Adventures in Xian, China

Our stay was over in Beijing (you can read about that here) so we traveled to Xi’an on a 14 hour sleeper train. We had a cosy little dorm for four with two bunks on top of each other on either side on the room (I say room, it was more of a cupboard) We had a carriage to ourselves as there was so many of us – there was no sharing with the locals (not that they would’ve minded as they liked to take pictures with us) I think we all found it hard to sleep, most of us stayed up until the early hours of the morning but the gentle rocking of the train did become quite soothing. The mattresses were dire, no more than hard foam covered in plastic but the views were stunning and the trip enabled us to see a lot more of rural China.

When we arrived we took our bags to our hotel, Forest City which wasn’t as nice as the hotel in Beijing. The view from our room wasn’t the best either.

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photo from forestcityhotelxian.com

The first place we visited was a Buddhist Temple. I was really excited about this trip because I studied Buddhism a few years ago. I lit a candle in memory of Grandad outside the main temple and we also had a calligraphy lesson.

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The food was very similar to what we had in Beijing, although we did go to a dumpling banquet one evening. They’re nothing like what we have here in the UK – they’re a lot lighter and they served every filling and combination you could think of. (Something I would defo go back for!)

On the second day in Xian, we visited the Terracotta Army. We first went to a place where they made little ceramic versions which they sold in a massive warehouse/shop and told us lots of information about the significance of the warriors. I brought a couple of the mini ones home.

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The back story is actually quite interesting. The army was constructed to accompany the tomb of China’s first emperor Qin to look after him in the afterlife. They were molded in parts, fired and then painted after being put together. It’s estimated that it took 40 years to complete and each warrior was stamped with the name of the foreman responsible to track any mistakes. The first part they discovered, which they named Vault One, was found in 1974 by farmers digging a well. The other two vaults were discovered in 1976.

I thought the whole experience was breathtaking, although it was a bit creepy how each warrior has his own facial expression. The fact that they spent 40 years making an army out of clay is astounding, I couldn’t imagine our next prime minister ordering for this to be done!!

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Some parts are still being restored today.

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Huaqing Palace (or Huaqing Hot Springs) was stunning, a famous imperial bathing pool with various palace complexes and about 10 minutes from the Terracotta Army.

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The Tang Emperor Xuanzong used to spend Wintertime’s there with his favourite concubine Yang (mistress) She was recognised as one of the most enchanting ladies in ancient China and was spoiled by the emperor. He cavorted with Lady Yang all day and all night, neglecting state business and built the luxurious palaces in the area just for their personal pleasure. However, the emperors behaviour finally resulted in the An Lushan Rebellion which damaged the stability of his regime. This ensued in the destruction of some of the palaces on the Huaqing site. When the war broke out, the emperor was expected to lead his troops into battle, however he couldn’t leave her alone. He brought her with him but the men see that he was distracted and order to have her killed, Emperor Xuanzong has no choice but to allow it. Rather than turn herself over to the soldiers, she hung herself in the courtyard of a Buddhist Temple.

Bai Juyi, a Tang poet wrote the poem “Song of Everlasting Sorrow” which is still popular today, romaticising Yang’s love affair.

“But thirty miles from the capital, beyond the western gate,
The men of the army stopped, not one of them would stir
Till under their horses’ hoofs they might trample those moth-eyebrows…
Flowery hairpins fell to the ground, no one picked them up,
And a green and white jade hair-tassel and a yellow gold hair-bird.
The Emperor could not save her, he could only cover his face.”

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Yang Guifei’s Statue at Huaqing Pool

On our final day in Xian, we took the Bullet Train back to Beijing where we caught a flight to Paris, and then home to Heathrow.

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