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Round the World

Xian

Xian has proved to be a fun place to stay. There’s a lot to see in and around the city, plus the hostel/hotel where I am staying is very sociable in the evening.

The main reason people come to Xian is to see the Terracotta Army; 6000 lifesize terracotta soldiers made and buried 2000 years ago to guard an imperial tomb. A web journal I had read when planning this trip said that it was a stunning sight and imagining rank upon rank of these soldiers I was looking forward to it. However people I was talking to at the hotel indicated they felt let down, it wasn’t as stunning as expected. Unfortunately they were right, although quite something you never see more than 100 figures in one place, not the endless ranks I had expected. From what is there it is hard to imagine what it must have been like when completed and sealed all those years ago. Also to protect them, and because the wooden components had rotted away the weapons were separate from their “owners”. Not one figure had a restored weapon put back in its hands; why not??? Even worse the exhibit had virtually no information surrounding the reasons for the construction, how it was built or who was buried there. Despite lacking the basic information on how this place came to be, it had a room dedicated to the building of the museum over it!

The city of Xian has a stunning set of walls round most of the centre. They are huge being 14 km in circumference, 12m high, 12m wide at the top and 15m wide at the bottom. Access is provided to the top, but though mostly complete the missing pieces stop you taking a hike right round the city on top of them. Each corner has a tower, with smaller towers regularly along the walls length, a large moat outside and enormous gatehouses in the centre of each side. To be honest they impressed me more than the display of the Terracotta Army.

Also in town is the acclaimed Shaanxi History Museum. Unfortunately it has the same problems I have found in almost every Chinese museum; no background information on the time or the people of the exhibits. The museum has relics from each of the major Chinese eras, largely pottery and bronze artifacts. At the start of each era the entire background information on the period was contained in two sentences. Two sentences to cover all the social, economic and political features of eras covering hundreds, if not thousands of years! Despite most of the exhibits being pottery or brass not one bit of information is given to the process of manufacturing the pieces displayed. This is not a history museum, it’s an art museum. What is frustrating is that this lack of information is apparent at almost every Chinese historical display, the notable exception being the Museum of History, Kowloon, Hong Kong which is excellent. I have learned more from the 10 pages of historical information in the Lonely Planet than I have from my time in the country itself.

It is worth a stroll round the Dayan Ta (Big Goose Pagoda), a 64m tall pagoda surrounded by other temples and a lovely set of gardens. Only negative feature is once you have paid to get into the grounds you have to pay more to climb the pagoda. Its better to stroll round the far edges of the gardens where you can find peace and quiet amongst the greenery. Out front is a huge controlled fountain that apparently puts on a display to music. Not running whilst I was there maybe I will return this evening.

Dayan Ta, Xian, China

Tonight is my last night in Xian before getting the sleeper to Beijing tomorrow. Just chance to have another conversation with Nathan (from Manchester) over a couple of beers on music, the city, the venues, the trendiness of Chorlton and the quality of Abdul’s kebabs.

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