#9 China, October 17, 2002

Dear Everybody,

On Friday I hopped a bus to Baoji, an out-of-the-way place but an old stop on the Silk Road. I was so glad that there was a “NO SMOKING” sign in the bus, which I pointed out to the man behind me as he lit up. He immediately put out his cigarette. Later the bus driver, who was driving over mountainous roads in heavy traffic, lit up every 20 minutes and simultaneously was busy dialing and talking on his cell phone. Ugh.

I didn’t have a map of Baoji as it’s not in the Lonely Planet guidebook, but luckily spotted a hotel with an English sign a couple of blocks before we turned into the bus station. I congratulated myself on this fortuitous event too soon—when I walked there, the clerk said that they had no rooms. I kind of think it was because she didn’t want to deal with an English speaker, especially a backpacker.

I saw a big fancy hotel about a block away and headed over there. Their posted rate said 218 Y for the cheapest, but I managed to bargain them down to 175 Y. Hey, can I help it? That’s what backpackers do!

The only ‘tourist spot’ that I did in Baoji was the Jintai Monastery, which turned out to be not a working monastery, but a museum. Anyway, it was a pleasant afternoon.

After two nights in Baoji, Xian came next on my itinerary. A quick bus ride in a comfortable bus over a freeway landed me in Xian by noon. After getting some info from the tourist bureau near the bus station, I hopped the #603 bus to go across town to a hostel that I had learned about on the Lonely Planet Internet. It turned out to be a delightful Chinese old house right up against the city wall and next to the South Gate.

After getting settled I had lunch at a nearby tiny restaurant. I pointed at a good looking veggie dish that somebody else was eating which turned out to be bits of mutton, peppers, ginger, coriander, etc. and was very tasty. I also ordered rice. When I had finished nearly all of that, the waitress brought a bowl of broth with a few veggies and egg in it—also very good. Following that she brought some fried round morsels in a sweet orange sauce, and with many cups of tea, this turned into a pretty substantial lunch. The cost? 4 Y (50 cents).

With the hostel clerk’s help, I found an Internet café nearby. I have never seen such an establishment. It has 300 computers and facilities for playing poker; also private rooms for using computers. I think it’s open 24 hours a day. It smelled like a casino in Las Vegas. I don’t know what that smell is, but I was immediately reminded of it when entering the building.

The hostel is also near the Bell Tower, the Drum Tower and the Great Mosque. On Monday, waiting for Jan to come that evening, I visited the Great Mosque—a very impressive and complex set of buildings. There were also lots of souvenir stalls as well as Islamic food stalls around there. I wound up buying a few souvenirs, which I took to the Post Office to have mailed home. This went very smoothly and only took one hour.

Jan did arrive on Monday evening. On Tuesday we did some serious sight seeing of which the Shaanxi History Museum was the standout. In a beautiful new building, it traced the local culture from the Langtian Man (I had never heard of it) which is supposedly 1,100,000 years old (we saw the skull) through the Neolithic culture from an excavated village near here (4500 BC to 3700 BC) through the Zhou, Quin, Han, Song, Tang, Ming and Qin Dynasties. What beautiful things—we were ohing and ahing the whole time. We each bought a reproduction of a water pot from the Tang dynasty (600-900 AD), as it was one of our favorite things in the museum. There also were four terracotta warriors—kind of a ‘preview of coming attractions.’

On a crowded city bus going back to the hotel a woman about 50 years old smilingly insisted that I take her seat. I assumed that she was getting off and so I did. Ten minutes later when we were going to get off, I noticed that she was standing behind me and hadn’t gotten off the bus. As I stood up, she smilingly reclaimed her seat!

We had a wonderful lunch at my favorite little restaurant and for a light dinner, we had a small serving of Peking duck. We’re eating (too) well!

Wednesday was The Day to see the Terracotta Warriors. We got a city bus to the train station and then a bus to the site of the warriors. When we got on the second bus, I was planning to point to the Chinese characters for Terracotta Warriors, but there weren’t any! Apparently an oversight in the guidebook—so now how to communicate this? This was not a ‘tourist’ bus but a regular working bus. Before the ticket taker got to us, I whipped out a piece of paper and pen, and asked Jan (art major in college) to draw a picture of four warriors. Given how much the bus was shaking and how fast she had to do it, it was surprisingly good, and the ticket taker knew exactly what destination we wanted. She might have guessed anyway, I suppose, but there were other tombs and ‘sights’ along the way.

The complex where the warriors are is huge and very nice. There are three large buildings (Pit 1, Pit 2 and Pit 3) plus a museum. While I had seen a few of the warriors in exhibitions before, I was still mighty impressed by the scale of it all. What an egomaniac Emperor Qin must have been. I was also surprised that there are still large parts to be excavated—lifetime work for lots of people! I know a number of you have seen this extravaganza. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

These 6000 warriors and horses in Pit 1, 1000 in Pit 2, and 68 in Pit 3 were made to ‘guard’ Emperor Qin’s tomb, 2000 years ago. Each individual has distinct features and shows clothing appropriate to his position (archer, chariot driver, general, etc.). The detail on each life size person is extravagant and has taught historians a great deal about the life and times of this period. Emperor Qin died in 210 BC so that’s how old all of this is. There is still his mausoleum to excavate and archeologists believe there may be an even larger army buried around there, too.

After we had visited all three pits and the museum, Jan decided to buy a picture book about it all. She did a terrific job of bargaining—down from 60 Y to 25 Y. When we got into the bus to go back to Xian, Jan opened her book to read it. Surprise!! The vendor had switched books at the last minute, and Jan’s book was in Chinese characters!

That evening we decided to splurge ($ and calories) on dinner, which we ate at the De Fa Chang restaurant. We had a bottle of Chinese dry red wine (Great Wall) which was fairly good (interesting, I think we say!) and their Dumpling Banquet which was just that—innumerable kinds and shapes of dumplings, all delicious. There were also four appetizers and two soups. This restaurant is huge with a casual first floor, a dressy second floor (where we ate) and third and fourth floors with all private dining rooms, each accommodating about 12 people.

We have decided to take a two-day trip on the Yangtze River and finished the details of getting train tickets (hard sleeper), bus tickets and boat tickets (third class) through our hostel. The agent had one ticket for ‘Carol’ and the second one for ‘Kiecker’ but I guess it doesn’t matter. So on Friday afternoon we’ll be off on a 16-hour train ride to Chengdu, then a five-hour bus ride to Chongqing, then the boat to Yichang.

Bon voyage to us, and happy landings to all of you.

Carol

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