriors have been turning grey through oxidization and there are concerns and controversies over the causes of damage and disintegration.   Some are pointing fingers at the breath of gawking tourists while others point to the coal induced air pollution.

At the train station we purchased some groceries, including noodle bowls, and pijiu (beer) and then managed to talk our way into the VIP lounge, with its comfortable seating, and wait for boarding.   Once on the train, we found our hard-sleeper berths and nodded greetings to our room mates.   This time we were all in the same compartment with Sherrie on a bottom bunk, Terry in a middle bunk and Stephen and Angela on the top two. 

It was a hard night for Angela.   The coal fired boiler (open flames) at the end of the train car was having some difficulties getting started.  Along with others we waited and waited for noodle water which was eventually heated.   For the rest of the night coal smoke gasped through the car.  Angela was in the top berth on the down wind side of the room which was next to the toilet/wash basin area which was in turn next to the belching boiler.   It was rough, but she didn't let anyone else know until morning.

       

click here to continue to October 28 and Chongqing ...

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