Monday, December 3, 2007

Xi'an and Chengdu

Xi'an and Chengdu have been awesome except for one large disappointment, but we'll start from the beginning. After our first day of settling in and catching up on the internet in Xi'an we spent a busy day on an excursion to see the famous Army of Terracotta Warriors. The guide first took us to an artisan workshop that today creates new warriors in the same old fashion way. It was interesting and reminded both of us of grade 8 art class. The one difference is that the real Terracotta Warriors are each different, not one face is alike, whereas here they use the molds a number of times.

When we arrived to see the real Army of Terracotta Warriors we didn't know what to expect, but at first sight they took our breath away. It's absolutely amazing what humans could accomplish 2,000 years ago. The history of how the Army was formed is well worth a listen and we're thankful we had a tour guide. Our brief interpretation of their history follows: Emperor Qin Shi Huang believed that when he died, he would need an army to protect him in the afterlife. So, in preparation, he had thousands of artisans create the Army of Terracotta Warriors. Qin Shi Huang inspected each of the 7,068 hand crafted and painted warriors himself and if they were not perfect he would assassinate the artisan. You can imagine the detail and beauty of each warrior. The Army was burried 1.5km east of his tomb, as this was the direction Qin Shi Huang was attacked from in recent battle. The tomb and surrounding area was to be top secret so no one could rob his grave or disturb his peace. To carry out his wish, after Qin Shi Huang died and was burried, the next Emperor had every man that helped to build the tomb killed and burried nearby. Also, every concubine of Qin Shi Huang that did not give birth to a child was murdered and also burried near the tomb. CRAZY!

What makes the Army even more spectacular is that it was only discovered in 1974 by a farmer digging a well. Excavation and recreation of the warriors carries on in the night, on site, while tourists visit during the day. It takes one year to piece together one warrior, so recreation is not even half done!

We enjoyed lunch, visited Qin Shi Huang's tomb mound, and carried on to a hot spring temple, Huaqing Pool. Lots to see in one day. Back in the city we made the five minute walk to the train station to purchase our soft-sleeper ticket to Chengdu and ate beef noodles for dinner, yummy.

The next day, we took the local bus down to Xi'an's main attraction, the Big Goose Pagoda. We caught the tail end of a choreographed fountain show that must have started at noon, then we entered the pagoda area and climbed the 7 floors of stairs. A little too hazy for a good view, as usual. Then we took the bus again to the South Gate of Xi'an's city wall and walked up to the touristy Bell Tower area. Ate some lunch, climbed the Bell Tower, then carried on past the Drum Tower to the Muslim Quarter. We walked along narrow crowded streets of shops and meat merchants and continued along even narrower side streets to the Great Mosque. The Mosque grounds were actually quite beautiful. Many gateways and archways leading up to the worship hall, which is still used for prayer today and no tourists are allowed in. On our walk back through the narrow market streets, we even found merchants selling brand name clothing for extremely cheap. Billibong, Quicksilver, North Face, and others. Nicole almost couldn't resist buying a seemingly genuine Spider jacket for under $30. Insane. We're now keeping our eye out for similar markets. :)

Our next day is that which brought great disappointment. We got up in good time, excited to visit the sacred mountain of Hua Shan for the day. Jason had been looking forward to Hua Shan since well before the beginning of our world tour. We were looking forward to climbing along the narrow mountain ridges and getting our fill of adrenaline. We went to find our bus, quickly realizing everything was in Chinese and we were going to need some help, so we walked back to the hostel. After sufficient direction we headed back to the buses and boarded our bus. We sat there for 15min, 30min, 50min and so on. Finally, after just over an hour, we were pissed watching the time tick away. We needed to be back in time to catch our train to Chengdu at 8:00pm. Jason checked with the driver and discovered that there's no set time for the bus, it just goes when it goes (or when the bus is full and they've made as much money as they wanted). Soon we got off the bus in frustration, but they waved us back on and this time, Nicole made it very clear that if the bus didn't leave in 5 minutes we would leave. Well the bus didn't leave. We headed back to the hostel in hopes they could figure something out last minute, but no luck. Instead of enjoying the day atop a mountain, we sat in the hostel restaurant, angry and disappointed. Jason really took it hard (he's still moping) and I think we've officially decided we'll have to come back to China for a brief vacation. To try to raise our spirits we took a walk to a nearby park and then along the outside of the North wall. It was nice, but no mountain peak.

The 16 hour train ride to Chengdu was interesting. We were glad we had soft-sleeper tickets, however they were for beds in different rooms. It was slightly uncomfortable for Nicole in a room with three older chinese men, but everyone seemed nice and we slept well. We arrived around noon and fought crazy crowds on exit. We briefly looked for the ticket booth to purchase our next train seats, but when a marching band came towards us through the crowd we decided it best to head straight to the hostel. Even though we had just slept and relaxed on a train for 16 hours we were both exhausted and, once settled, had a nice afternoon nap. Soon, we were feeling better and we decided to investigate our hostel. Dan & Es were here! :) They were the couple that we hiked the Great Wall with in Beijing. They seemed to have gathered a small entourage and they were the life of the party. We stayed up into the wee hours of the night drinking and chatting. Good times.

We overslept the following morning and lost half the day. We still needed train tickets to Chongqing so we first made our way to the station to get them. Nicole was a little confused with our plans for the day, but we eventually understood each other and headed to Leshan to see the world's largest sitting Buddha. It took a good two hours by bus to get to Leshan and then we walked around trying to locate bus # 13. Finally success! We arrived at the site around 5:00pm and we knew we needed to catch a bus back to the main station by 5:40pm. We managed to climb up all the stairs to the top of the Buddha and then climb down to the main observation deck and make it all the way back in just the right amount of time. The Buddha is quite large, big enough to have a picnic on his foot and his ear is taller than Jason, the whole thing stands 73m! Quite impressive and worth all the rush.
Up early the next morning to catch the daily tour to the Giant Panda Breeding and Research Centre. It is the largest and most successful panda breeding facility in the world and home to over 40 pandas. Our tour guide lead us around to the most active spots. We have to admit that the Chinese in Chengdu have done a great job creating a natural habitat and caring for the endangered animals. We enjoyed watching the giant pandas munch on bamboo and the cubs wrestle with each other. There are no cages for the animals, instead deep pits and an electric fence hold them, so you're seeing them unobstructed. It's great! They also had several red pandas that resembled red raccoons with long bushy tails. It was a great, yet sad experience to visit such wonderful animals.
We spent the rest of the day touring Chengdu, visiting the great statue of Mao, having tea in the People's Park and blogging at the local Starbucks :(. We really wish there was somewhere better to get a strong free wireless signal but Starbucks seems to be the most reliable here. We tucked ourselves into bed and enjoyed Rush Hour 3 while being excited about our Yangtze River cruise that begins tomorrow night from Chongqing.

Xi'an Pics | Chengdu Pics


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home