Xi'an: Terracotta Army and sampling food in the Muslim Quarter



After checking out some of the cities around Shanghai, I made a quick decision to head west toward Xi’an in Shaanxi province, mostly known for its army of Terracotta Warriors. The 16-hour overnight train from Shanghai was quite fun with a jovial old lady from Harbin in my six-bed sleeper car who tolerated my poor Mandarin and force-fed me juhua cha with gouqizi, which is a tea made from chrysanthemum flowers and berries from the Chinese wolfberry. She was also adamant that Obama had a half-brother (same dad, different mom) who lived in China, a claim that I was initially reluctant to believe until a Google search vindicated her (his brother is a fairly successful guy named Mark Okoth Obama Ndesandjo).

I also ran into a Mexican family who was doing an around-the-world style trip, and it was the first time I had exercised the Spanish-speaking part of my brain in more than a year. I eventually got into my hostel in Xi’an and was dragged up to the top floor of the hostel by a ping pong master that the hostel hired to do free lessons once a week

for the guests. I played ping pong as a kid and would classify my ability as barely above average, so the teacher was encouraged by this and held me for about 3 hours of lessons since I was the only one around. I was still weary from the train ride and what little Mandarin I knew was no help in understanding his rapid fire instructions. He eventually resorted to grasping my hands from behind and showing me the correct motions, something that made me feel slightly violated when the thrusts were abrupt but never lasted for more than about 20 seconds. He wouldn’t let me leave until we volleyed 100 times in a row, and on the last attempt we made it to 263 volleys. I was pretty proud of myself.

Xi'an: The sights and the sounds from Tyler Cole on Vimeo.

The day after arriving I made a trip to see the Terracotta Warriors, sort of a Chinese must-see like the Great Wall or Forbidden City. I met a French couple on the bus up and we ended up going through the whole series of excavation sites. They had biked together all the way from France, going through Europe, Turkey, and Iran and eventually getting all the way to China. Luc was a watchmaker for a prestigious group that makes million-dollar watches for outrageously rich people (he said he only made an average salary), and she was a physical therapist. We had a good laugh at the first sign in the excavation area, which said “Traces of Ruts” to describe ancient cart paths that were found in the soil after excavation. I was initially out of the loop until they explained to me that traces de ruts in French roughly translates to “the mess left after sex”.

The Terracotta Army was built by the first emperor of the Qin dynasty around 200 BC as protection in the afterlife in the massive tomb that he commissioned for himself (Giza pyramid-style). They were only accidentally discovered in the 20th century by someone digging a well, and the full extent of the Army has yet to be exposed. There was really only one particularly impressive area, the one that is typically photographed with the large spread of warriors, and in my opinion was barely worth the exorbitant entrance fee (of course, I’m no archaeologist).

The next day I took off for an overnight trip to hike up Hua Shan (Hua Mountain), one of the holy sites of Daoism, but that's in this post. In any case, I returned to Xi’an and wandered a bit through the city, including the lively Muslim Quarter. The Muslim Quarter had a mild tourist trap-y feel, but was still a fun place to try some tasty food and get a healthy dose of flashing lights.

Pictures are below:

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