Wednesday, April 25, 2007

From Xi'an back to Beijing.

Beijing, China - We're back!!! least for a few days. However, before I go into that, let's go back to Xi'an.

We got into Xi'an on Friday night and celebrated with a hot shower and a fancy dinner out at Pizza Hut. Little did we know that we should have made reservations, as there was a 50 minute wait to get a table. To their credit it was pretty fancy, although the salad bar was seriously lacking.

Saturday was our first full day in Xi'an. We used up most of the day trying to figure out how to get out of Xi'an. Not because we didn't like it there, but rather because in our short time here, we have learned that if we want to depart on the date of our choice, we need to plan ahead a little. Our goal was to book a train to Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia. So, we made a list of places to ask including the advanced booking office, youth hostels, the train station, CITS offices, etc. We decided to walk from place to place in order to see more of Xi'an and to work out the intense stiffness in our calves left over from the climb up Hua Shan.

To sum up the day...the advanced booking office had been replaced by a construction site, both youth hostels suggested we try the train station window #10 or #4 as those window offered English serivices. Windows #10 and #4 had lines extending into the plaza outside the station. The CITS office only booked plane tickets and tours. At the end of the day our legs were even more sore, but did learn that we needed to return to Beijing in order to book the ticket to Mongolia. So next task, book a train ticket to Beijing. Our hostel advised us that the best way to do so was to go to the train station early in the morning before the masses arrive, which suited us fine as there was no way we were going to trek across town one more time.

Sunday, I got to the train station early and was happy to see window #10 flashing the message "foreigner ticket line. Xi'an welcomes you." I wasn't so happy when 20 minutes later I was rudely waved off by a non-English speaking ticket seller who indicated that I should go to window #3. I was even less happy to see that window #3 was closed. 10 minutes later I found out from the ticket seller at window #2 that window #3 would open at 7:00 am.... another 20 minute wait. In the end I learned that windows #3 to #6 sell tickets in advance whereas the other 20 or so windows only book one day ahead. Everyday, a new lesson! In the end, I was happy and we had two soft sleepers to Beijing for Tuesday night. The rest of Sunday was a rest day. We did, however, meet up with Pat, a friend from Colorado, for dinner.

Monday, we joined a tour in order to see the Army of Terracotta Warriors. But first... on the way out of town, our guide gave us a long and not very interesting speech about the many fine products Xi'an had to offer. We learned about the quality, properties and many uses of Xi'an's wonderful silk. We learned, that if you place your fine jade bracelet in a bowl of water overnight and wash your face with that water the next morning, your skin will love you and grant you a beautiful and youthful appearance. The guide breezed through a bit about the last two of Xi'an's contributions, paper manufacturing and printing, in almost a single breath. I don't mean to be harsh. She did have some interesting information about the Silk Road and Xi'an -- but we knew what was coming next....

Our first stop was an unscheduled visit to a silk factory where we were once again educated on how wonderful the silk in Xi'an was. We were also given the opportunity to buy silk comforters, silk sheets, silk clothes, etc.

Learning how to make a silk comforter - Silk Factory - Xi'an

Next stop was the Bampo Neolithic Village (actually on the itinerary). This place was kind of cool and dull at the same time. Cool because this village dates back to 6000 years ago (according to the plaques there) and was discoved just 9km outside of Xi'an in the mid 70's. How it wasn't mowed over by the 14 dynasties that had subsequently set up shop there over the last 6 millienna is a mystery to me. However, there it was... an archaelogist's wet dream. Dull, however, because I'm not an archelogist and to me it just looked like a pile of dried mud. There were some skeletal remains sticking out of the mud that were interesting enough to point the camera at.

Skeletons at Bampo Neolithic Village
Ok.. we're off to see the Terracotta Warriors! Ahhh...not quite yet...first we have one more unscheduled stop. The Terracotta Warrior factory. First we were given a half hearted, hurried and fully uninspired "tour" of the factory where we got to see just how easily the Chinese are now able to mass produce replicas of the terracotta warriors. Secondly, we were given the opportunity to buy the mass produced replica terracotta warriors, some fine Xi'an jade, More silk comforters, newly fabricated genuine antique furniture, and a whole lot of other stuff.

The Terracotta Warrior Factory
It was about 1pm when we finally made it the Terracotta Warrior Museum. We were impressed by the 1/2 mile or so of future storefronts lining the entire way to what our guide thought was the entrance of the museum; it turned out to be the new exit. The buildings were almost complete and just needed to be filled with jade, silk and fake terracotta warriors in time for the 2008 Olympics.

A great example of Chinglish - Just in case you don't have the resolution to read this, the sign states "Terra cotta warriors international plaza, according to configuration all kind of cermocial items linked with new creative industries, become a modern public culture - tour pooling place, froming pure culture and history visiting enpand to Assembly travel service, showing, shoping, consuming and so on this whole industries chain and connect international morden practice travel industries item." One sentence without much sense.

That all said... like most major tourist attractions, the terracotta warriors were a pretty awseome site to see. I even enjoyed the circle vision movie (It was made in the mid 80's and has been playing on continuous repeat for over two decades...and it shows. I felt like I was watching something produced by the Darma initative.) After viewing all the warriors in the 3 main pits, our guide turns to us and asks, "So, do you like the terracotta warriors?" We had to admit honestly that we did like them. She replied, "I know. Everyone like the terracotta warriors."

The Terracotta Warriors

Tuesday, we managed to destroy the hard drive in our photo disk before hopping on a sweet luxury train to Beijing... I'm talking sweet! The bathrooms even had toilet paper and toilet seats that didn't need to be held together with wire and metal plates.

Yesterday, after a slow start we got tons done in Beijing. The slow start involved a prolonged search for an English speaking ticket agent in the Beijing West train station while hauling all our worldly possesions on our backs. The things accomplished: 1) finding out that the train stations in Beijing do not sell international train tickets but that the CITS office in the Beijing International Hotel did, 2) buying our tickets to Mongolia from said CITS office, 3) finding the Foreign Languages Bookstore (yes, that is what it is called) and buying the Mongolia Lonely Planet and a Manderin phrasebook, 4) finding Beijing's "Silicon Valley" (actually more like Beijing's Fry's) and figuring out a way to replace the hard drive in our photo disk, and 5) finally, booking a room for two more nights at a huge hostel near the train station in order to wait for our Saturday departure.

The Silicon Valley of Beijing at Rush Hour
Next time... Mongolia.

Here is the link to a few more photos, slideshow and comments:

Xi'an to Beijing, China

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