The Year of China Travels Part 3: Xi’an

And so we continue in our account of our holiday break traveling. Xi’an was a short stop in our journey; in fact, the shortest of all. Xi’an is the capital of the Shaanxi province and used to be imperial capital of China for a short period of time. It’s a walled city (at least some of it is; seemingly most of the interesting stuff and city amenities are within the walls) and the wall itself is worth seeing. It’s very well preserved, and it’s high and rather massive. However, the reason why we went to Xi’an was because it is the sight of the famous Terracotta Army, yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site and well, something people travel the world to come see. We found out during our visit that it is still an active archaeological site.

There is no high-speed train between Chengdu and Xi’an, so we had to fly – it’s a one hour flight, but hey, why not avoid flying when you can? This time, however, we couldn’t. Luckily the flight was rather uneventful and I think we both managed to sleep through a good portion of it.

This is something that I think we have mentioned before, but we will again. When you live in Shanghai, you get spoiled. You also make the sometimes involuntary mistake of thinking that every other city in China will be similar. This mistake happens more often when you’re thinking of province capitals. Cause you know, they’re supposed to be important and whatnot.

Xi’an is not like Shanghai. Xi’an is not like Beijing. Xi’an is not like Chengdu. Xi’an is like what I imagine the majority of Chinese cities look like. There are no flashy buildings or tree-lined streets. There are some tall buildings under construction. The streets are dirty. The buildings look dirty and run down on the outside. You see more widespread poverty. You also see more of the Chinese Muslim minority. There is not as much security as in Shanghai and Beijing. There are warnings about which are the real cabs and which are “knockoff” cabs (yes, apparently this is also a thing).

We got there on a day that really did not help the case. It was gray and overcast, not to mention super polluted. So everything was covered in this ominous cloud of smoke. Needless to say, my on-again, off-again sinus infection came back…with a vengeance. I messaged Carrie, the TA in my student teaching classroom, asking her if she could send me a picture of whatever cold/flu medicine I could get on an average Chinese pharmacy. My pharmacy trip went better than I expected. I showed the clerk the picture. She came back with Chinese Tylenol. Yes, it was labeled Tylenol, with English in the box (and Chinese characters of course). That helped a little bit but it didn’t prepare me for the next day, our sightseeing day.

Air quality index read above 400 – between 300 and 500 it’s considered hazardous. Really, you SHOULD NOT be outside. But the only reason why we went to Xi’an was to see the clay warriors, so I put on my mask, made Cameron stop at a 7-11 to buy one (made of fabric and with not much of a filter), and off we went to try to get to this site.

We asked at our hotel for directions, since it’s outside of Xi’an proper. There is a bus, but directions were not very clearly explained, which meant walking for about half an hour not finding any of the references we were giving. Walking. Outside. In the super polluted air. Needless to say, I was not very happy, and after a while, we returned to the hotel to see if we could get better directions.

There is indeed a bus from the Xi’an city walls that takes you to the Terracotta Warriors site. We were given wrong directions in the beginning. We got there, bought a ticket, and off we went. Remember, this is the off-season for Chinese tourism. Even then there was a sizeable amount of people on the bus. And on site. Yet another place I don’t even want to imagine during Chinese New Year.

So what’s the big deal about these statues?

Apparently I have been living under a rock because I had not heard of these until I moved to China (shame on me, so-called history buff! Maybe not so much on ancient East Asian history). The thing is this Chinese emperor had a whole standing army built for his tomb, so they could protect him in the afterlife. This tomb was only discovered in the 1970s.

I kind of expected to go on the wilderness and…I don’t know what I expected, honestly. So these warriors are found in three different pits, and so around them 3 different buildings have been built. So it’s not exactly small, but not something you need to account for a million hours to do. The buses back to town run pretty frequently, so if you’re there in public transport you can leave whenever. Given the bad air quality we kind of wanted to get out of there ASAP, so we were pretty focused the entire time and avoided the crowds as much as possible.

It is quite impressive to see all these statues in line and how well they’ve been preserved. Archaeologists are still piecing together some of them. Would I personally go back to see it again? Maybe not. I find it hard to justify a trip to a place to see just one thing (unless that thing are adorable pandas, of course! Just kidding). I know there are other sights around Xi’an that are supposed to be cool, but I personally think that this is one of those sights that appeals to some people and not to others. I’m in the latter group. I think Cameron found it cooler. Maybe I just need to go on a time when it’s less polluted and I’m not concerned with my lungs bursting into flames. Sadly, since Xi’an is in northern China, I am not holding my breath.

Here are some pictures of this sight (not too many, wouldn’t want to spoil it for you folks!), always by the trusty Cameron with our awesome Nikon.

You know what? I’m going to take back some of what I said. The day we were there, I was rather focused on staying away from the pollution and getting indoors as soon as possible. I’m glad we took pictures! I knew then it was impressive. When you look at the pictures after being there, it’s still really impressive. Just don’t go on a super polluted day, and don’t count on Xi’an being super exciting. Go in the springtime, it’s supposed to be nice.

We are now back on the grind but we will do our best to complete our winter break chronicles as soon as possible. If you want more “live action”, follow us on Instagram: @comicbooktravel and @analinmcgregor.

Until next time!


One thought on “The Year of China Travels Part 3: Xi’an

  1. I’m going to China in the spring and Xi’an is part of the trip! The terracotta warriors look amazing, even if the air quality was poor. Thanks for sharing!


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