A couple of weeks ago in China, it was the Qingming Festival (清明节, or Tomb Sweeping Day), so we got a few days off from classes. The university were offering a trip to Xi’an (西安) from 3rd April-6th April, so we got to spend two days in one of the oldest cities in China.
Wednesday 3rd April 2013
We’d had a meeting on Monday about the trip and knew we had to meet to take a bus to the train station at 12.30. I ended up missing a couple of hours of class because I am extraordinarily lazy when it comes to packing, but I made it to the bus in time, which is the important thing. The bus to the station took about an hour – and I was the only person I knew going, so I just sat there listening to my iPod and reading a book.
At the train station, we found that (unfortunately, as usual), things weren’t quite as organised as they should be. The train tickets have an ID number on them (in this case, our passport numbers), but it had been decided that they would try and give us the tickets outside the station instead of, say, on the bus ride over. Needless to say, it didn’t work, but one of the teachers talked to someone who worked at the station and they let us all through without complaint.
The train was scheduled to leave at 14.30, to arrive in Xi’an at about 05.00 the next day. We’d got a sleeper train because of this, each compartment having six beds (three on each side). I was on the top bed and met the other students (our uni took up, I think, at least a whole car) in my compartment, which was fun. We chatted and ate and all went to our beds just in time, because they switched the lights out at ten! I put my iPod on to try and drown out some of the noise, but unsurprisingly, I didn’t get a lot of sleep.
Thursday 4th April 2013
We got to Xi’an, as they’d said, at about 05.00 and headed straight for the hotel. The rooms were shared, so I ended up with another girl who’d come on her own. We were meeting up again at 08.30 (I thought, to have breakfast, but it turned out I was mistaken so I missed that…) so I had a little nap on the (amazing!) bed and rolled out again at about eight.
Our first stop in Xi’an was the Wild Goose Pagoda (大雁塔), which was a really beautiful place. We went around with a tour guide for a while, then had a little walk on our own when we got to a garden full of peonies.
After the Wild Goose Pagoda, we went to the factory where they still make the Terracotta Warriors that Xi’an is so famous for. The figures are all made in moulds and then hand carved (we saw people carving them there!), and for the bigger warriors the heads (and the bodies, sometimes) are made seperately and then slotted in. They make hand-painted glass figurines at the factory too. The Warriors are made with the same clay mixture that’s been used for about two thousand years; and we got to see the kilns they use too – they’re big stone structures that they seal up with rocks and they have to leave the Warriors to bake for a couple of days. It was so interesting!
After a tour around the factory, we went into a gift shop and I bought a little warrior of my own – because we were such a big group, we got a discount, so it only cost about £5. There was another little market where I got some other souvenirs and then it was time for lunch.
Lunch was at a hotel restaurant and after we finally went to the Terracotta Warriors Museum, where we explored all three pits. The first, which has the most warriors (as far as I could tell), was massively busy, so we took a few pictures (most of mine didn’t turn out so well) and then moved onto pit two.
Pit two didn’t have any warriors that I could see (as far as I remember); it was the old tomb and they had a picture of a section that had been broken into by tomb robbers, so it was still really interesting.
Pit three was better – it wasn’t as busy as pit one and, unlike pit two, there were plenty of Warriors, as well as terracotta horses that were all lined up together. I got better pictures in here too, though a lot of the warriors were missing hands and heads.
After we’d been around the museum for a while we went for dinner at another hotel which also housed Xi’an’s theatre. Dinner was a dumpling banquet – we tried sixteen different types: red bean, pork and leek, beef and mushroom, vegetable, shrimp… There were so many, including one lot that were shaped like walnuts (though they were purple, so they really just kind of looked like brains) and another that were shaped like ducks!
We’d been told earlier in the day that there was a performance being shown in the theatre, one that showcased song and dance from the Tang Dynsasty. It cost about £12 but I paid and it turned out to be quite interesting – a lot of the dancers were very acrobatic, which was exciting!
The best act was probably a group of dancers dressed as Terracotta Warriors who kept balancing on each other (including on other dancers’ necks!) and made a wall of people at the end by lifting two dancers in the middle, then rotating on the stage. It was so cool!
Friday 5th April 2013
Our first stop on our second (and final, boo!) day in Xi’an was the Xi’an city wall, which we had an hour to explore. We took a long walk (it was surprisingly cold, though it had rained most of the day before), though it turned out you can hire a bike there for about £4 for 100 minutes. We took a bunch of pictures and there was a good view of the city, but we headed back to the bus a bit earlier than most of the group because it was just so cold and windy.
Our second stop was the Muslim Street (回民街), which is behind the drum tower. The street has a lot of small shops and places to eat, so we had a wander and I bought a few souvenirs and a snack (a fried banana!). Lots of places seemed to have sales on; whether that was for the festival or not, I don’t know. We only had forty minutes to spend here which kind of sucked – I would have liked more time to have a look at the shops, but we had to head off for lunch soon enough, at the hotel we’d been to the night before.
After lunch we went to the Shaanxi History Museum (陕西历史博物馆), which was interesting but I still couldn’t get very good pictures (we weren’t allowed to use the flash on our cameras) and by this point, we were all pretty tired. Still, we went around most of the exhibits and it’s interesting to see how much history China – and Xi’an, particularly – actually has.
When we met the rest of the group, the teachers took us to a nearby teahouse where we got to try some samples and heard about some of the history of Chinese tea. We got a ‘buy one, get one free’ offer because we were in such a large group so a few of us ended up buying some tea – I have some, though I’ve not managed to drink any of it yet! (And no, I’m not telling you all how much it cost. Our food, travel and hotel were included in the trip though, as was our entry to all of the museums, so it was the most I spent in one go the entire time ;)).
Our train was scheduled to leave at 17.30 (or thereabouts) so we went to the train station after and wrangled beds so we were all in the same compartment. The train was still slow, but this time we were all in bed by the time the lights went out.
Saturday 6th April 2013
We returned to Beijing at about 05.00 again (the itinerary we’d received at first had told us we’d be back by noon, so that was a surprise!) and, to our excitement, blue skies and sun. I also found it interesting that there’s
no very little traffic on the roads in Beijing at six on a Saturday, so it only took us about twenty minutes to get back to the university.
We all made it back to our respective dorms and, I’m pretty sure, did the same thing: