Posts Tagged ‘warriors’

Christmas Eve in Xian

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

                               On Christmas Eve, I went to the site of the Terracotta Army. It’s located an hour outside the city centre, and on the bus there I met two more travellers, from Paris and Chicago, and we spent the day together. The sheer size of the site and number of statues was mindboggling! We watched a little movie in a 360 degree cinema, that showed some of the historical context of the soldiers, and then we went to each of the archeaological dig sites, smallest to biggest. Pictures to come when I get a slightly more stable internet connection. (UPDATE: Pictures uploaded to the gallery)

                               When I came back to Xian, the bus I got on to get from the bus station to my hostel was extremely overcrowded, and I figured this was because people were headed home. Oh, how wrong I was… The closer I got to the city centre (my hostel is right on the main square) the more people were on the squares and sidewalks, and by the time I reached the Bell Tower Square, people were spilling onto the streets, hampering  traffic, making it even worse than usual! When I got off, I had to elbow my way past people selling all kinds of food, little heart shaped balloons, carnival masks, blinking devil horns and tiaras, santa claus hats, little puppies, souvenirs and every sort of street vendor crap ever invented!

I was walking around for a while, just taking it all in, and it struck me that Chinese Christmas is in fact a sort of mix of carnival (the Rio or Venice kind), halloween, new year, Valentine’s day, and lastly Christmas… It’s a festival when everybody and their cousin hits the streets, to enjoy, or to make some money. I eventually ended up at a Christmas party that I was invited to by some Chinese people I met at a restaurant the day before. It was in a youth hostel by the south gate in the city walls, and there was a live band butchering all kinds of songs. (it was fantastic; it takes a special kind of talent for a drummer to never EVER find the right beat, he was always at least half a beat off!) I played cards with some Americans holidaymakers, who normally work as English teachers in South Korea, and then the performances started. First some of the staff at the hostel sang a song, and performed a modern dance (“we are not professional dancers, but we are required to do this, so please excuse us”), and then the guests were coaxed to do the same… There was an on-stage-drinking-contest, and later a raffle. All the guests were provided with complimentary santa hats and colourful carnival masks, and the heat was cranked up so high I eventually had to leave before I succumbed to heat stroke…

dscn0422.jpgI dined my way back to the hostel, sampling all kinds of food-on-a-stick and met a guy from Hong Kong at one of the stands, which had even brought in loads of tiny chairs and tables for the customers to “sit” on. (I write “sit”, because it felt more like squatting, seeing as the chair was like 15cm high, and the table about twice that..) This guy was in Xian to meet his girlfriend who was to arrive the next day. Around 1 am he got a call from her, saying she’d arrived early, so before he went to stay with his girlfriend, he gave me the key to his hotel room, which he didn’t need. Thus it happened that I paid 30 yuan (ca 31 NOK) for a dorm bed in a hostel, and instead spent the night in a 330 yuan hotel room… 😉

I asked this guy what was up with the Chinese Christmas celebrations, and he explained that Christmas had become a big celebration the past few years, but seeing as they had no cultural history of the holidays, they just took all the things they liked from different western celebrations, and mixed it into one big festival!

Today, Christmas Day, I paid the deposit on my Tibet journey, so on January 1 at 06:45 I am starting the train journey to Lhasa! The train meets up with a train from Chengdu on the way, and on that other train will be the couple I’ll be travelling in Tibet with. We are due to arrive in Lhasa in the late afternoon on January 2.

Merry Christmas to all of you! Hope you’re all having a ball!

Xian – ancient city of central China

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

Relaxing after a 90 minute aromatherapy massageThe apartment hotel where I stayed with Thorbjørn in Beijing was a bit of a  step up from where I’ve stayed earlier. I had my own bedroom with a queen size bed, and my own bathroom. In the basement there was a gym, a swimming pool, a steam bath and a sauna, and also a spa that offered massage and aromatherapy at a discount for guests at the hotel. One night I figured I’d go check it out. I spent an hour in the pool/sauna/steam bath, before I had a 90 minute aromatherapeutic massage… I didn’t know an hour and a half could pass that quickly! I actually think I fell asleep there for a while…
The remaining days I stayed there, I went to the pool and sauna every night. 😉 It is most definitely the best way of winding down after a long day of walking around in one of the world’s most polluted cities!

                               On Saturday night I got on the train to Xian. In 11 hours, I went 1200 kilometers headed southeast into central China. Xian is quite different from Beijing. For one, it’s much smaller, only around 5 million inhabitants. If Beijing can be compared to New York, then Xian is probably more like Rome. True, Beijing has a lot of historic sites, but when you’re moving around town, you don’t really notice them, because they’re all walled in. Xian on the other hand, has the historic buildings right here in the centre for all to see. I am in a youth hostel right on the central square, and out the window I can see the old Bell tower and Drum tower. They used to ring the bell at dawn, and bang the drum at dusk. Up to about the 10th century, Xian was the most important city in what is now China. It is the beginning and end of the Silk Road, and as such has had a lot of contact with the rest of the world. One of the museums here has a tablet with a Christian (Nestorian) inscription, dated 781 AD. The muslim community is thriving, and today I visited the Hui (Chinese Muslim) quarter in the city. For                                about a hundred meters down one of the narrow streets, every single shop that wasn’t a muslim restaurant was a Halal butcher! The Great Mosque was also fascinating. All outward appearances are that of a Buddhist temple, down to the Spirit Wall at the entrance, that is meant to keep out the evil influences. The Minaret looked like a Pagoda, it had the typical Chinese arches and architecture, and there were Chinese symbols on big tablets over the arches, just like in a Buddhist temple. The first hint that it wasn’t Buddhist, however, lies in the fact that it didn’t point North<->South, instead it pointed west, towards Mecca. Also there were inscriptions in Arabic mixed in with the Chinese. In the main Prayer hall were the familiar rows of muslim prayer carpets, but the dead give away, however, were the bearded men walking around with their little round hats, sitting in side rooms reading Quran, and kneeling in prayer on some of the mats. They weren’t Arabic, however, so their beards weren’t the full, shiny beards of Arabs, but the thin, stringy beards of the Chinese!:D

Tomorrow I’m planning to go see the sight that this city is definitely most famous for; the terracotta warriors! The first unifier of China, Emperor Qin Shi Huang, is buried with thousands of life size terracotta footsoldiers, officers and even horses! Some claim he was afraid of the spirits of his vanquished enemies, waiting for him in death, but most archaeologists agree
that he simply expected his rule to continue in the afterlife, and he wanted to have as great an army there as he’d had in this life… Like real soldiers, they are lined up in ALMOST (but not quite) the the same position, and like real soldiers, not two have the same facial features! Their weapons were real, and therefore are mostly gone after 2000 years, and some of the horses had real chariots, which have also all but rotted away. More on that later.

I’ve unearthed a couple of American CS’ers that want to do the same tour as me, at the same time, in Tibet. They’d found out that the rule against travellers of different nationalities travelling in a group together is no longer in effect, so maybe we can split the cost of car and guide, so the trip won’t cost an arm and a leg, only a few fingers and toes from each of us…