What a difference a comfortable bed makes. Compared to the hard sleeper I had had to endure, this was total luxury. Each time I awoke in the night, the gentle rocking of the train, the rhythmic noise of wheels rolling over tracks and, most importantly of all, the total darkness made it easy to fall asleep again.
Ron and Jim left us at the town of Luoyang at 5.40. I only stirred when the compartment door slammed shut. Still paranoid about security, I got up and locked the door to make sure we would have no more unwelcome thieving visitors. Within minutes of putting my head against the pillow again, I drifted off into Never Never Land, dreaming of pleasant things.
The next time I woke up was when a cleaner briefly came in to. The train was due to arrive in Xi'an at 1246 so I lay there in bed, contemplating life and listening to the relaxing noise of the train, peppered with Lisa's snoring.
She will deny it, but the fact remains: Lisa snores. Furthermore, she snores very loudly, so loudly that she has been known to wake herself up and accuse other people (namely me) of waking her up. It's difficult to describe the sound she makes, but I'll try. Imagine, if you will, a creature which is the product of a union between a lion and a pig. If this creature made a noise and was accompanied, in perfect time, by a man wearing thimbles, rubbing his fingers along a washboard, you would be fairly close to the noise Lisa makes. I am used to it now, but I suspect that Ron and Jim didn't need a wake up call to get up at 5.30. I can almost picture them lying there, cursing Lisa, but too polite to wake her up and tell her to shut up.
After a while, I got up and packed up my things. I opened the curtains and watched the beautiful Chinese countryside roll by. Life seemed so peaceful outside. We had a busy day ahead of us, so I relaxed and watched the world go by, while I had the chance.
The train arrived in Xi'an exactly on time. The railway stations may have seemed like disorganised chaos, but the railway system, from our experience so far, appeared to run like clockwork.
Xi'an is the home of one of China's most sought after attractions: the Army of Terracotta warriors. The bulk of people visit Xi'an with this in mind. Consequently, the arrival points are full of tourists and people touting for business. I had half expected this and, being non-Chinese, I also knew that we would be targets for such people. We had barely set foot onto the platform when a man latched onto us.
"I have a fine hotel for you," he said with a smile. "I will get you a really good discount."
Lisa and I had already selected a hotel near to the station but we followed him just in case. He led us out of the station to one of the main streets running through the city, called Jiefang Lu. The hotel he had in mind was a few yards down the street and a complete dump. We didn't even bother to follow him inside. The hotel we had earmarked was called the Jiefang hotel and its location was shown in the guide book, just across the main square in front of the railway station. We turned back in that direction just as the tout came running out of the dump.
"Come to this hotel," he shouted.
"We have one," I replied without looking back. He was not deterred by this apparent failure. He caught us up.
"Which hotel?" he asked. I told him. He promised he would get us a discount there. It was worth a try, but I wondered what was in it for him.
On the way, he asked us where we were from. Expecting the worst, I said "Manchester, England."
"Oh, Manchester," he said. "You lost the 2000 Olympics like Beijing."
What a breath of fresh air. Somebody who knew Manchester, not for its ubiquitous football team, but for something else. Manchester had failed to get the Olympics, but it was refreshing not to hear "Manchester United" bellowed down my ear, as if I took some perverse form of pleasure in it.
We arrived at the Jiefang Hotel and our tout led us inside. It was a very nice hotel, I have to say and we stood back and watched the man's attempts to get us a cheap room. However, he was up against the most miserable person I had met in China so far. Lots of incomprehensible Chinese words were exchanged between the tout and the Miss Misery. Voices were raised, fingers were pointed and hands slapped down on the desk. I feared the worst. Captain Paranoia started telling me that this woman would call the police and have us arrested for dealing with a known tout who ripped off hotels and unsuspecting tourists.
Eventually, looking sullen, he turned to us and told us that he had got us a room at a discount but not as much as he had expected. The room would cost us 260 yuan instead of 358. This was acceptable. We checked in before Miss Misery changed her mind. Having to reduce the rate of the room had made her even more unhappy. If her face had grown any longer, she would have been a horse.
Having obtained our key, we made our way to the hotel room, still being followed by the tout.
"You want to see the Terracotta army?" he asked. "I will take you there personally for 400 yuan". Now I knew that we could catch a bus. I also knew that the bus would cost at most 10 yuan each. My patience had worn extremely thin. My tolerance was hanging by a thread above a precipice from which it could never return. My temper was waiting to burst forth and engulf me completely.
"Be calm!" I said to myself in the most soothing manner I could. It worked, at least temporarily.
"We already have plans," I said to the tout. "Goodbye."
He didn't really take the hint and continued to follow us, reducing the price by ten yuan at a time. We simply ignored him and continued on our way. Thankfully, he gave up before we reached our room, which was in a new wing in the hotel. Once more, we had got a bargain. The room was full of new furniture and even the carpet smelled pristine and clean, as if it had just been laid.
We didn't have much time to see the Terracotta Army. We were only in Xi'an for a day, and it was already 1.30 in the afternoon. The bus journey to the location of the Terracotta Army took around an hour, which meant that we really wouldn't be able to get there until 3 o'clock. Time was running out. We barely had time to freshen up before having to set off again.
The tout had disappeared by the time we reached the hotel foyer, which was a relief, because I was fully prepared to lambaste him if he tried to rip us off. Outside the hotel, was the square where we would catch the bus we needed. The guide book told us that the bus number was 306. After a few moments, we found the bus stop, where a small minibus was waiting with the number "306" written on a huge piece of card in the front of the window. The bus driver was behind the wheel. Naturally, I assumed that departure was imminent. We boarded and found ourselves sitting at the back of a half full bus.
I had a feeling of déjà vu. In Guilin we sat on a minibus for ages waiting for it to become full before the driver finally left for Yangshuo. This situation was proving to be identical. Gradually, people drifted onto the bus and occupied all of the seats. Still the driver let people on, forcing them to stand in the aisles. When we finally set off, the bus was, in my opinion, dangerously overloaded with people. The driver's mate, who looked like he was a member of the Chinese Mafia, fought his way through the crowds on the bus demanding money. When he reached us, we had worked out that the cost of the journey would be five yuan. He looked at me in the eye and rubbed his fingers together in a gesture reminding me of Arthur Daley.
After he had collected cash from all passengers, he made his way to the front of the bus and got into a colossal argument with a middle aged lady. I tried to work out what they were fighting over from the hand gestures they made. I was worried that the Triad who had collected the cash was going to unsheathe a knife and stab the woman, such was the expression on his face. In the end, the bus driver stopped and the now furious woman disembarked, ranting and shaking her fists. If looks could kill, she would have been responsible for numerous deaths in Xi'an. I concluded that she had got onto the wrong bus and that the Triad wouldn't let her have her fare back. To be honest, I wouldn't have argued with him at all.
Once more, I tried to follow our progress on the makeshift map we had and only succeeded in worrying myself stupid. I was convinced (or rather Captain Paranoia had convinced me) that the bus was going in completely the wrong direction. It wasn't sticking to the main roads, but pulling into side roads and along dirt tracks to drop people off. Whenever somebody did leave, the driver continued down other streets in a random fashion, searching for new passengers, thus maintaining the illusion that we were all really in a giant sardine can on wheels.
An hour after setting off, we arrived at what I assumed was the Terracotta Army. For such a famous attraction, there seemed to be very few tourists around and only a handful of local people. Most surprising of all, there were no touts. I began to worry. We walked up to the front of the building, searching for signs that we were in the correct place. The only thing indicating that this was a tourist attraction was a booth selling tickets. Once again we had to take a chance. We paid 20 yuan and walked through the entrance where around four people had congregated.
A woman came out of the door at the side and addressed the group. We stood there looking foolish and dumb, not really knowing what we were supposed to do or where we were supposed to go. The women beckoned us over and led us and the other group through a double door. As we followed her along a corridor, she began reciting an obviously rehearsed speech. I would have been impressed had I been able to understand Mandarin.
As we progressed past exhibits of portrayals of terracotta warrior being tortured, maimed, butchered, drilled, stabbed, castrated, beheaded and generally battered by other replicas of terracotta torturers I felt that Lisa and I were also on display to the other members of our little entourage. At one point, the guide was standing next to me, talking directly to me in an attempt to describe one of the scenes of sadistic carnage in front of me. When she turned to the remainder of the group and continued her address, I felt sure that she must be saying "And to your right we have two western tourists who so not understand a word of what I am saying. The male, complete with pasty skin and patchy ginger bum fluff, is a prime example of an English tosser."
Deep in the bowels of my subconscious are automatic behavioural subroutines which take over my conscious mind when another part of my brain feels it is necessary for them to do so. One such subroutine is the "automatic pilot". When I have consumed too much alcohol and my conscious mind is in a state of extreme unawareness and can no longer take responsibility for my actions, the "automatic pilot" takes over. I am eternally grateful to this piece of neural software because it manages to somehow direct me from my current location to my home with the rest of my intoxicated brain completely unaware of what is going on. As soon as the software takes over, I leave the place selling alcohol and make my way home using my legs and (I think) my voice. On a few occasions when I have been in auto-pilot mode I have vague recollections of talking to people like bus and taxi drivers (at least I think I was talking. I may have been dribbling or groaning). But ultimately, my neural software has prevailed and successfully got me home. The following morning, I have usually woken up in bed wondering how on earth I managed to get home, my memory telling me that the last thing it recalls in its neural database was my drinking my fourth tequila shot of the night.
Another of my behavioural subconscious subroutines is the "look intelligent" piece of software. You may have seen this subroutine in action on "The Simpsons" when Homer's brain tells him to say something intelligent. My subroutine doesn't work in the same way; it simply tells me to rub my chin, nod, say "hmm hmm" and adopt the expression of a person who totally and utterly understands the concepts being thrust into my brain either visually or aurally. The problem with this particular subroutine is that I have absolutely no control over when brain decides to invoke it.
My brain invoked the "look intelligent" subroutine whilst the guide was explaining, in Mandarin, what the terracotta warriors were doing to each other. Much to Lisa's embarrassment, I found myself nodding sagely and acknowledging sentences with the word "yes" even though I had no idea what she was saying. For all I know she could have been asking me whether I wore female clothing or insulting me in front of the small group of Chinese tourists enjoying the exhibits with us. A nudge in the ribs from Lisa caused my conscious mind to swap out the offending subroutine. When I realised my subconscious actions were making me look like a prat in front of everyone, I blushed, making myself look even more stupid. Even if the guide had been ignoring my actions, the nudge and my subsequent colour change must have made her think I had been up to no good or had farted or something.
I tried to concentrate on the exhibits rather than the incomprehensible ramblings of our guide. I came to the conclusion that this was a sort of torture museum to get tourists in the mood to see the vaults containing the genuine Terracotta army. The exhibits portrayed scenes where people were being decapitated, having their arms and legs amputated without anaesthetic and being stabbed, sliced and diced. Others were being buried alive, having their limbs broken, having their ears cut off and eyes gouged out. The expressions on the faces of the torturing warriors perpetrating these hideous crimes were obscene in their gleefulness, having the appearance of a sadistic boy pulling the legs off a crane fly. To make the scenes more realistic and draw our attention away from the fact that the victims and the torturers were replicas of the genuine Terracotta Warriors, the designers had decided to add red paint to simulate blood. And there was lots of it. Buckets of it in fact.
In one scene, a man was in mid-air, with ropes around his neck, arms and legs each tethered to a Terracotta horse cantering away in completely opposite directions. Instinctively, my hand touched my crotch as the "respond to scene of man being castrated" subroutine kicked in. Although the victim was made of stone, for a second I imagined that he was real - in fact I imagined it was me. To be torn apart in that hideous way would have been shockingly and unbearably painful and I felt for all of the victims of such devastating carnage in history throughout the world. Of course, Lisa was once more embarrassed by the fact that my hand was firmly placed over my genitals in front of a small gathering of people and I received my second jab in the ribs of the day.
My attention once more turned to the guide as I wondered what she must be telling the small group of Chinese tourists. Her enthusiasm was plain for all to see and I imagined her saying things like "Look at that poor bloke being torn apart by those horses. Isn't it great?" or "Fancy having your balls torn off with repeated hammer blows? I'll bet that hurts like hell."
We carried on through more scenes of extreme agony. Towards the end of our little tour, the guide came up to Lisa and I and asked us a question in Mandarin. Clearly, she had been fooled by my subconscious attempts to look intelligent. I responded by staring at her with a blank expression, my usual dumb look. At this point she smiled benignly, raised her hand in a gesture of understanding and continued her tour.
At the end of the tour, we reached a shop selling all sorts of Terracotta Army related bric-a-brac. Being the only non-Chinese people there, the staff homed in on us like bees around honey, almost imploring us to purchase everything from full size Terracotta Warrior replicas to sitting on a cart in front of a giant postcard depicting the Terracotta Army experience. We declined. We declined many times. We declined so many times that I was beginning to get annoyed. I was also annoyed because we had been led to believe that we couldn't take photographs of the Terracotta Army, so we hadn't brought our own camera. It was time to see the real thing.
On our way out of the museum, we encountered another tout who wanted to charge us 20 yuan each to take us to the Terracotta Army vaults. Lisa had spotted a sign saying that we were around a kilometre away. I suggested that we walked, the direction being obvious. The temperature was unbearably hot and I thought that we would probably roast on the way. But there was no way I was going to fork out 40 yuan for a short ride. We walked away from the tout. But he was obnoxiously persistent. He kept grabbing my arm and showing me a 20 yuan note. In the end, and for the first time, I totally lost my cool. Perhaps it was the weather. Perhaps it was the accumulated effort fending off touts for the past week or so that did it. I don't know. I actually turned to him with murderous intention in my eyes and venom in my voice and shouted "PISS OFF! I DON'T WANT TO GO IN YOUR FUCKING VAN!". I thought my show of anger would scare him but instead it fired him up as well. He bellowed something incomprehensible in Mandarin and stormed off. Yelling and waving his arms he walked ahead of us, shouting at passers-by and gesticulating in our direction. This fuelled my anger and I said to Lisa "If he's slagging me off to them I'll …". I left my sentence unfinished. Then he turned around and started walking towards us again. My fists clenched.
"OK, I take you for 5 yuan", he said. He meant 5 yuan each. Fury raged inside me and I spat "NO!" at him. Then he offered to take us both for 7 yuan. "Let's go for that," Lisa suggested. Reluctantly, I agreed and we followed the still moaning taxi tout to his clapped out old van. We jumped into the back and he took us to the entrance of the Terracotta Army vaults. It took five minutes. Lisa paid him the 7 yuan and we bought a couple of tickets for one of China's main tourist attractions. I was fuming. I couldn't control my anger and walked to the main entrance through what seemed like armies of touts trying to sell us things and "provide a service". I completely ignored them trying to put on my most thunderous face in an attempt to repel their advances. Poor Lisa had to listen to my ranting. I was totally and utterly pissed off with attempts to relieve me of my money. At least we would be free of them inside the vaults.
We showed our tickets at the gate and entered. In front of us was a huge courtyard leading to the main area where the vaults were. About half way along was a small building with a handful of people waiting around. One of them saw us approaching and made his way towards us. My brain engaged attack mode. I knew this man was going to try to relieve us of as much money as he could and I prepared myself to give him a roasting.
"Hello," he said with a smile. "I am an English speaking guide and I will show lead you around the Terracotta Army Vaults for just 10 …". I didn't quite catch the currency he used. Lisa thought he'd said 10 yuan. For that fee, he would give us an official guided tour of each vault, explaining the history, giving us useful facts and figures and generally giving us a meaningful insight into the whole Terracotta Warrior experience. We agreed. After all, 10 yuan wasn't a great deal of money. The three of use approached the first of the vaults. Something was nagging in my mind. I stopped and said to him "How much did you say you wanted to guide us around the vaults?"
"10 dollars," he replied. I felt the first signs of pure rage building up inside of me. "Is that 10 Hong Kong dollars?" I asked with a forced smile. "No, I said 10 US dollars."
That was it. Hours worth of pent-up anger exploded. The fury targeted against the hotel tout, the sheer ferocity of negative, almost violent emotion I had somehow subdued against the taxi tout not more than five minutes ago, and a mass of intense rage I had kept under control throughout the previous week whenever touts had tried to take me to the cleaners, detonated into an eruption of cataclysmic proportions.
Well, not really. I'm exaggerating a bit. But I did lose my temper and it was the angriest I had been so far.
"GO AWAY AND LEAVE US ALONE!" I yelled at the poor man. "I have spent 65 yuan to get this far and if I had been stupid enough to take every single offer of help I would have spent much more. I am sick to death of people like you trying to rip me off. Now GO AWAY and let us enjoy this IN PEACE!"
"But I work for the government," he stammered. "I am not one of these people who are trying to fiddle you."
"Well why are you charging ten US dollars then? GO AWAY!"
"I will only ask for 50 yuan. You will not appreciate the vaults without someone to tell you about the history. I am an expert …"
"NO! LEAVE US ALONE. I've paid to get in and that's it."
"I want to be your friend. OK OK I will ask only ten yuan."
I stopped and looked at him. To his credit, he did have a kind of uniform on and did look official. I watched the other tourists and each group were accompanied by a person dressed in a similar way. I looked at Lisa.
"Well 10 yuan's OK," she said.
"Alright," I conceded. "10 yuan it is."
The guide's face brightened up. "Good. If you think I have done a good job, you can pay more … but you don't have to."
I had to smile at that. He was a small man, with a kind and intelligent face. My anger at almost constantly being ripped off had blinded my vision. All I had seen was another con man when in reality, this man seemed to be doing a normal job. He continued speaking, explaining his role.
"We are very proud of this historical site and we like to help tourists get the best from it. If you walk around just looking at the figures, you will not know of their history, nor anything about why they are here, how long they have been here or how they were discovered. I will explain to you as we go everything you need to fully appreciate this magnificent place."
His enthusiasm was genuine and sincere and I began to warm to him immediately. I also felt bad about yelling at him. It was unfair and unjustified.
Directly ahead of us was the first vault. The guide explained to us that two peasant farmers were digging a well in 1974 and discovered the first underground vault of Terracotta warriors. Measuring about 200m by 60m the first vault is the biggest of the three unearthed so far. Our guide led us inside. It was magnificent.
Below us and in front of us were rows of perfectly preserved Terracotta figures facing us as if prepared for battle. Every warrior was standing to attention as if guarding something sacred. At the front there were two or three rows of soldiers and behind them, several columns of different soldiers and horses. Behind each horse, there was a gap where, according to the guide, a chariot would have stood. Unfortunately, the chariot would have been made of wood and had either decayed over time or had burned as the result of a fire. Further back, there were even more soldiers most of which had been badly damaged and were in the process of being fully restored. A full time team of archaeological experts meticulously extracted and repaired more warriors as they were unearthed.
From our position, we could make out the facial expressions on the warriors closest to us. Every single warrior has a different face. The guide told us that the warriors were modelled on individual people and that it is likely that soldiers created a Terracotta warrior each, in their own image. The attention to detail was incredible and each facial expression matched exactly what I imagine a real warrior guarding an ancient city would have; stern and professional. We walked around the side of the vault and our guide explained to us the hierarchy within the Terracotta Army. We could see that groups of warriors wore different uniforms and headgear. The soldiers would originally held weapons made of bronze, but time and fire had destroyed the handles because they were made of wood. The blades were still intact but not all of them were on public display. It was easy to determine which warriors had been carrying which weapons from the shape of their hands. They reminded me of Action Man's hands, with a "realistic grip" waiting for a sword to be placed there.
Around the side of the vault was an area where experts were restoring newly uncovered warriors. The process of excavating the area was still going on. A lot of the more recent warriors found were not intact and the task of piecing the bits together looked to me to be extremely difficult. Each piece found would have to be labelled and identified and then a warrior would have to be reassembled like a huge historical jigsaw puzzle.
I was impressed, not only by the skill and meticulous attention to detail of these experts, but also by their determination in restoring one of China's greatest archaeological finds. I aired my views to the guide. He told us that at the present time, around 6000 warriors had been found but experts think that there are many more. The site is expanding and more and more soldiers are being excavated. The sheer scale of it all was amazing. The process would have to be extremely slow because of the need for a great deal of care and attention to detail. On display were two chariots which, when found, had been smashed into over 2000 pieces. Both had been fully restored and the result was incredible. I scrutinised both of them and could not see any cracks or joins. The workmanship was extraordinary, detailed to the tiniest level.
The guide told us about how the vaults had been discovered. In 1974, two farmers had found what they thought was a stone. Except this wasn't just a stone. It had a face.
"I will take you to meet a very very special person." our guide said. He led us to a huge shop where there was a queue of people waiting to meet one of the farmers who had found the head of a Terracotta warrior. His partner had died but, at the age of 62, this man was still very much alive. His life had been turned upside down by the discovery of the vaults and now he spent all of his time here signing books for the army of tourists who had descended on the vaults. Around him were pictures of famous dignitaries who had visited the vaults, including President Bill Clinton, who was photographed shaking hands with the farmer. We opted not to buy a book and get it signed. Instead we looked around the shop while our guide waited outside for us.
The shop had numerous items for sale, ranging from souvenir brochures, books and videos at one end of the scale to full size replicas of the warriors. For a mere 46,000 yuan, you could purchase one of these full sized replicas, with the promise that they could be shipped anywhere in the world. For a moment I was tempted. We rejoined the guide, who immediately asked us if we had bought anything. "Well I was tempted by the full sized figures," I said with a smile, "but it was just out of our price range." I think for a second he believed me, but something clicked and he just smiled.
I remarked upon the height of the full size warriors. In the first vault, we had looked down at the Terracotta army so it was difficult to judge how tall they were. In the shop, however, we could stand face to face with the replicas and it struck me some of them were very tall.
"It proves that only the biggest and strongest men were chosen," said the guide. "They had to be very powerful and very brave. We can see this from the models themselves and the expressions on their faces".
Although there may have been truth in what he said, my own opinion was that the models may have been scaled up slightly to make the soldiers appear more formidable than they actually were. Perhaps I'm wrong. Either way, the Terracotta soldiers were fearsome and I wouldn't have liked to have defended myself against such a warrior.
The guide led us to a small cinema where we watched a 360º film telling the story of how the Terracotta Army came to be created. Of course, there was lots of violence and battle footage, but most impressive to me was the revelation that the warriors had originally been painted. The film showed soldiers and artists creating the stone warriors and decorating them with vivid colours. The army was originally situated in a kind of building, with pillars supporting a high roof. The building or construction sheltering the warriors does not exist now and was probably destroyed by an army of barbarians who discovered and tired to destroy the army with fire. This drama was revealed to us in the film as soldiers poured into the shelter and set fire to it, smashing many Terracotta statues as they did so. Unfortunately, we couldn't get the entire history because we only saw 20 minutes of the 80 minute film, which was a real shame.
The guide led us through the other two, smaller vaults and sat with us as we had a break and rehydrated (it was a very very hot day). The enthusiasm of our guide was becoming infectious and he hailed the site as the "eighth wonder of the world". The Chinese people are very proud of this thrilling piece of their history and, as a foreign observer and visitor, I can see exactly why. The figures are over 2000 years old and almost all intact and the most incredible thing about the site is that it is still being developed as archaeologists continue to uncover more and more soldiers, horses and other relics and artefacts from this valuable site. The history of the Terracotta Army is plain to see and it impresses me more because the Chinese claim to have been around for over 5000 years. By comparison this archaeological discovery is young. The guide implored us to come back and visit in the future and see how the site develops. If I ever visit Xi'an again, I will definitely find time to visit again, hopefully with more time than we had that day.
I felt good about the day, largely due to the guide, who I had shamelessly attacked a couple of hours earlier. My memories of touts and rip-off merchants seemed distant. The guide had done a terrific job, enhancing our enjoyment by giving us a superb insight into the Terracotta Army, its history and its future development, enthusing all the time and impressing upon us the pride and joy felt by the Chinese as a whole. We rewarded him by giving him 50 yuan. Not as much as he originally wanted but better than he expected after I verbally assaulted him at the beginning of our visit. We shook hands and parted, promising that we would visit again if circumstances allowed.
We left the vaults and noticed that the area in front of the entrance was now completely devoid of touts, which was a blessed relief. Our next problem was how to get back to Xi'an from here. Almost on cue, we spotted another minibus numbered 306. It stopped for us and, because it was empty, waited for a few minutes. It was clear to me that nobody else was going to catch the bus but the driver didn't seem to realise this. He decided to wait … and wait .. and wait. After fifteen minutes, he finally realised that nobody else would come and set off.
The journey back was long winded and arduous as the driver drove round in circles, desperately trying to attract passengers. At one point, he pulled into a bus depot and waited for another ten minutes, before pulling out of the depot and, under the misguided idea that someone might have been hiding, did a U-turn and went back into the depot to wait for another ten minutes. All the tension and stress, removed by the Terracotta Warriors, returned. All I wanted to do was get back to the hotel and relax.
An eternity later, we arrived at the railway station in Xi'an and retired to our hotel, where I showered and had a nap to try to remove the feelings of frustration. The day had been magnificent if I tried to discount hassle with hotel touts, minibuses and illegal taxi drivers. I tried to focus on the positive aspects of the day and eventually dozed off. An hour or so later, I was woken up by my own version of the food monster gently telling me to find something to eat. I checked my watch. It was 7.30pm.
It was a bit of a shame that we only had a day in Xi'an. Our itinerary dictated that we should leave the city in the morning, allowing us just a couple of hours to explore the city itself. Xi'an is one of only a few cities in China where you can still see the walls. As far as we could tell, the walls were still intact. The guide book informed us that the walls form a closed rectangle, with a total circumference of 14 km. The height of the wall is 12m with a width varying between 12 to 14m at the top and 15 to 18m at the base. As we entered the walled part of the city, I was struck by the similarity between Xi'an and other walled cities in the UK such as Chester and York. Xi'an was to date, the most historical city we had encountered and one of the most beautiful. The main streets were full of shops and crowded with people, both local Chinese and foreign tourists. The roads were full of cars, but somehow Xi'an had much more appeal than Guangzhou, due to its more relaxed manner. The difference here was that there were lots of tourists, so the local people were more used to them and didn't spend their time staring at us. Walking around the streets of Xi'an on a warm evening was one of the most pleasant and relaxing things we had done so far.
The guide book recommended a place to try dumplings, one of the specialities of the area. We found the Baiyunzhang Dumpling restaurant and opted just to try a couple as a snack rather than sitting down for a meal. Outside, there was a stall where a woman was selling many different types of dumpling for one yuan each. I decided to try a couple of beef dumplings and I have to say that they were absolutely delicious. I spent the next ten minutes enthusing about them as we continued our stroll around the city. At around nine o'clock, we decided to eat and the smell of a home-made pizza restaurant proved too tempting to resist. We sat down and ate a delicious pizza with a couple of local beers catching a taxi back to the hotel. I went to bed that night wishing we had had another day to spend in Xi'an.