Xi’an, thankfully, was significantly more interesting than Hangzhou. This is the site of the famed Terracotta Warriors, one of the many “Eighth Wonders of the World” (as is often the case in China, reality is no match for hyperbole). However, the famous sight of rows of warriors, all entirely unique, is still an inspiring one, even if there aren’t nearly as many excavated as low-shot photographs would lead you to believe (excavations are still very much ongoing, with some fascinating further chambers still being uncovered).
What’s very interesting to me is despite the site’s fairly close proximity to King Qinshihuang’s burial mound/mausoleum, nobody suspected anything like this lay here until a farmer found some simple pottery when sinking a well shaft. Archaeologists digging further must have had their minds absolutely blown. It makes you wonder what other lost treasures of this magnitude lay out there. That kindles my preteen passion to be an archaeologist like Heinrich Schliemann of Troy fame… although contemporary me remembers he did more harm than good, and most archaeologists are content with, and even greatly excited by just those simple pots the first farmer found.
Anyway, the Terracotta Warriors complex is only three buildings, but they are quite large and make you want to keep coming back and see what else they unearth. For lunch I stayed in the area and ate biang biang mian- noodles whose Chinese characters are so complex computers can’t yet print them. The noodles themselves are very thick, coupled with a hearty chicken, potato, green pepper, carrot, and onion broth perfect for the chilly weather.
Afterwards, I headed back to Xi’an city proper, with its 6.5 kilometer encircling wall that stands as the largest intact one in the world (well-restored, of course). Within the city I headed for the Muslim Quarter and its Grand Mosque. While its warren of streets and alleys defeated me in my quest to see the mosque itself (in retrospect, I passed a small mosque with an interesting Chinese flavor to its architecture that must have been it, however un-“Grand”) they were themselves quite worth the effort, with all manner of street food and ingredients for sale in a riot of colors, smells, textures, and vehicles.
Two interesting sweets were shi libing- a fried bun made of persimmon and stuffed with sugar, nuts, and seeds of all different types (peanut and black sesame was quite good) and lu dou gou, small semi-sweet cubes made of none other than green beans (Asians love their beans sweet). Dinner was an on the go rou jia mo, basically a Chinese Muslim Doner Kebab, and every bit as tasty as that description would lead you to believe.
After that it was time to climb to the top of the City Wall itself which proved more difficult than I’d anticipated. Finally I reached the West Gate in time for nightfall and the lighting of its many lanterns walking along the ramparts, nearly alone at this relatively late hour, with Chinese music piping through the occasional speaker and the yellow, bright-lit lanes and subtle red lantern-glow surrounding me was the perfect way to cap off the day in Xi’an, before my penultimate night train (and last stop before Beijing!)