14.11.12 – 18.11.12
Xi’an, being the old capital of China, holds many interesting Chinese historical episodes – the terracotta warriors from the Qin Dynasty, the development of the Silk Road in the 19th century and the Xi’an Incident in 1936. It’s also really nice that we happened to visit the city during the off-peak season so we could enjoy the sights without having to ‘compete’ with many tourists. I visited Xi’an with Jennifer, Sylvia, Jingying, Lex, Weijun and Jingying’s cousin Arthur and we actually made our way to Shenzhen from Hongkong via the MTR before flying to Xi’an from the Shenzhen Airport. The travelling was pretty intense, especially on our way back, particularly because the Lo Hu checkpoint closed at 12 midnight. The trip was quite packed actually because we wanted to see and do a lot of things in just a couple of days.
1. Huaqing Hot Springs – Mount Lishan – Terracotta Warriors.
According to the lady on the bus, people usually visit these three places together because of their close proximity. These places are actually pretty faraway from the city center, we had to take a 2-hour bus ride in order to get there. It’s pretty incredible as well that these three places are significant in different parts of the Chinese history: Huaqing Hot Springs was famous for the love story between the last Tang Dynasty Emperor, Emperor Xuanzong, and his concubine Yang Guifei. Mount Lishan is the site where Chiang Kai Shek was captured by the Chinese Communist Party and forced to fight with the Japanese (Xi’an incident) in 1936. In 210-209BC, the Terracotta Army was buried with the first Emperor of China, Emperor Qin Shihuang.
We first visited the Huaqing Hot Springs which was quite scenic with the mountains and the lake, and we went to watch a 4-D melodramatic movie depicting the love story between Emperor Xuanzong and Yang Guifei. I was actually quite happy that they screened the show in one of the restored buildings so we were allowed to walk inside the building after covering our shoes with hideous blue plastic bags. I remember us finding it pretty hilarious that this was actually our first group photo in Xi’an.
I also remember us having a good time washing our hands with the water from the hot springs fountain because it was a cold, rainy day. After that, we visited Mount Lishan which was just a short climb away. I wish I read up more about the historical significance of Mount Lishan before visiting and I could comment more about the portrayal of the incident by the Chinese Communist Party. All I gathered was that Chiang Kai-Shek was caught, someone was shot (and there was a bullet hole in the rock), someone ran out of his house in pajamas amidst the shooting. Probably because I didn’t know so much about its history, I didn’t enjoy the place that much.
We took a bus to visit the terracotta warriors thereafter. It was an incredible feeling to stand before so many life-sized terracotta warriors. It was also a little dream come true for me because I always wanted to see the famed warriors. I always imagine the warriors to be standing in straight lines in the pit. In fact, only the warriors in front are standing; the warriors at the back are just lying around, incomplete, haphazardly. We walked around the 3 huge pits, took many photos and stared at the warriors for a pretty long time. Apparently there are more pits lying around but they are not open for public viewing yet as the current technology is not optimum for preservation of these ancient warriors. We also saw some Chinese at work as they slowly dug for the pieces, labelled them and fixed the warriors together. According to a Chinese tourist, the villager who found the warriors is now famous and he is just signing autographs for a living.
2. Wild Goose Pagoda.
This was the first pagoda that I have climbed in my life, I have always wanted to do that. It was a very nice feeling to stand on the highest level and have a panaromic view of Xi’an.:) From the 7-storey pagoda, we could see the straight, long roads that seemed to stretched to no end. The temples surrounding the wild goose pagoda was actually dedicated to the Monk Xuanzang (from the Journey to the West) and there were wall paintings depicting his adventure when he went to collect the sutra in India. I couldn’t believe initially that this actually took place in the history because he seemed to belong to the fictitious Journey to the West story, more so than the Chinese history.
3. Ancient City wall.
That was a truly magical evening, we went onto the city wall in the evening and cycled round on the city wall which served to protect the city historically. City wall gates, which are still in use right now, are the only way for people to get in and out of the city. It took us about an hour, it was a heck of fun cycling on the bumpy surface with many potholes, making stops to take photos and singing as we made our way around it. Some parts were not lighted up very well at night so at some points, we couldn’t quite see what was lying ahead of us, it was rather exciting to apply the brake suddenly, make sharp turns and race up/ down the ramps. We watched a very nice sunset and there were actually stars that night – really rare considering how badly polluted the air in China is. There was hardly anyone else cycling or walking on the city wall when we were there and that certainly makes the experience feel even more unreal.:)
Huashan, a beautiful mountainous range, was quite a distance away from the Xi’an city as we had to take the metro, a train ride followed by 2 buses in order to get there. Apparently, Huashan is popularized by several wuxia works (I’m not too familiar with that) and the characters in them practised their martial arts there. The railings were covered with many locks with red fabric as people believed that by engraving their family’s name on the lock and hanging the lock there, their family would be blessed. The Huashan climb was pretty intense and tiring but magical. Our aim was to visit the South Peak, the tallest of the 4 peaks, which stands 2154.9 m above ground and that means having to climb many, many stairs. At certain sections, the steps were high, narrow and slippery, making the entire experience even more intense. Furthermore, we were not too prepared for the long climb and we did not come prepared with water and light snacks so we were starving towards the end.There was also a section nearing the South Peak that was covered with snow and coming from the tropics, that was my first time walking on snow. I remember struggling and losing my footing at the start and for this, I’m thankful that I have good friends around me who took my hand and helped me if not I would have slipped and plunged to my death there .:) When we got to the South Peak, I remember that the ground was very slippery with minimum support for us to hold onto. I also remember racing down Huashan because we were afraid of missing the last cable car and getting stranded in Huashan and that was intense but fun.
5. Forest of Steles.
We also visited the Forest of Steles which is the house to over 2300 stone tablets and that includes writings from Confucius and Mencius. In the past, people craved words on stone tablets in order to pass down knowledge from one generation to another. I wish that I knew more about the Chinese literature and I would be able to appreciate better. Wonder who came up with the idea of writing on stone tablets though. In order to get to the Forest of Steles, we had to walk through the Calligraphy Street where there were many vendors selling Chinese books, stamps, paper cuttings, paintings and brushes. I felt as though I was transported back into ancient China when we were walking and shopping on this street.:)
6. Muslim Street.
The Muslim Street is the food street of Xi’an. It is a busy place with many food vendors and souvenir shops but the place gets quiet really early at around 10 pm. We actually visited the Muslim Street every night and tried many different street food – the perfect way to end an intense day. I am a very big fan of the 羊肉串, I can eat 5 of them right now.:)