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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Day 256 - The Terracotta Warriors, Xian

china Scary...

OK, so getting to Xian, about 10 hours south-west of Beijing on a night train, was probably the most-fun part of our 2-day trip to the Shanxi province. Originally planning on continuing south for a week, our beijing hostel has scared us to death about the impending New Year celebrations and lack of available train tickets, so we're heading away for just a couple of days. Anyway, we're booked on a night-train - this means two things for certain - no sleep and no comfort. Picturing an dirty carriage with 4-storey bunks, no blankets, no pillows, wooden beds and open windows, neither of us was looking forward to the journey - until we 'checked in' to our dorm...

how awesome is this. right, it was SO NICE. shockingly nice. warm and soft and cushioned. we had our own tvs with 10 channels. hot water on tap. clean (squat) toilets. a door to keep the riff-raff out and even a wake-up call at 6am. it was sweet. and whilst sam didn't sleep at all, i slept like a baby. perfect. we also got to watch our favourite tv programme "just for laughs. gags", aired in south america and seemingly in china too.

arriving in Xian was cool. the city is flanked on all side by its beautiful and imposing city walls, which circle the city centre, failing to hold in the sprawling metropolis that Xian now is. Its huge - 6.6 million people - and if it wasn't so flat, I reckon you could see it sprawling as far as the eye can see. That's something that's quite subtle in china - there's literally millions and millions of people. Towns that look no bigger than brighton house ten times as many citizens. And whilst the cities are huge, you wouldn't know there were that many people. until you enter the shops, where there are 8 check-out staff when one person could do all the work. In each of the multitude of hair-dressing salons scattered around our hutong in beijing are HOARDS of staff. maybe 10 or 12 staff, just hanging around. Its mental. I'm writing this from Datong, a small town between Beijing and Xian, where we are staying in a hotel which employs a solitary woman on EACH FLOOR of the hotel, just to unlock your door for you and clean your rooms. Its weird.

Anyway, the city is huge, and after arriving at our very central hostel, we dump our bags and head around town to spy what the shops have to offer. Its cute - we wander the highstreet for 3 hours, scouring music shops for chinese techno (all I got was shitty disco), sam bought some SARS masks, which is hugely popular out here. especially Hello Kitty ones. and I bought some rip-off sony headphones, which stopped working after 20 minutes. 2 quid wasted.

The next day was our shot at the warriors. now, word on the street is that Terracotta Army is a bit of let-down. Just a bit museum and not the awe-inspiring spectacle that it should be. To be honest, I'm not that fussed about super-touristy stuff anyway, unless you can get up-close and personal with the goods. But, that said, we couldn't come this close and not see them. some form of ancient artefact peer-pressure. Anyway, after wandering around for ages like idiots looking for the right bus, in the blistering cold, we hop on and an hour later we're jumping off at the entrance to the compound.

The whole place is disgustingly big. The museum is about a kilometre from the car park, and you have to walk through this maze of hideous tourist shops selling replica terracotta men, a scattering of pushy tour guides who insist "you will learn NOTHING if you don't have me as guide", and the sound of a chinese Kate Bush being piped around the park. Its kinda depressing, especially when the shops are offering little terracotta dudes for less than 5p each.

Anyway, we make it to the front of the park and after storming around the dull and badly presented museum, we head for Pit 1...

Right. Its big. That's the first thing that gets you. And there's a good number of the lifesized dudes. We push our way to the barriers to get a better look, take some photos, smile coyly at each other, and start walking. The thing is I don't wanna upset anyone who's been, or planning on going, or always wanted to go. But they're a bit rubbish. Ok, AMAZING. an ancient wonder. an unbeliveable about of hard work (all to protect the grave of a dead king). shocking that they have been restored so amazingly well. but a bit dull.

right, there's not THAT many of them. and they're about 30m away from where you are, so its hard to really see them in detail. and they're a bit... dare i say it... basic. i dunno. I wasn't overly bothered about seeing these bad boys when we made the journey to Xian, but actually seeing them didn't change my impression too much. I feel bad. I'm supposed to be wowed. Instead, we trundled around the other (rubbish) pits, and hopped on the hour long bus journey back to Xian city centre. Nice photos. Nice work by the archeologists. Could be better though.

And after lazing around for a day, wandering the streets of the Xian and the beautiful Muslim district (not a muslim in sight though), we jumped on another night train heading back to Beijing. Next stop - Datong - home to some old chinese history and loads of buddhist statues. whoop whoop.

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