By: Daniel Otero
Of the four ancient capitals noted for a must see there’s: Giza (Cairo), Egypt – Athens, Greece – Rome, Italy and finally, Xi’an, Shaanxi Province in China. And is Xi’an really worthy of such notoriety? When its recognition throughout the years has been one of being dirty! For the outside world, the only thing Xi’an is noted more for are the Terracotta Warriors than any other tourist attraction in the world. The City already is in the backyards of Western China and a land to understand further the gorgeous taste in foods, the spicy touch that goes into everything and get knowledge about the Muslim Chinese culture that is often deeply misunderstood.
After a 13 hour train ride from Nanjing, the transport arrived in the middle of a dark-blistering cold morning. We had reservations for a certain hotel and those had to rapidly change. In our case, this particular hotel didn’t accept foreigners. Exasperated and pissed-off at the stupid law and knowing [that] yelling wouldn’t make the situation any better. They were indifferent and stupid to our pleas, people working in the industry without any customer service sensitivity. Further, the establishment didn’t have a licence to handle outsiders. And I thought what a racist concept! Forty-two percent of the economic tourist revenue comes from the outside of China. In persistence, we shopped for another hotel. There was nothing else we could do! It took us two hours to find and finally lucky, since this was in the middle of Chinese New Year. It was better for our comfort on the East end of the city.
With a quick four hour rest, the touring began early afternoon. A snowstorm was quickly brewing at our footsteps and around the city. It was simple enough to walk and get around. Noticing first the icon and center of the city, Bell Tower. Nearby is the Drum Tower, which has noticeable huge drums along its mid center. It was crowded, I have to say! The exotic Muslim Quarter changed my perception to what was Asian and appeared with mixes of Middle Eastern. From the rice they made, to the breads baked and noodle soups created, simply exciting! It all even seemed foreign to China, with a delicious, sexy taste! The Great Mosque of Xi’an was what made the meeting of east versus west, built in the 742 CE (Common Era). Pointing towards Mecca it held its own as a Mosque and with a Chinese/Asian flavour in construction.
The city in itself is no big deal. It’s actually rather dirty and what it lacks in cleanliness, it has in politeness. The first adventure along the city walls should begin by the east end. There’s a bus on the main roads, especially Dong Lu (East Road) has the number 30 and 611 buses to take all visitors to the Wild Big Goose Pagoda. The Pagoda is seven stories high, sitting inside a walled monastery in bright colours of red and gold fringes. It’s lovely, it’s a good walk to notice the delicate fountains and on a nice bright day to admire the structure from all its four sides! Now, everything is chargeable in Xi’an. Therefore, you pay for the entrance and to go up the Pagoda. Word of advice, you get more from walking around the premises, than dealing with them.
A short walking distance from the Big Goose Pagoda is the Shaanxi Historical Museum. Opened in 1991, and for 20 RMB the visitor can go into something magical. This museum is a small version of the Louvre in Paris in a Chinese sort of way, with three floors to acknowledge at least the first 4,000 years of history. Covering most of the story of China from the Prehistoric period into the Ming Dynasty, it was just fascinating stuff! Here you’ll witness the birth of bronze, iron, pottery and porcelain. From the layers of history, mentioning the gold and jade art, to the famous burial of the Emperor with the Terracotta Warriors. Taking time to see the museum once in Xi’an is a must. The premises are usually full. There’re two lines for free tickets, usually long and a shorter one for charging prices. The shorter line takes about 20 minutes waiting time. The museum is one of the three most popular in China. Shaanxi Museum is closed on Mondays.
No day should be completed without the Small Wild Goose Pagoda! To get from the Museum, there is a bus down the block, take number 521. Warning, it’s small and overcrowded, and after less than four stops you’ll arrive at the Small Pagoda. Once you are at the site you may or may not want to go in. The Park is for free, and during holidays they charge for the entrance up to 25 RMB. They also will charge to go up the Pagoda. Is it better than the other? Honestly no, and there is something that lingers on curiosity. If opportunity is given, go up and check what it’s all about! For those not interested, find any high ground or crack through the fences and take a picture. Just keep in mind everything is part of the adventure and old history of the place!
One full day should be used to go and enjoy the Qin Emperor Springs and Terracotta Warriors! Start the day early by travelling towards the Xi’an Railway Station. Walk as if to enter the Railway Building and take a right. To reach the 306 Bus stop it’s about 50 metres ahead. You’ll walk and see a line of and light-green buses. For winter time, waiting for the bus to transport us took close to an hour. It is 9 RMB directly to the Terracotta Warriors and 6 to the Emperor’s springs.
What can I say? The springs were nice, evoking a tragic love story. A very new concept in design and construction that caught my attention, I loved the statues and hot springs with pavilions which made me recall how the Emperor enjoyed his health through the hot springs. Something Europeans had to learn several hundred years later, a good bath is always good for the health! With the entrance into the spring, you can get a photograph-key set under the Love Tree. This was something to look forward to, enjoyable to say the least!
Different from the Terracotta Warriors, which are considered an 8th Wonder to the World; sadly, they are great once you see Pit number 1 in amazement. And it’s the only thing going for the over commercialised and disorganized premises of this museum. To get to the pits it’s an honest hassle. Too many buildings and overdoing it on aggressive sales people, one experience was enough! It’s not an adventure I would repeat in the next 20 years if I don’t have to and still, I wanted to be here to witness history. Another pit is currently being dug-up and already 6,000 warriors have been found in the first three pits that were discovered from 1974 to 1976. But for many Chinese, especially listening to them, they felt it wasn’t a big deal! Some thought the Warriors were more like a ‘bubble’ or scam to get your money. This is a stone in the middle of nowhere with terracotta figurines in the center. What a tragedy to listen to these comments and tragic ignorance which has been done by the Chinese system for their constant wicked-overexposure.
As messy is to get to the Terracotta Warriors, even worse to get back. What makes these premises good at, is the transport to get to and fro. It’s a one hour bus ride to get back into Xi’an Railway Station. Once it’s done, there’s no passion to repeat this sad transport back to the terracotta pits. Lesson done and learned! The Shaanxi Historical Museum was a more valued experience than coming to the middle of nowhere.
The following experience was the South Gate of the City. Holding to a unique collection of entrances is the Xi’an City Wall. One that gives the experience of going in and out into this ancient maze of old streets and historic formations! After, there’s a quick walk to the Xi’an Beilin Museum or the Stone Tablet Forest. Four thousand stone tablets in seven different chambers. Showing the past miracles in artwork and how the characters decorated the stone in a bright-charcoal rhythm. These hold the classics like Confucius, Mencius and different dynasties’ philosophy for the arts.
Another perspective to contemplate before finishing Xi’an is the Qujiang Park. Going to the eastward part of the city, it’s a park with a center as a lake. A walkway to notice pavilions, stone carvings, statues honoring the poets and ducks; Qujiang is more for the family on a lazy Sunday. A gorgeous, sweet and simple end to a trip!
Now, can I call Xi’an technically an ancient Capital? It’s ancient and in truth it doesn’t hold to capitals like Cairo. Egypt may be dirty and messy, but it holds orgasmic experiences like the pyramids and sphinx. Xi’an cannot compare and it doesn’t hold in quality. Except for the goodness of its people and food, that’s what this City attracts. It doesn’t compare in background to other international places. The only reason for mentioning Xi’an is the Terracotta Warriors, without them, this city would be relatively unknown. Until in relevance this city can hold-up and correct its transportation deficiencies, cleanliness, with the correct treatment of the visitor, then this city can call itself world class for a world stage!