We collected our bags from luggage storage ...

Trip Start Apr 01, 2001
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of China  ,
Tuesday, September 4, 2001

We collected our bags from luggage storage at the Beijing International Hotel and used their western style toilets. Toilets in China are either grossly smelly "hole-in-the-grounds" with no paper, and shit all over the floors and walls... or completely the other end of the spectrum. In the Beijing International Hotel the toilet paper is folded into a "V" after every use. When you come out, the attendant turns the taps on for you, passes you the soap, turns the taps off, then gives you a pile of soft paper tissues to dry your hands on. Paul even got his shoulders massaged while he was washing his hands!

Eventually we got a taxi to Beijing West Staion... four taxis refused to take us. Do we really look that scuzzy?
Our 15 hour "hard-sleeper" train to Xian was much smarter than we had anticipated. It was new 3 bunks on either side of doorless compartments. The A/C was fierce, but we were given thick blankets so we would stay warm. We both had bottom bunks which is where people like to sit during the day, so we sat together on one bed and let our travel companions sit on the other. We were the only "round-eyes" on the train, and the other four bunks around us were occupied by:
- Husband, wife and child... sharing two bunks. The kid was about 6 years old, and was, as all Chinese kids seem to be, extremely cute with her hair in bunches.
- Alcoholic man... It didn't take Paul long to recognise a soul mate and strike up a "conversation" over a couple of beers.
- A pair of unidentified feet... This was all we saw of the person on the top bunk, by morning he/she had gone.

Just as we settled down to reaad our books everybody around us started brushing their teeth and preparing for bed. We soon discovered why... at 10pm all the lights went out plunging us into complete darkness. Next morning, in the same manner that everyone had gone to bed simultaneously, they all got up at 7am and started making cups of Jasmine tea.


XIAN

On the train£¬one of the girls who cleans the carriage, sells drinks, and keeps the samovar topped up, acted as a tout for the Shangde Hotel¡£ Since it only cost 40 Yuan ($5) each and was just a few steps from the staion, we decided to stay there, at least for one night. We stepped outside the staion into complete mayhem, and were glad we had a guide to take us to the hotel. However, just as we were checking-in, a backpacker was having an argument with the staff who were accusing him of stealing a pair of flip-flops from his room. He was insisting that he had never set eyes on the said flip-flops, and was refusing to pay for them. He told everyone around not to stay at the hotel, then continued ranting and raving about how awful the place was... Not exactly what we wanted to hear as we paid over our cash.

We headed South from the Shangde Hotel to the Bell Tower which marks the centre of Xian. There was a huge shopping mall with an equally huge MacDonalds right opposite the Bell Tower. The whole complex opened on August 30th (2 days ago) and it was clearly the big local attraction. We have never seen so many people in one place. Imagine Oxford Street in the week before Christmas, then multiply the volume of shoppers by a factor of 20 and you'll get some idea of how crazy it was. Staff at MacDonalds were yelling orders into megaphones so that they could be heard above the din. Chinese people in their thousands were buying burgers and taking them away in small plastic bags because there were no seats/tables available.

We went inside the shopping mall and looked up at the escalators... 6 floors packed solid with people. We wondered who, in this city, has the money to buy the flat-screen TVs and DVD players on sale here?

Back outside we walked westward to the city wall. We had to walk the entire way in the road because there was so much building/demolitiion work going on and the roads have hordings up on both sides.

Xian is incredibly polluted and also very dusty... infact it is a total shit-hole and, were it not for the Terracotta Warriors, we would not advise anyone to come here.

We saw some interesting things on our walk:

- A bicycle with a big cage full of dead chickens... still fully feathered.
- A toddler sitting on the crossbar of it's parent's bicycle, flopped over the handlebars, fast asleep.
- Another toddler sitting on the rear mudguard of a bike, fast asleep, leaning 45 degrees to one side, while being driven through traffic 10 times worse than Naples in rush hour.
- Lots of toddlers wandering around with their bums poking out of thier trousers. Instead of wearing daipers the kids here just have a circle cut out of the bum of their trousers.
- A chirping bicycle... on closer inspection we saw that it was transporting about 100 tiny wicker cages with a cricket in each.
- People live in the streets here. We saw lots of people squatting in the road over games of Chinese Chess, and one old bloke was laying in bed, right in the middle of the street.

The Flats of Remin Hotel has quite a reputation as Xian's backpacker hangout. We ate at Kane's Cafe and looked at a room at "The Flats". Kane's brother volunteered to pick us up from the Shangde Hotel at 8:00 the next morning. Talk about poaching customers!

7:00 AM We awoke to a loud banging on our door. Kane's brother had showed up an hour early... Damn. Paul got up and told him to go away. We would get the bus later. After a few hours more kip, we set off to the railway station to look for the #9 bus to "The Flats". As usual it was complete chaos outside the train staion. We couldn't find bus #9 or a stop for it. No one would help us - they just harrassed us trying to sell maps of Xian and 5 separate touts tried to get us to stay at the Shangde Hotel... the place we had just left! Eventually we gave up and hailed a taxi.

We decided to be adventurous and instead of paying the 35Y for a minibus tour to the Terracotta Warriors we would "go it along" by local bus.

We met Craig (an Aussie we had met at the station the previous day) and got bus #9 to the station, changed to bus #306 and spent an hour bumping along the road to the Terracotta Warriors. A lady sitting next to Tonya made sure we didn't get off the bus too soon. It turned out that we had to stay on until the end of the line - shame no one told us that - it would have saved us worrying.

The Terracotta Warriors cost 65 yuan each to enter ($8.50), really expensive for China, but it was definitely worthwhile. We saw pits #2 and #3 before pit #1 which was the right thing to do, since pit #1 is by far the most impressive. There were signs saying "no photo/video" and guards to patrol it, but everyone was ignoring the rules, so Tonya sneaked a few photo's and a bit of video too. We walked past all the hawkers to the bus stop and managed to buy just one postcard - good going! The hawkers here are terrible; really, really pushy. They were trying to flog gift boxes of 4 warriors and 1 horse for $1... Great if you wanted a souvenir, but not when your backpack is already full.

There was a #306 minibus at the bus stop - quoting 5Y (Same as the big bus). We hopped on and landed ourselves right in the middle of an argument between a young chinese couple. The bloke was sitting on the bus and the woman was standing in the doorway yelling at him. Wish we could understand chinese! Eventually, the woman got dragged away by some other women, but then the argument continued through the bus window. Then, a big group of men arrived and we thought a fight was going to start, but luckily it didn't . The whole time we were thinking "Let's go", but the minibus driver wasn't going anywhere until every single seat was full. Finally the bus filled up, but when we went to drive off the crazy woman stood infront of the bus and prevented us from moving. Whilst all this was going on the soldier/policeman who was standing under a MacDonalds sunshade on duty just did his best to ignore what was happening. God knows what this guys job was meant to be... Oh yeh, he gets paid to stand under an umbrella all day... That's Communism!

Finally the minibus left and we drove like a bat out of hell to Xian city centre. All the way the conductor was leaning out of the door or window trying to persuade people to get on board. It didn't take us long to figure out that we were on an "illegal" bus. Everytime a real #306 bus came along our driver would hide our #306 sign. Also, Chinese people kept refusing to get on - obviously they know better.

We almost made it back to Xian station when we collided with a truck! The truck was trying to pass a 3-wheeled bicycle who was moving a purple sofa (tied onto the seat), so he was right out in the middle of the road. We were also in the middle of the road - because thats where our driver liked to be. Anyway, the only damage was that the truck lost its wing mirror, but this was enough for both vehicles to stop (without pulling over from the middle of the road). The drivers got out and started yelling at each other, the traffic we were blocking started hooting and trying to get passed us. All the chinese people on the minibus got off. We were close enough to our destination, but we had no idea where we were, so we just sat there! Eventually the driver got back in, drove aa little way down the road, picked up the chinese who had just got off and we made it back to Xian.... just!

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