I've just come back from spending the national holiday week in Xi'an. After busting a gut earning 300 kuai for two hours work in a new language school here in Suzhou to help finance the trip I promptly had it all stolen. Things could have been a lot worse! To back-track, I reached Xi'an on the slowest train in the world, 20 hours in all, but I'd got a sleeper so it was fine. On arrival the station was packed, with not a taxi to be had, so I caught the number 603 bus as instructed by the hostel. What I didn't know, unfortunately, was where to get off and trying to juggle LP map, rucksack and other bag in an over-crowded bus, where I couldn't see out of the window, was a bit tricky so I made the (wrong) decision to get off after a while and find the hostel on foot. In national holiday week, not a good idea. I was shortly in a crush of people being pushed along, fearing death by suffocation or trampling but being robbed won. The first I knew was when a young Chinese girl ran after me with an envelope. It was the bulk of my cash. She ran away before I could thank her properly but she must have been my guardian angel. The thief probably grabbed my purse in the push and shove and either didn't see or just discarded what looked like a useless envelope, thank God. So all I'd lost was 300 kuai plus my debit and credit cards which I managed to cancel without too much hassle when I got to our fabulous hostel,
It was great to meet up with Jayne and we enjoyed a few beers together in the fantastic hostel bar as well as doing the tourist bit. With the cycle ride around the city walls, the ascent and reluctant descent of Hua Shan, the fruitless dusty nightmare of a walk to a recommended museum I reckon we deserved the beers, and the daily free one was a good ploy. Think Chinese population and imagine queues for free popular museum in popular tourist town …. We didn't get in. And think about trekking up the most visited mountain (paved, thousand of steps) in the area…the great plan to stay up top in one of the hotels on the peak to see the sunset and sunrise wasn't just our good idea. Plan B was to come down on the chair-lift…. Here we experienced Chinese officials at their foreign tourist-friendly worst, the hand-waving in front of the face that means 'I can't /won't understand the lao wai'. Again one good experience blotted out the bad, as it so often does here, and a young lad, proud and daunted to be speaking to foreigners for the first time, found out for us that the queue for the chair-lift was 5 hours so was now shut. It was OK though, he said, there were coats for rent (we saw about 10, hmm) and it was about a 2 hour walk to the accommodation. We looked at the thousands heading that way, imagined sleeping outdoors in our inadequate layers and headed down, plan Z. We were possibly the only ones worrying, though, as thousands were still ascending as it got dark, to join the sun-rise party. Scottish Munroes are nothing like this one…remote it was not! And in China any place designated a 'scenic spot' is automatically crowded, often not easy to suss out what's going on or which queue to join and inordinately expensive.
For the Terracotta Warriors day, we decided to be proper tourists and sign up for the hostel- organised trip, definitely our best plan, Traffic hit a bottle neck when we neared the place and we left the vehicle and followed the guide's large flower to the site while other vehicles did a U-turn on what I'm pretty sure was a one-way street! Another example of road chaos here where anything appears to go. One of Jayne's colleagues had just passed her driving test and didn't understand Jayne's question about the rules for driving around a roundabout - it wasn't her English that was at fault, she jut had no concept that there could be rules… Anyway, we did them, Terracotta warriors, tick. It was actually pretty impressive and, although busy, the viewing areas were good. We even bought a guide book, personally signed by Mr Wang/Yang who discovered them in the 70's. We believed it anyway. If you'vehad a look at the photo albums you may be aware that some pics are of fake TC warriors on sale in the tourist shop. They look as if you can get impressively close…
After the trip to the Warriors came the inevitable restaurant stop (big international jobby) and the silk-factory. The charming Chinese guide there showed us how it was produced before swiftly moving on to the hard sell.
We also bumped into 2 VSO colleagues quite by chance in the middle of Xi'an! It was good to catch up and have a couple of meals together, taking advantage of Adam's local knowledge and far superior Chinese to eat in lesser-known places. We had the local speciality, a kind of lamb, noodles and bread stodge concoction whose name I can't recall. Tick, done it, but I much preferred the 'rou jia mo', a Muslim round bread filled with pork on sale from street cafes.
The return journey was by air as there were no sleepers left to get back to Suzhou. I was a bit concerned about my lack of Visa card in case things went wrong and I needed more cash, but I needn't have worried. From Shanghai airport there's a high-speed, 300km/h that whizzes you to where you can pick up the Subway. The only slight problem was actually finding where to purchase train tickets when I got to the railway station but 3 very helpful people helped me - each telling me different. The final one actually took me there and I then had no problem buying such an incredibly cheap 7 kuai ticket that I doubted I was going to the right place. Stop worrying, Valerie and go with the flow! It was a great journey back with very friendly people and I could do my usual thing of talking reasonably OK but understanding a lot less of what they said to me. One of them was particularly good and patient so I had a good 'chat' with her. Must keep trying!
So despite the theft plus the man shouting and banging so hard, and for so long, on our flat door that the buzzer batteries fell out when I was 'home alone' the evening before I left, it was a good week. Roll on the next trip.