Thursday, October 7, 2010

Xi'an, China: Part 3 of 3 - The Terracotta Warriors.

Back at the hostel I met Rachel while I was writing in my dormitory. Rachel is an American who'd just spent a year teaching English in Taiwan and decided to travel for a few weeks before returning home. Rachel and I exchanged the 3 basic questions that all backpackers inquire when meeting someone new:
  1. What's your name?
  2. Where are you from?
  3. How long have you been traveling?
And if you've been traveling for as long has I have, the follow-up questions to #3 are typically, "Where have you been? Where are you going next? And for how long will you travel?" And because of how long I have been traveling, I've apparently become more interesting. I've found it to be almost like a status thing amongst backpackers and it becomes quite easier to strike up conversations with people once they discover how long I've been traveling. But regardless of how long someone else has been traveling, I still love hearing about other people's travels.

After Rachel and I expressed interests in seeing the Terracotta Warriors, we agreed to go together the following morning. If anyone is going to see the Terracotta Warriors, do yourself a favor and NOT book a tour through your hostel. There simply isn't a reason to do so. It's easy enough to do it on your own, plus it's cheaper. Trust me.

We walked to the bus station from our hostel and hopped on a local bus, costing a whopping $1USD. And before reaching the Terracotta Warriors and Soldier Museum, we had to walk through a long, LONG stretch of souvenir and food shops. Quite annoying.

It was crazy to be standing in the presence of such a historical sight. I remembered reading and seeing pictures of the Terracotta Warriors back in elementary school. But there I was, in China, standing in front of the thousands of warriors and horses that had been unearthed and present in this area for over 2000 years. So cool.

There are three pits where the Terracotta Warriors reside. I recommend seeing the three pits in reverse order and seeing pit #1 last because, honestly, pit #2 and #3 weren't all that impressive.

I woke up the following morning to the sound of Chinese being spoken in my dormitory. Interestingly, in China I've noticed that a large percentage of people that stay in the hostels are Chinese. Unlike my travels in Southeast Asia, it was typically rare, if ever, to find locals staying in any of the hostels that I've been.

"Oh, sorry. Are we disturbing you?" a young Chinese woman said from her top bunk. "Nah, nah," I responded as I rolled over and sat on the edge of my bed, rubbing my eyes. "You're fine."

After I took a shower and began preparing for my day, the woman introduced herself, said her name was Jenny, and asked if I could recommend anything for her to see or do. This was Jenny's first time traveling alone and for this long. She managed to save enough money to travel a few weeks by tutoring students English at her university, which she still attends.

She inquired where I'd traveled within China. And when I told her that I'd been to Shanghai, she told me that she just spent two weeks volunteering at the Shanghai World Expo.

"So what did you think of the World Expo?" Jenny asked, once I told her that I'd attended it twice.

"Ummm," I said, buying time to think. I wasn't quite sure if I should be honest as I didn't want to offend her if I told her the truth. So I decided to lie. "Yeah, it was pretty good."

"Really?" she said, sounding exceptionally surprised. And she quickly expressed to me how she wasn't that impressed. "Wow. Okay, yeah . . ." I excitedly responded, and began to repudiate what I had just said seconds earlier, ". . . I thought it was really lame, too!"

Later that evening Jenny joined me for dinner at my regular spot. As we were approaching the restaurant, a few people waved 'hello' to me.

"Wow! How do these people know you?" Jenny said, as she was a bit taken back by the warm welcoming. "You're my idol. You need to show me how you do it."

And as we walked into the restaurant the young chef began smiling cheek to cheek. Excited that I had a Chinese speaking friend with me, the young chef quickly took advantage of the situation and began asking Jenny an array of questions. "It looks like I'm the translator now," Jenny said, as the young chef, who was ecstatic to be able to communicate with me, continued to ask questions through Jenny.

Over dinner, Jenny expressed her passion for traveling and what an amazing time she's been having on her first journey alone. Jenny, whose an only child, said that while her mother was supportive of her travels, her father was a bit more leery and worried about her safety - a bit reminiscent of my parents, really. She said that once she graduates she wants to travel for a few months before becoming a civil servant, a job that she said will give her the flexibility and opportunity for future travels. Listening to her speak about traveling, I couldn't help but to think how fortunate I am to have been born in a country like the U.S. - a country where I had job that paid me enough (and in a currency that's worth more than most countries) to where I could travel the world, and only after a year and a half of saving.

After we finished dinner, I asked Jenny if she would like to see the amazing park that I'd discovered the previous night. Over dinner I had really spoken highly of the park and told her everything that I'd seen and experienced. So you can imagine my disappointment and utter bewilderment as we walked through the eerily quiet, dark park.

"What the--? Where are all the--?" I was at a loss of words, really. I must have looked like a schmuck, as I had been telling her how vibrant and full of activity this park was.

"But where are people? You see people? Show me people. There are no people!" (Fans of Seinfeld will get that reference).

Seriously, though. "Where was everyone?" I thought. The only thing I could think of was that it was later than when I'd been here the previous night. I guess people don't enjoy dancing in the park too late in the evening.

" . . . and right here! People were dancing, right here!" And I jokingly began imitating how people were dancing.

The following morning, Jenny invited me to join her to the Shaanxi History Museum. When in China, traveling with someone who speaks Chinese makes life so much easier - so, SO, SO much easier. However, that said, Jenny made me ask for directions . . . in Chinese. Oy vey. After practicing and repeating the line a million times, I built up enough courage to ask someone.

"Ask that woman!" Jenny said.


So we walked up to her, and I embarrassingly asked her where the museum was. The woman looked at Jenny, laughed, then pointed down the street.

Boom! Nailed it.

We arrived at the museum early enough to receive free entry tickets. Yes! Finally something free! The museum gives away 2,500 free tickets every morning. Afterwards, we stopped at one of the smallest and warmest restaurants I've ever been to, and enjoyed the most delicious meal while sweating profusely.

After visiting the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and a neighboring fountain, we hopped on a bus back to the hostel. During our ride back, I made an observation. I told Jenny that I'd noticed so many people throughout the day who'd been rude to her. And I asked her how she'd been able to remain so calm and nonchalant, even to the point of smiling when experiencing such rudeness?

"I'm getting upset, and I'm not the one being subjugated to such discourteous behavior," I told her, while sitting on a folded piece of newspaper on the floor of the bus. At first, she didn't understand what I was referring to, like she didn't even notice. It was only after I gave her a few examples that she was able to recall.

"I don't let it bother me," she said. "If you can learn how to ignore it, you won't be bothered."

What she said suddenly reminded me of a few books that I'd read recently, and a few people who I'm trying to aspire to be like someday. The first book is by Marcus Aurelius, titled Meditations. This book was given to me as a gift before I left on my travels by my friend, Guido. In the book, Marcus Aurelius offers insightful ways to better our lives by enriching our ways of thought. The quote Jenny reminded me of came from Book Four, quote number 18, in which he says, "The tranquility that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do [. . .] not to be distracted by their darkness. To run straight for the finish line, unswerving."

The second book is by author Carlos Castaneda, titled The Fire From Within. In the book, Castaneda quotes his mentor, don Juan Matus, of having said, "Self-importance is our greatest enemy. Think about it - what weakens us is feeling offended by the deeds and misdeeds of our fellow men. Our self-importance requires that we spend most of our lives offended by someone."

That evening I walked Jenny to the train station. She was about to embark on the world's highest railway to the mystical land of Tibet, an appropriate destination for someone who's on a spiritual journey like herself.

I would love to someday go to Tibet. Sadly, foreigners are required to obtain a permit from the government and are only allowed to visit Tibet with a tour, both of which I've heard is quite costly. Luckily for Jenny, she's a local and such requirements are not enforced upon the Chinese citizenry. "You see," Jenny jokingly said, "My Chinese passport is full of advantages."

Early the next morning, a few of the guys from the dormitory joined me to climb Mt. Hua Shan located a few hours outside of Xi'an by bus. I was really excited to climb it as the pictures looked amazingly beautiful. It was even featured in the new Karate Kid movie.

Unfortunately the weather was pretty nasty, and it didn't appear that it was going to clear up anytime soon. And I wasn't about to cough up the hefty entrance fee to enter the park if there wasn't going to be a view. I mean, that's essentially the only reason why I would climb Mt. Hua Shan - for the view, not the climb. I had heard the climb is quite tedious. And I'm by no stretch of the imagination a masochist. I don't want to climb Mt. Hua Shan just to say that I've climbed it. I want to enjoy myself and again, most importantly, I want to enjoy the view from atop of the mountain. On the other hand, my two Chinese roommates decided to go for it. I walked with them up to the park gate entrance and wished them well, but there was no way I was going with them. So I walked back into town and checked into a cheap albeit dingy room, hoping that the following morning the weather would be permitting enough to climb.

The following morning when I opened the curtains it was, sadly to say, raining. Alas, I made the decision not to climb the mountain and to return to Xi'an.

I spent the next few days in Xi'an reading, writing, and eating delicious food at my regular spot. In total, I spent 8 days in Xi'an. I thoroughly enjoyed my travels here, more so than any other city that I'd been to in China thus far, including Macau and Hong Kong. That said, it was time to move on. I was ready to see Beijing as I had heard nothing but good things from my fellow backpackers about the city.

Great Wall of China, here I come!!!


Next Stop: Beijing, China.

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