I didn’t know what to expect from China’s ancient imperial capital, Xi’an (pronounced She – an), except for the famous terracotta warriors. Even then, I had no idea how they would be exhibited, or whether or not they would blow my mind. They did, in a ‘oh-my-god-they-went-to-so-much-trouble-to-bury-their-dead-emporer’ kind of way.
It was a similar feeling to visiting the Pyramids and The Valley of the Kings in Egypt, with the addition of a few thousand Chinese tourists. That’s the thing about the Chinese, they love finding out about their own country, and with good reason, their ancestors were flat-out crazy. Crazy enough to organise and implement the building of the Great Wall to protect from Mongolian invaders, and sufficiently insane to immortalise an entire army in clay, complete with full-sized horses, to accompany their beloved Emporer to the afterlife.
It’s the sheer size of this thing that blew that mind. They haven’t even excavated it all yet but the largest ‘pit’ out of the three we saw was the size of a football field. Archeologists have painstakingly reconstructed each soldier, horse and chariot, positioning them as they would have been buried back in about 200 BC.
They were discovered by accident in 1974 when a farmer was digging a well, finding much more than just water. He unearthed a national treasure.
What a cool mistake!
Each statue is unique. Their size, body shape, height and facial expression all vary, which makes seeing them en masse even more spectacular. There is estimated to be over 8,000 soldiers and 520 horses, not to mention the weaponry, chariots and other implements that would have been buried with them.
After visiting the terracotta warriors, we headed out to Xi’an’s muslim quarter for dinner. The city is pretty manic as it is, but the muslim quarter turns the crazy-dial up a notch. I loved it, the atmosphere was electric, as were the bikes that almost ran us down every few steps. Halal meats, roasted walnuts and A LOT of dried fruit was on display as well as every trinket imaginable.
Yes, they have ‘orgasmatrons’ on their heads.
The sensory overload left us feeling pretty ragged after twenty minutes or so. We needed to eat. The restaurants were busy and intimidating, some of the food we didn’t even recognize. Despite Tyrone’s cries of Where are the kebabs? we settled on a street-side restaurant, where the noodles were cold and the meat was HOT. It was the sort of place where cigarette butts are stomped into the floor (not necessarily an anomaly in China), and people shout to each other over plates piled high with food (again, pretty common).
Tyrhone gave the ordering reigns over to me (woohoo!) and I returned with a selection of grilled meat sticks, handmade noodles, and a weird beef and flour thing. It was actually all delicious. The meat was tender, the beef and flour thingy was surprisingly good, but the piste de resistance was the cold square-shaped noodles in spicy sauce. I have been craving them ever since, and don’t think I will ever forget their tasty, textural goodness.
Taking the food ordering pretty seriously…
I think she wants two?!
Don’t let the plastic bags put you off, at least they’re clean…
Satisfied with our culinary discoveries, it was back into the frey, to battle the crowds for a taxi, none of which wanted to take us, except an amiable lady driving an electric tuk-tuk. She charged us just over-the-odds for a super quiet, relatively slow ride home past ancient pagodas lit up like Vegas casinos.
It was delightful.
The following day we cycled around Xi’an’s ancient city wall, a perfect elevated position from which to survey the chaotic happenings of this now bustling, modern city. About half way around, we took a break from all the physical exertion at a small drinks stand, guzzling water and icy cokes. A young guy and his dad struck up a conversation, and after a few minutes of pleasant, dis-jointed chit-chat, they farewelled us with big smiles saying, “Welcome to China!” as they peddled away.
Soon after, we came across a photo-shoot taking place by the Tibetan-style Lamma Temple. Against the backdrop of the temple’s ornate roofs, a young couple, possibly newlyweds, posed for the cameras. The girl then took a break in the humid mid-afternoon heat, the folds of her crimson satin dress cascading voluptuously onto the dirty grey bricks.
It was a beautiful scene.
And another perfect example of the beauty that continues to arise out of China’s urban chaos.
Xi’an Xi’an Xi’an Xi’an