After Shanghai, Adrianna and I jumped on a plane for a couple of hours and landed in Xi’an, capital city of many ancient Chinese dynasties, most notably the Qin Dynasty. I don’t want to overload you on history, but the Qin Dynasty, under the brutal and repressive leader Qin Shihuang, is often credited as uniting China for the first time in 221 B.C. It is a city that has also served as the imperial capital for the Zhou, Han, Sui, and Tang dynasties. It’s the starting point for the silk road, and is most famously home of the storied Terracotta warriors. These warriors, buried with the aforementioned Qin Shihuang, were individually made with painstaking detail, and they are still in the process of being uncovered by Chinese anthropologists. On our first day in Xi’an, we hopped on a bus and made the trip as early in the morning as we could stand.
The Terracotta Warriors are some of the oldest relics in the world. There are thousands that have already been uncovered, and one of the first things that strikes you when you enter the dig sites (there are three open to the public) is the pure scope of the discovery. The main dig site is covered by what seems like a massive airplane hangar. We got there a little later than would have been optimal and the crowd was beginning to pour in. Often, as those who have traveled around China will tell you, Chinese tourists, in their teeming masses, can make it difficult to enjoy even the most awe-inspiring sights. The Warriors, however, were stored in such a vast space and presented in such a raw and earthy form that even the steadily increasing flow of tourists was unable to disrupt.
At the Terracotta Warrior site we ran into Konstantine, a fellow English teacher and traveler, and made a date for later that day. Together, we found a place to sit, have a few beers, and while away the night watching some World Cup soccer. Konstantine left early the next day, so we turned in after the first game ended (at about 2:30 am).
For the rest of our trip we essentially tooled around the inner city. Xi’an has many culturally significant sites within a short bus ride, but we were pretty content to just stay in the city, explore the area, and get a feel for what Xi’an was really like. One of our favorite parts of the city was the Muslim quarter, located next door to the Drum Tower, an older piece of construction. Some of our favorite Chinese food comes from the Muslim peoples that live there, and this quarter brought a lot of that to the table (literally). It had the seemingly obligatory Chinese *stuff* market, where tourists can go to buy all kinds of cool looking but poorly made junk. I like these markets, even if I almost never buy anything.
Our second day wound to a close pretty quickly, and as we were settling in and planning what to do on our final day, we received a text from another couple of friends and fellow teachers, Killian and Sahal. Turns out, they were going to be in Xi’an while we were there too! Such excitement!
Our last day in Xi’an was spent truly getting the most out of the city. We went to two centrally located towers, the Drum and Bell Towers. We timed our visits just right, and were able to catch a traditional performance at each location. Perhaps it’s just my Western sensibilities, but the performance at the Drum Tower was much more exciting than the performance in the Bell Tower. Still, it was nice to see both of those performances, especially since we usually skip out on that kind of thing.
After the Bell and Drum Towers, Adrianna, Killian, Sahal, and I walked to the city wall. A holdover of Xi’an’s ancient past, the city wall surrounds the inner city, protecting it from the threat of rampaging invaders and providing a nice, broad path from which tourists can get a little exercise and some great views. The four of us rented some bikes and, as the sun was starting to fall to the horizon, rolled around (almost) the whole inner city. It was a great experience, and made for some great pictures.
You’d think we were done there, but you’d think wrong! Somewhere in our busy schedule we walked into the Stele Forest, where thousands of feet of ancient Chinese art and philosophy are stored. It was a really amazing experience to walk amongst these biblical stone tablets that contained the most important writings in Chinese history. The ancient Confucian texts are compiled here (though calling them texts seems a bit inaccurate, since they are literally carved in stone), and walking between these walls of black stone inspired a sense of genuine peace and serenity that is so difficult to find in modern China.
I loved Xi’an. It’s old in a way that so many things in China, destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and rebuilt with shiny modern techniques, just aren’t. From the Terracotta Warriors to the City Wall, Xi’an was a respite from the modern hustle and bustle of Shenzhen and Shanghai. Could I live there in the long term? Probably not, for the hustle and bustle comes with the benefits of larger Western populations and Western conveniences. Nonetheless, visiting Xi’an is something anyone traveling in China should definitely do.