Muslim market, a temple, City walls and the Terracotta Warriors
We set no alarms for the next day but I woke to find Nold already up and getting ready to go out. I got up and showered quickly as did Rob and Henry leaving Pete sound asleep (he was in no fit state to be moved just yet). We had the whole morning ahead of us and went to grab some breakfast and find a temple. In trying to find the temple we came upon the entrance of the Muslim market and it was in this fascinating whirl of colours and sounds that I spent the most time over the next few days. Our group had grown as a few of the girls had made it out of bed to join us (Beth and Cat had to get up to meet Rob and I and collect our precious train tickets home) and it was inevitable that we wouldn't make it through the market as a whole group as everyone wanted to be stopping and admiring/bargaining/buying different things. Cat and I were left behind pretty fast as we were both pretty keen on examining loads of stuff. We enquired about lots of prices from various stalls so we knew a rough price level for stuff we wanted with the intention of returning before we left to do some serious haggling. There was loads of cool stuff and we meandered slowly through the market. It consisted of one very long corridor lined with market seller's shops on either side that scattered out into the pathway. It was open to the sky but for the most part bits of canvas had been put up to give the impression of a long packed tunnel. After a long time we made it out into a tiny opening where the tunnel market continued straight ahead but a tiny street joined from the left. Where the three paths met and where we'd just come out into there was a big set of gates and a high wall that enclosed the famous temple. We'd stumbled across where we were actually trying to get to - to be honest I had forgotten that was our intention. We phoned the rest of the group, hung around for a while, checked out some more stalls and got shouted at by an angry stallholder because Cat told him she wanted to look when he was trying to sell her something she didn't want (I responded in broken Chinese that his stall was rubbish and we only wanted to buy from other stalls anyway, this made him angrier). We realised that we'd probably completely lost the rest of the group for the time being and so Cat and I ventured into the temple for a spiritual adventure on our own. It was very spiritual - step one, find the loo. After that we wandered round for a bit; it was very pretty and very peaceful and then left. I'm glad we did it because it made a nice change and was interesting for a quick walk around. But not really my thing. We walked back the way we came and after numerous phone calls met up with the others at the entrance to the market. We resolved to meet in that same spot again at a set time because they had completely missed the temple and Cat and I didn't want to go for a second time. Tessa made our pair a threesome and we set off down a wide, packed street. There were so many people and after buying some street food and drink to sample we found a clear bit of kerb and sat down. We spent ages just sitting there and people watching. It was nice to just watch the world go by and was actually very peaceful. Pretty much everyone was a tourist - Xi'an draws people from all over China and we even spotted the odd Westerner mixed in. Even here in tourist centre we would regularly catch people taking photos of us. Some more surreptiously than others. I dealt with each one in a different way; ignoring them for the most part but occasionally, if I was feeling mischevious, staring directly at the camera, pulling a stupid face or just walking straight up to them. Eventually we wandered back to the arranged meeting spot and from there we made our plans for the rest of the day.
The plans consisted of McDonalds for lunch (so good not to have rice!), visit the Drum Tower (very close to the Bell Tower we saw on the roundabout), nip back to the hostel to grab supplies and a couple of late sleepers then get on the city walls. McDonalds was lush, the Drum Tower was cool and we found Pete at the hostel looking a bit more wide awake. One of the four entrances to the city walls was on the roundabout next to our hostel and we arrived just in time to witness quite the performance. A lot of tubby Chinese men in bad period costume doing some kind of dance very unenthusiastically. We did our best not to laugh and at the end joined the clamouring crowd to find a free 'soldier' to get a picture with. With this done we climbed the stone steps onto the wall itself and made straight for the bike hire. You can walk around the entire length of the wall but we thought hiring a bike would be a bit more fun and resolved to get 4 tandems. Unfortunately the queue was long and they didn't have enough tandems for all of us so we settled for 8 single bikes. Hiring bikes was a brilliant idea! It was great fun whizzing round the huge, ancient stone walls and we commemorated the occasion by trading Naomi's camera between us while biking and getting some cool action shots. There were occasional corners with small raised towers and we'd all bike up these small slopes and race down the other side again. One of the best photos was when I biked ahead and got an action shot of the entire group racing towards me in a line abreast. We got another beautiful photo when we all stopped off on one of the corners and sat on the wall with our bikes below us. We got a random guy to take a photo of us and he got the sun setting in the background. Things went a little wrong after my chain fell off once. After the first time it fell off every time I tried to get any kind of speed up - not good when you're on a time limit. Because of this I got left behind a bit with Nold and Pete - Nold and I had an epic collision coming down off a slope to race one of the 'luxury cars' for people that didn't want to walk. My chain came off and Nold hit me as he went past and we both went flying. Nothing was hurt except our pride and we provided a spectacular show for the people on the luxury car that was now vanishing into the distance. Because of this Nold's bike was now stuck in the lowest gear (he looked hilarious going at walking speed with his legs whizzing round as fast as he could). I fixed it up after a while and then managed to get my bike fixed at a stop off station so the three of us got some pace on to reach the end without receiving a fine. We made it (with 10 minutes to spare) and headed back to the hostel for a Western meal feeling pretty pleased with what we'd achieved.
We sat out on the green again that night and played some pool. I headed off in search of people to talk to and found Tessa and Ella chatting with a fat American. I left after 5 minutes before I said something inappropriate but he was one of the most obnoxious, ignorant, selfish and just pure stupid people I've ever had the misfortune of meeting in my life. His entire conversation revolved around money no matter what else we talked about, and he just kept telling us we were stupid because we weren't being paid loads of money to teach English - the poor guy couldn't grasp that we were not qualified as teachers just here to give some help and earn some life experience. Not a brilliant impression of Americans in Xi'an so far then and this wasn't helped by the 3 or 4 others I bumped into during my stay (you'll be pleased to hear that we did meet two really nice American guys on the last night here by the way). I decided to get an early night as tomorrow was Terracotta Warriors day!
We told other vols that we'd be ready to set off at 08:30 and if you weren't in the foyer we were leaving regardless (we were a bit bored of waiting for other people and decided we'd be most productive if we just did stuff ourselves and let other people tag along if they wished). With this in mind the lads set off for the warriors (plus Naomi but we're including her as a lad for the time being). We got the bus to the train station where buses for the warriors leave and arrived to find pure chaos. The place was heaving with multitudes of people and we had no idea where to go or what to do. By a sheer stroke of luck we ran into some Chinese girls that had met some of the others before who tried to help us and told us we could come with them. The queue for the buses was over three hours though and in the end we hired a private car. This was a bit risky as the guys hanging about offering their services looked less than legit. We were convinced by a woman who came over (to be fair it is her job to convince foreigners into doing this) and were led away by a random guy. We were a bit worried when we saw most of these cars were in fact people carriers with no seats in. Some had tiny rows of wooden benches in and we wondered what we'd got ourselves into when he led us to a pretty decent real people carrier. Still not convinced, but not wanting to face the queues, we jumped in. After a while he stopped at somewhere that didn't look like the warriors and we were a bit scared he's demand money from us and abandon us. In actual fact he was taking us to a Terracotta factory where you could go in and see people making and painting miniature handmade versions of the Terracotta Warriors. We made it through quite fast and when we got out we noticed that all of the organised bus tours and anyone with a car of foreigners or rich looking Chinese came here. The motive became clear - although the handmade stuff was cool you were led through rooms of beautiful handmade items for sale before the exit and it wouldn't surprise me if a lot of the tourists we saw had left with lighter wallets.
While waiting for our driver the story of 'Hank and Mary' came into being. We were standing watching the other tourists and realised they all followed exactly the same stereotype. We'd noticed this in the market as well, Xi'an seems to be quite the magnet for them. The Hank and Mary tourists always came as a couple. Most had rucksacks, sunglasses, a Chinese hat bought for far more than it was worth, slight sunburn, a big camera hung around their neck, a money belt and awful dress sense. They were all middle - old age and usually completely ignored us if we said hello, which resulted in us feeling pretty smug when we overheard them in the market. By this time we've come to think of price in Yuan without converting back to European values so we think things are expensive or cheap based on Chinese ideas. These people were all on organised bus trips and so bought everything for the first price named (usually extortionate). They also spoke no Chinese but still managed to be the loudest people around, not only in sound but with the loud floral shirts the men seemed to think went well with their schoolboy shorts and socks and sandals. Most were pretty rude and I'm not going to lie, we felt a tad superior to them knowing we could speak some of the basic language and we actually lived here.
Anyway, enough of Hank and Mary, we piled back into the car and headed straight to the Warriors where our driver took us straight to a small Chinese restaurant for a meal. He helped us navigate the ticket queues then told us to ring him when we were done for the day, we paid him half now and promised half when we got home and then headed off. We decided against hiring a guide; despite being reasonably priced we didn't fancy hearing loads of figures we didn't really care about in broken English and we wanted the freedom to wander around ourselves. Besides, Nold had his Lonely Planet guide so we voted him to be the guide (this turned out to be a good decision as we later saw many Hank and Mary's being dragged round the Warriors in the 'correct' order by an annoying Chinese woman at top speed). We kicked convention and visited Pit 3 first - not much in Pit 3, bit more in Pit 2 and loads in Pit 1 so we decided to build up and save the best until last rather than being amazed for 10 minutes then spending the rest of the day in disappointment. Pit 3 was alright, a few excavated Warriors but most of them broken and in pieces on the floor. We paid to have an epic group photo with some 'Terracotta Warriors' though and it came out brilliantly! Pit 2 was much bigger but unfortunately pretty much nothing in it - just lots of areas marked out for excavation (they haven't nearly finished digging all the warriors up yet). There were a few individual soldiers in glass cases at the side though and it was cool to examine them in close detail. After briefly losing Naomi we made our way to Pit 1 and the real deal. We queued for a while and eventually got funnelled into the Pit's entrance. Our size was put to good use as we barged our way to the front and stopped to stare in awe at long rows of silently standing soldiers. If you look closely you can see that each warrior is unique to the rest - the level of detail is amazing right down to the styling of hair and beards and unique tread on the boots of each man. Nold and I got left behind again and we were slowly moved through the enormous pit, under the cover of a gigantic warehouse, by the constant waves of people pushing around us. At the end we stopped again to admire the rows of cavalry soldiers and try to get a couple of photos then we were pushed out of the exit and outside again. The others had had enough for one day and went to mess around with some swords they found in a shop while Pete, Nold and I queued to have a quick look inside the museum - we saw the chariots then scarpered as quickly as possible. We bought some postcards and some small souvenirs then all headed back to meet our driver. We made it home after a long drive through heavy traffic but, once again, we were content and pretty pleased at how much we'd managed to achieve. No-one else had managed to see the warriors as they'd woken up too late or hadn't bothered to try the hoardes of people we'd warned them about on the phone.
Getting pretty long again so I'll break it up and upload Xi'an part 2 soon!