Xi’an, One of China’s Oldest Cities
On May 1, Marcia, Fred, Alex and I flew to Xi’an, China. Xi’an was an ancient capital of China, and has the best preserved city wall in China. Xi’an was also the start of the Silk Road. Alex and I had been meaning to go to Xi’an to see the terracotta warriors, so we were glad we persuaded Fred and Marcia to go too.
Some of the drawbacks of going to Xi’an during one of China’s biggest holidays (May 1 is labor day):
- The city was CROWDED, even by Chinese standards. Alex and I walked from our hotel, past the the Bell Tower (in the center of the walled city), past the Drum Tower, to the Muslim Quarters. We had read that the street food in the Muslim Quarters was amazing. As soon as we got to the main street, we hit a wave of people. We couldn’t stop at any of the food stalls because we were basically pushed along by the crowd. I heard the Chinese people around me complaining how they had NEVER been in a more crowded place! Alex and I did eventually get a chance to eat on a side street: steamed baozi and cumin-encrusted lamb skewers.
- The Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang (where the terracotta warriors are located) was PACKED. On an average day, the mausoleum receives around 40,000 guests, but on May 1, 100,000 guests were expected (most of them Chinese tourists on vacation). We had to elbow our way through the crowds to get a glimpse of the warriors (over 8,000 between the three excavation pits). We were lucky that we had a tour guide!
Some highlights of our time in Xi’an:
- The terracotta warriors were big! These were modeled after real soldiers and they were the cream of the crop! It’s rumored that each soldier’s face is unique. The warriors and cavalry and archers were arranged in battle formation. There was an astounding amount of detail on each stone figure. One of the archers has one foot raised and you can see the print on the bottom of the shoe. I didn’t know this until our visit: all of the statues were painted in a variety of colors! I had always assumed that they had been just plain clay-colored. Also, we learned that there was a tag on each statue, identifying the artist responsible for making it- and that any mistakes would result in a beheading. Talk about quality control!
- Shaanxi province is known for a variety of dumplings and noodles. We ate some biangbiang noodles (very wide and long, hand-made noodles). They are called biangbiang because of the sound they make (like a belt on a table) when they are being made. The character biang is really complex, composed of 58 strokes!
- Dumpling feast and Tang dynasty variety show: We sampled over a dozen different types of dumplings before watching a show with songs and dances from the Tang dynasty, at the Shaanxi Grand Opera House. My favorite dances were ones where the women used their long sleeves to dance- it was very graceful.
- Alex and I walked to the East Gate of the city wall, rented bicycles, and rode (on top of!) the entire length of the wall (around 12 km). The wall that is standing now was built ~600 years ago. It’s around 16 m wide and 12 m tall. We had a great time biking on top of the wall because we could see a lot of old (old architecture inside the city wall) and new (tall skyscrapers outside the city wall). The road was a little bumpy, but fun nonetheless. Apparently you’re supposed to bike the wall twice- once counterclockwise (to see the outside) and once clockwise (what we did- to see the inside of the city).
- My mom’s friend took us around Xi’an. We had a wonderful lunch full of Xi’an delicacies, then her friend took us on a guided tour (he’s a history buff) of the Shaanxi History Museum. It’s amazing how the ancient Chinese could make such detailed and delicate objects!!
- Giant Wild Goose Pagoda and Music/Water Fountain Show: The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda was originally built during the Tang dynasty, to house Buddhist relics. We watched the water fountain show that was timed to music (would have been prettier after dark), then ate more Shaanxi noodles. There was a picture of Zhang Yimou (the director of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies) eating a big bowl of Shaanxi noodles. 🙂