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Brian’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 07 Feb 2007

Location: Xi'an, China

MapXi'an has to be China's most polluted city. It's the first time I can remember having visibility shortened to just a few hundred meters because of smog. Other Chinese cities are smoggy but Xi'an is just rediculous. If I wasn't already warned of the smogginess and the pollution and the endless supply of black soot collecting in my nose I would have thought the city was simply in an endless fog. The pollution in the city is limited to the air quality or to manufacturing plants. Xi'an was my first experience with the human side of pollution. No matter how many times people tell you it's coming or how much you try to prepare yourself for it, nothing is as shocking as seeing someone stop on the side walk, drop trough, and use the pavement the way a dog uses a fire hydrant. My first time witnessing this act was just outside a restaraunt. As Beau said "better outside than inside, I guess." As you all know by now China does have public toilets. I guess the lack of public privacy is worth the fresh air of the sidewalk. At least you don't have to worry about splash back unless you incoveniently squat over a puddle. The make-shift toilet was very near the restaraunt Beau and I ate at. Without the phrasebook we had an interesting ordering time. Basically we just picked pinyin characters off the menu and hoped for the best. We ended up with fish head soup. It wasn't that bad for a fish head, but I must admit I do feel uncomfortable when my food is watching me eat it.

Xi'an, for all it's environmental problems, is still one of the coolest places in China to visit. It used to be the capital city of several dynasties and is filled with history where previous emperors left their mark. Xi'an is home of the Terracotta warriors palaces and summer homes of past emperors. The warriors are by far the coolest thing in Xi'an. They were found pretty recently in 1974 by some farmer trying to dig a well. Had he known his farm would be taken from him and his well never finished he probably would never have told anyone about it. All in all there are 3 enormous pits of broken warriors who were built and burried to protect Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum. Once they were finished the doors were sealed and were never to be seen again until 2,200 years later. They were built like an Army already in formation with a mass of troops, a cavalry, and a command center. All tolled there are over 7,000 pieces. Pretty amazing stuff. There are plenty of tourist traps to get caught in to see the various archeological wonders of Xi'an. The tourist shops want Y385 to take you to see the soldiers. Beau and I hopped on a bus for Y7. We had to walk a little bit which made us prime targets for the awaiting taxi drivers. Most spoke only broken English, but apparently it was only Y5 to go wherever we wanted. The catch is the taxis are in with the souvenier shops and instead of going directly to your destination you take a short-cut through over priced junk. Well we didnt fall for it and I decided to have some fun with the taxi drivers. When they asked where I wanted to go for Y5 I would say something rediculous like Hong Kong or Beijing. They didnt think it was as funny as I did. To add to the souvenier guantlet is literally about a kilometer of souvenier shops between the parking lot and the actual Terracotta Warriors. Most were empty but brand new preparing for the olympic tourism attack I uess). I bought a terracotta warrior from a vendor who was asking Y120 - he already gave me the "you my friend"discount from Y180. I offerred him Y10 and got it. The said thing is I think I paid twice as much as I should have. But it was worth it as we walked through the gauntlet of several dozen vendors selling EXACTLY the same thing and I tried to sell THEM my Terracotta Warrior.... "Ni yao... very good price... Fifty Yuan!" The expressions on their faces of someone trying to sell them something was priceless. Most erupted with laughter. Good times.

The other neat characteristic about Xi'an is that it still has its original city walls that have a perimeter of 14km. You can walk around the top of it too. I unintentionally ended up walking 12 of the 14km because there was no way down. Xi'an is one of the cities China expects major tourism in come 2008 Olympic time, so the entire city is basically under construction, including the various down-ramps off the wall. Walking on the wall gives you a very clear perspective of just how smoggy the city is. You can't see end to end at any point along the wall.

The owner of our hostel was Jim Beam (self-named I'm pretty sure). Jim's staff was kind enough to arrange our Tibet travel visas. You'll have to ask China why you need a visa to travel within 'their own country.' Personally, I think its good that you need a visa. It's almost like China admits Tibet really isn't part of China, which is true. Anyway.... 36 hour train ride to Lhasa (and this post is almost two weeks late).