This weekend Alice and I found ourselves in XiAn (西安) as she had a conference there and suggested I should check it out. XiAn is a very important city of 8 million + inhabitants in central china with 7 centuries of human history, once Chinas capital, now best known for the terra-cotta warriors. It was a memorable weekend, not least for having to rearrange our flights on the way back after a hectic trip to the airport! The warrior museum is spectacular, and our trip to Hua Shan breathtaking. Here are 5 things I learned during our trip to XiAn:
1. Unfortunately I have to start on a slightly negative note: The pickpockets are really bad! I’ve been many places where one is told to watch out for it (India, Thailand, all big cities including London) but never experienced a problem or felt in danger. XiAn was different. Minutes after leaving our hotel for the first time Alice and I spotted a girl walking in a very odd way behind a woman. At first it looked like a mother and daughter fooling around, or the girl had some sort of problem; she was kind of waddling behind with her hand outstretched… Oh… In the womans handbag. It was a striking and slightly frightening image, as the woman clearly had no idea whatsoever, the waddling designed to match the womans left and right strides exactly and remain tightly behind her in her blind spot. We watched for about 50 yards. Almost as shocking as the rather obvious theft attempt was the fact no one helped the woman by letting her know, despite the fact it was clear what was happening to many passers by. Still shocked, I shouted “啊! 女士，小心!” : “Madam, be careful!”, finally stopping the attempted theft and causing the girl and her male partner to retreat. My second experi
ence was in the middle of a crowd pushing to board a public bus whereupon I felt a hand in my pocket, looking up to see a boy of maybe 16 look sheepish. He didn’t board the bus. Please be careful! Keep your belongings out of pockets, watch out for young pickpockets, particularly in pairs, and even watch out for being closely followed. On our way back to the hotel on the same piece of road (South Gate of the wall) I spotted Alice being followed by a boy and as I warned her he retracted and disappeared.
2. The terra-cotta warriors were all smashed when discovered, and historians now believe they were deliberately broken by a rival force to the emperor, just a few years after they were finished. This means all those photos or real warriors you see have each been carefully reconstructed from thousands of fragments.
3. Hua Shan, a beautiful and dramatic mountain area in Shanxi province, can be reached in just 45 minutes from Xi’An, via a new high speed rail link. The most common way in the past has been the 2 hour bus or train, but there are a large number of heavy infrastructure projects going on around XiAn, and it looks like this bullet train is one of them. Unfortunately apparently due to speed restrictions it ‘crawls’ at a mere 100kph until it reaches the outskirts when it quickly speeds up to 330kph, otherwise it would easily make the trip in 20 minutes.
4. Taxis in XiAn are not reliable. We really are spoilt in Beijing, where they are regulated. In XiAn expect everything from rip off attempts to drivers unwilling to pick you up despite being empty. We eventually had to get a local bus to get back to the hotel on our final evening.
5. You can get sunburnt in a cloud. We decided to climb Hua Shan from the bottom of the cable car all the way to he top, which is I’m not sure how far or high, but subjectively I’d say about 3 miles and extremely high. It was steep steps all the way up, and I wouldn’t recommend it for the unfit. I was embarrassingly caught off guard by the strenuousness of the climb. Incidentally, the whole Hua Shan experience was quite expensive, even by western prices which surprised us both. Park entry (100rmb) + return bus to cable car (40rmb) + return cable car (150rmb) = 290rmb, or almost £30 (US$50). Now to my point; despite being in hazy cloud or fog most of the day, I returned home to find red arms and face, sunburn of a medium degree. Oops! Anyway, the whole strenuous exercise and sunburn thing, and even having to reschedule that evenings flight after battling to find taxis later in the day were superseded entirely by a magnificent climb and beautiful views on the top of Hua Shan, above the clouds.
On a side note, the weather in Beijing this week has been beautiful; cool and clear with a breeze. Autumn seems like the best season to visit, for those interested.