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Travel Brochure for China
Hannah and Bill in Xian China

Xian is a "small town" of 7 million people, almost in the centre of China. In ancient times, it was a capitalcity for the Chinese territory made up by one or other of the "Dynasties of the day", and was the eastern gateway to the famous Silk Road which linked China with Central Asia and the Roman Empire to the west. Enormous and impressive city walls, 12 meters (40 feet) high and 18 meters (60 feet) thick at the base nearly 1000 years old. Wow!

The city lies in a long fertile valley surrounded by hundreds of square kilometers of low mountains. From the airport transport, we see bright yellow streaks of corn cobs lying on the farmhouse rooftops or bundled on long poles, drying in the hot air. Very low rainfall here and seldom any breeze. Temperatures range from nearly 40 in summer to -10 in winter; it is about 22?(72 F) today.

The air quality here, during our visit, is unbelievably bad; at 100 meters the smog is noticeable, at 500 meters most landscape colour has turned to gray, and at one kilometer, only fuzzy shapes can be seen. Very dusty town;the dust seems to be everywhere, along the footpaths and streets, on roofs, onthe leaves of trees, on the dry and struggling grass. Clothes and noses get very dirty.

It seems a shabby place, but plenty of well-dressed people and some very posh and expensive shops on the main streets (with ultra-cheap shops and footpath trader's only meters away downthe side streets). Quite a dirty town, rubbish only swept away in the main footpaths, most side-street gutters and footpaths are spotted with food scraps and general household-type waste. City streets are very rough and riding in a vehicle is an uncomfortable experience.

But this town has wild sparrows and other noisy birds in the trees, not like in Shanghai where few wild birds are noticed. Many, many European tourists are here with their monster tour coaches and accompanying guides, again not like in Shanghai. And some of the tourists are wearing the most hideous clothes and inappropriate dress (bare legs & shortshorts). Hannah & I noticed the Chinese staring wide-eyed and giggling (with discretion let it be said) after these ugly, big-nosed, hairy, lumpy, foreigners. (The slang Chinese term for foreigners is, apparently, "big noses".) Women seem to out do the men in tacky dressing. German tourists are clearly the winners in the appalling-dress and awful-behavior stakes.

The taxi-cabs here are smallcars like GM Barina or Mira, about half the size of a normal VW Santana 1.8litre Shanghai taxi. Passengers are hunched over and crammed in, as these many little vehicles scuttle along the bumpy streets.

We see few "Chinese" buildings in the town, although some newer buildings and large restaurants have "traditional" Chinese architecture. Many giant hoardings hide new construction or shabby tenements, and manyshow high-ranking political figures (President Jiang Zemin no less) or dewy-eyed military men, pointing to, or saluting the future.

Here we see something of the Communist Party in action, again not like in Shanghai despite the fact that the Shanghai Municipality is under direct Beijing control. And here we see something of a "police prescence", which seem to be "unmarked" youngermen working in threes (yet sometimes wearing red arm bands) moving in on the "not-permitted" hawkers in the main central square (but hawkers are OK out of tourist sight!) These policemen are young and tough looking, and easily and openly confiscate the hawkers wares and furniture. But despite being feared by the hawkers, they quickly generate a crowd when inaction and get some verbal advice from the (legal) onlookers.

The hawkers quickly return soon after the police depart. We took a photograph of one of these confrontations but the policeman moved out of shot just before the snap. The crowd thought that was very funny, but I'm not sure what would have happened to us if the young copper had seen us.

The Terracotta Warriors are awesome. 2000+ years ago, some bigheaded emperor (the first emperor of the fully annexed, China, Qin,pronounced Chin get it?) had his subjects and slaves make replicas of complete armies and the everyday populace and lifestyle, so he could have everything just right for him when he arrived in his second life. Perhaps as many as 8,000 fired-clay figures are thought to be buried here along with real swords, spears, iron farm tools, silk and linen fabrics, and rare animals. This CHIN guy didn't last long, but made an incredible contribution the Chinese history.

Apart from building "the warriors" he brought all the different tribes and fiefdoms together to form the big China, established consistent law and order and very sophisticated administration systems, and declared the Han language the official tongue. He was not the only one to bury things for his afterlife, other emperors from later dynasties did similar things here in this very ancient capital city, so the digging in Xian goes on and on. The city authorities won't build an underground metro for fear of disturbing yet-to-be-discovered ancient tombs or burial sites. The Terracotta Warriors are housed in three massive buildings erected over the actual sites where they have been unearthed (pits numbered 1, 2, 3) and we cansee some of the painstaking archeological digging going on right in front of us.

Many figures have been brokenand are being delicately put back together again, but the wood, silk, bones and perishable materials used to build some of this ethereal life became dust eons ago.

Another building houses two cast bronze chariots each with fourhorses and drivers and carriages, with such fine detail that we found it difficult to believe they had been made so many centuries ago, and recovered from beneath the ground. It seems every market and street hawker in Xian has Terracotta Warrior replicas for sale, in an awesome range ofsizes, some very, very cheap, boxed sets even (painted wood we suspect.) But we found the most satisfying (and convenient for our bags) for us,was to buy small, properly kiln-fired figures at the shops in the main pit compound. (Full sized, properly made, warrior replicas were also for sale!)

Excavations are expected to goon here, and in other places around Xian, for many, many years. Outside the main gates to the pits, the hawkers are particularly forceful, but no problems for us with our useful mandarin phrases. On our tour we visit a "replica" factory where they make and fire copies of the Warriors and their horses, and chariots in genuine terracotta fromfull size to Thumbelina size, and at all prices. Absolutely marvelous.

We saw many other famous and ancient sites here; the earthen traces ofthe 6000 year old prehistoric Bampo buried village which the Xian authorities are faithfully recreating as a full size replica beside the actual archeological site; the Great Wild Goose Pagoda from the Tang dynasty; are stored Imperial spa built around the time of the Qin Dynasty, 2000 years ago(here we found the original "fountain of youth" in which we splashed our hands), true; the massive and complete city walls, now enclosing only a fraction of the populace; the Museum of History of the Shaanxi Province, where much ofthe story of Xian falls into place for us, and the "Forest of Steles" at the museum, engraved stone tablets carved with the writings of Confucius, the Great Sage of China.

The famous Bell Tower in the centre of the city was also on our itinerary. Impressive ancient building, but somewhat "ho hum" not tuned to the tourist at all. But this tower is a central focus of the city, and there are good views of the scampering cityfrom the upper levels. (And, right opposite a department store with the loudest (outside) advertising and music we have heard in a long time!)

The Friday before we arrived in Xian on the Sunday, a bomb alert occurred in a popular and crowded city restaurant,which was quickly cleared by Police. (Charming!) Two suspects were reportedly detained. No one was injured, and the restaurant continued its business.

Here in Xian we experience a Chinese opera at the Shaanxi Grand Opera House. It is a "built-for-tourists" stage performance, but nevertheless a lovely, colourful show. And quite short about an hour or so, including a buffet of fine (for Westerners) Chinese food.

We also visited, without a guide as it within walking distance from our hotel, the Great Mosque, a major centre in China for Chinese Moslems (there are nearly 70,000 Moslem Chinese in Xian alone). The Great Mosque was a surprise as it turned out to be was a series of low-level, Old-Chinese-style buildings set in a rather dusty garden; not the colorful,tiled, grand "minaretted" edifice we expected. But there were plenty of worshipers coming and going, and we were denied access to some of the buildings.

The Great Mosque has a large and very interesting street market nearby with many items we could have put in our suitcase. I tried to photograph one of the stall ladies who was dressed in the most spectacular Muslim clothes and it was very firmly made clear to me that this was NOT TO BE. I discovered later that Muslims believe a photo takes something away from them so they refuse to let it happen if they can. (Don't really know if this is correct, but will be aware next time we are in some Muslim territory.) We climbed up into the not-quite-so-famous Drum Tower which is close by the Great Mosque. Both of these sites are worth visiting and are just off the main city square.

The live fish market opposite our hotel (the Royal Xi'an, which is about 500 meters from the central square) was an incredible eye-opener, firstly because it is thousands of kilometers from the sea, and secondly because we wereat once both fascinated and appalled by the huge variety and quantity of LIVE water creatures on sale, some of which we have never seen before and some ofwhich we recognized, but most we could never in our wildest nightmares imagine eating. This wet, slithery,slippery, smelly, very interesting daytime market evaporates as the sun goes down and a bright, clean, night market with cheap sparkling trinkets appears inits place, and which does business late into the evening. The Chinese are very resourceful by our reckoning.

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