I have lived in China for 8 years, and it occurred to me recently that there are several places I keep saying I want to go and see in this country but had yet to see. Xi’an 西安 is one of them. The Terracotta Warriors 兵马俑 are on every other tourist’s list, so why hadn’t I seen them yet? As my kids were heading to their grandparents house for the spring school break, I decided I was past time to check this box.
I spent two nights in Xi’an in a nice “family room” at a hostel, which was particularly thrilling for me since I didn’t come with the family. There were two beds, a nice balcony and a spacious bathroom. I didn’t have to share an inch of it. Hurrah!
Of course, I planned to see the Terracotta Warrior museum as my main purpose, but when I booked the tour with other tourists, figuring it was easier than hiring a car or navigating the city buses, I had forgotten about the commercial nature of China’s tourism industry. The first stop was “statue making factory,” but really a cash grab for selling cheap souvenirs. When we didn’t actually get to the warriors until 11am after an 8:30 departure, I was already scheming my escape.
I saw through all three “pits” at the museum and then politely spoke to the tour guide about my options. She hadn’t realized I spoke Chinese, which embarrassed her slightly considering the very casual conversation she previously had with the driver about the laowai 老外 she served everyday and the hectic schedule she was keeping. This surely taught her a great lesson about when to say what in a car full of people, regardless of nationality.
Next on the agenda was the mausoleum (not my idea of fun) and lunch (likely non-veg) so I slipped away. I was pointed in the direction of the public buses and very seamlessly took leave for more than three hours before everyone else, which bought me time in the city to cycle the city wall (the longest preserved city wall in the country—14km!). I preserved some energy to walk through the Muslim quarter that evening.
The Muslim quarter (回民街) was my absolute favorite experience, just nudging out cycling on the city wall in late afternoon sun with Joni Mitchell blasting in my earphones. This street reminded me of Mardi Gras in New Orleans (but with food, not booze) or perhaps Khao San Road in Bangkok (but again, with food rather than cheap souvenirs). I loved it. And this vegetarian-mom-on-leave-from-her-kids found roasted potatoes, a plate of delicious tofu, and lots of fresh (unsweetened) juices to make her tummy happy.
But the best thing about going to Xi’an was the accomplishment of the trip. I’ve done it. I’ve seen the huge underground army of the egomaniacal Qin Shi Huang 秦始皇. Check! There’s something eerie about it. Of course they’re obviously statues and not mummies, but if theory existed that a magic spell had turned Qin Shi Huang‘s entire army to stone at the moment of his death, I would seriously consider that possible…
Pics: Courtesy of Ember Swift