Oh yeah – I’m in the throes of a Dillman Wild Goose Chase (DWGC©), the magnitude of which I have not experienced in quite some time. The DWGC© is so commonplace in my family that Ben has coined the term, which generally refers to any hair-brained idea I have that turns into a massive cluster in some way, shape or form. In fact, this might be the biggest one yet. I’m in China and procrastinated on making weekend plans and chintzed out on a tour guide, so by the time I made up my mind to take a day trip to Xi’an to see the famed terracotta warriors, all the tours were sold out. I had already purchased my flight and committed to going by that point, so I figured how hard could it be to do on my own. And so the goose chase begins!
I landed in Xi’an and immediately noticed eyes on me. A little Chinese girl pointed at me and her mother blushed and waved – we are in major no-blondes territory. Between my blonde hair and big nose, little Chinese kids don’t know what to make of me. It’s actually pretty cute. Mission #1: Get to the terracotta warriors site. So I found my way to the handy tourist information stand at the airport (thank god!!!) and realized they didn’t speak any English (noooooooo!). They pointed me to a bus ticket stand and told me to get off at Lin Tong. Great. Then my bus ticket says go to bus terminal 3 and the lady pointed me to bus terminal 8. I tried to tell her where I was going and she assured me that bus 8 was the right one. Oh, and I had a McDonald’s sausage mcmuffin at the airport for breakfast. I haven’t eaten McDonald’s food in like 20 years and I go ahead and break my vow in China where the food standards and meat quality are even more questionable than in the US?!
Alright – so far, so good. Leap of faith. The bus went to Lin Tong (whew!) but that still left me about 6 miles from the Terracotta Warriors. There were taxis waiting at the bus terminal so I hopped in one. Duo shou? (how much?). San shi (30 RMB, which is less than $5). Sold. It’s always helpful to learn numbers in another language! The taxis in China are notorious for ripping people off so I always try to get the price before I get in one.
I arrive at the museum and a handy-dandy English-speaking tour guide solicits me for a personal tour. Given the alternative of walking around by myself and not knowing a thing about the place, I decide to go for it. It was like $20 for the entrance ticket and $30 for the tour. At this point, I’m still doing the mental math and feeling pretty good because the all-inclusive tour I chintzed out on was about $250. So we entered the first ‘pit’ and she gives me a little backstory.
Apparently, Emperor Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor to unify China and create a centralized empire under what is now known as the Qin Dynasty. He did so by subjugating his enemy states and forcing them to build an army of clay soldiers to be buried with him when he dies. A little odd, but to each his own. It is estimated that the three pits containing the Terracotta Army held more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses and that over 700,000 people were forced to dig the site and build his strange little army. Qin’s tomb is in plain sight because it was an above-ground structure 40+ meters tall, but it wasn’t until 1974 when a farmer was digging in his backyard that he came upon the terracotta army. Most of it was damaged and destroying, but archeologists puzzled pieces back together and recreated the scenes.
So that was great and on the way out (because no tourist site would be complete without a tourist trap), my guide conveniently led me to a jade factory. I’ve avoided buying jade on my trips to China mostly out of fear of being ripped off, and really had no intention of changing my mind on this trip, but I wanted a jade bracelet and figured now was as good a time as any. The sales people come at you hard – It’s an heirloom! You only need one for your whole life! It makes you healthy! I bartered and got the price down by a 1/3rd so I probably only mildly overpaid and who knows I may have even gotten a deal. Either way, what’s done is done! Yolo, right?!
So, my guide pointed me to a city bus that would take me back to downtown Xi’an. Another leap of faith but it worked and from there I navigated myself to the closest Starbucks for a much-needed phone-charge and latte! It’s amazing that I barely needed to pack anything for all this travel – but I’d be lost without my phone. So, I relaxed for an hour and read President Xi’s report from the recently completed 19th Party Congress. It’s an interesting read and I agree with many (but not all!) of his points. The way he talks about progress and innovation is light years ahead of the old rhetoric coming out of our backwards-looking president.
So, I left Starbucks and hopped on an OFO bikeshare bike toward my destination of the old city wall. I love bikeshares. Are they dangerous? Most likely, but it’s such a common place thing here that it doesn’t feel like it…most of the time. Anyway, the city wall is about 8.5 miles long, 15 meters wide, and 12 meters tall and it surrounds the old city. It was built about 200 BC and has been perfectly restored. You can pay a fee to go up and walk or bike around it. I walked for a bit and exited at the south gate not having enough time to go all the way around.
I hopped back on a bike and rode straight across town to the North gate. I wish I could describe the intensity of the city – so massive, so many people, bikes and scooters and city buses weaving in and out of lanes. Pure chaos, but somehow in an organized fashion. It was a great way to see some of the streets and neighborhoods. One street would have nothing but flower shops, the next street rows and rows of neon-letter sign shops, the next one lined with Chinese calligraphy art shops. It’s just awesome. The only other thing I really hoped to accomplish that day was a walk through the Muslim quarter which is supposed to have great street food and shopping stalls, but that wasn’t in the cards. I didn’t want to push my luck on time so I hailed a cab (which was easier than I expected) and headed back to the airport. The only other thing I really missed out on was a good food experience. I ended up grabbing a subpar noodle soup at the airport and a Ritter Sport chocolate bar (also subpar – probably sitting there forever since no one in china eats chocolate).
Did I miss some of the sights I would have seen on a fully guided tour? Sure. But I got a lot of real life experiences in turn. I was in the mix rather than an outsider looking in. And people are nice. This has been my experience everywhere I travel – especially when I’m by myself. People are willing to help. Thank god for google translate. I had a handful of ‘conversations’ using my phone and google translate just typing back and forth and nobody seemed to mind at all. I have blonde hair and it gets noticed here – mostly by kids with no inhibitions, but it’s still cute. I got to see tons of people roam the streets, and happened upon multiple scenes of old people singing and playing strange instruments in the park, a tennis-size court filled with ping pong tables, and ride a bike in a crazy bus lane with more bikers than the Tour de France. It was great.
I was POOPED by the time I landed back in Beijing, but made it back to my hotel in one piece. Hooray for adventures and the infamous DWGC©.