Xian: I Hate Steps – Part, The First

Now I have to say, I have just returned from the most fantastic holiday. Working all those extra hours in January was more than worth it as they have been largely forgotten and replaced with some amazing memories. I’m going to do separate posts, one about my time in Xi’an and the other about Beijing, but you will see, that they do have a reason for the title! Separate posts too as I don’t think any of you will be able to cope with the length at all; they will be mini epics!

8th February 2012 – My trip to Xi’an began after listening to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Area Final 2nd leg against Barnet, which I got up at 3.30am for. As my bus to Xi’an was at 9am, this all worked out perfectly as by the time the game had finished, earning us a place at Wembley and myself making a star turn on the radio again, I was ready to catch the bus. It took about 9 hours in all, including several toilet stops and one for lunch where everyone had to get off the bus.

I eventually arrived in Xi’an, we skirted around the walls as it’s a walled city and ended up just inside the North East corner. My hostel was next to the South Gate, but unfortunately I could find no taxis who wanted to take me. Strange, but there we go and I wasn’t about to get into a taxi without a meter where I had to bargain. Luckily I had a good map in my guide book so walked across the city to get to the hostel. Worth is as it let me get my bearings. Xi’an is fairly easy to navigate around once you get to the middle, as the Bell Tower stands in the centre of the city so once you’re there you can go anywhere.

Bell Tower

I checked into the hostel

Shuyuan hostel

which comprised of 3 courtyards with the dorms coming off it and found myself in a very warm and comfy 4-bed dorm. I was pretty hungry so headed to the café. I was just writing in my blog, after finding Wenzel’s graffiti on the table from a couple of weeks ago

Wenzel’s graffiti

and the poster that the lads made

Colm, Norman, Johan and Wenzel’s poster

when I heard a “Sarah?” Turned out that Sophia, the education manager from Ordos was in Xi’an doing training in Xi’an and she was at the hostel with them having a drink! It was crazy – we were both surprised to see each other.

Had a really great evening and met loads of great people in the bar underneath the hostel. Luckily, for every night I stayed I got a free beer ticket, which was nice! 

9th February 2012 – After a day of travelling it was really nice to get outside. The first day I spent walking around the walls of Xi’an.

Xi’an walls

I was lucky enough to be there after the lantern festival, so they had many different things around the wall, including scenes from Europe

Arc de Triomphe

Houses of Parliament

and Africa, the latter which I had “Circle of Life” running around my head when I saw it.

“It’s the Circle of Life…”

The wall went on for longer than I’d imagined. I walked from the South Gate, near my hostel, to the North Gate near the railway station

xi’an huo che jan

and decided that was more than enough! I saw some interesting sights on the way, including tai chi, ping pong, a driving school which looked nothing like how we learn to drive

Chinese driving school

and I walked across a construction site

So no “this section of wall is closed for maintenance” sign…

something that just wouldn’t happen in the West!

I met Sophia later on and we went shopping. I was looking for some new jeans as I’d repaired the ones I had with me as many times as I could (the seat was going) and enough was enough I just needed new jeans! We started in the markets, but there was no way that I was going to squeeze into any of the Chinese sized jeans there. We tried another shop and an assistant helped me try on some jeans which were unisex and I managed to find a pair! Yay! So I was very happy and very grateful to Sophia for helping me, as the added Chinese did really help. We met her friend Tom for some food, before heading out to a bar, where we also met Luke’s brother Matthew, who was also in town for the training. I didn’t stay too late as the next morning I was going to be off to the Terracotta Warriors.

10th February 2012 –After a free coffee earned from going on the tour, I headed to the Terracotta Warriors. As well as people from our hostel, we picked up others on the way, so in total we had myself, a couple from Italy, Nico from Switzerland, Sam from America, Laurence from the UK and Robin and her mum (I can’t remember her name, maybe Penny?!) from America too, but they currently live in China (Robin was of Asian descent whereas her mum was definitely a Westerner – she may have been adopted as a young girl). Robin was a very inquisitive young mind and reminded me a little of Duncan when we were growing up, always asking questions and her mum going “Is it a proper question?” It was nice to talk to her and her mum though. The Warriors were pretty incredible. We were told about the archer

First one found

who our guide, Jaja, said she called the “magic warrior” as he was the first to be found and the only one to be found complete. I hadn’t realised that all of the Warriors were in bits. A nightmare of a jigsaw puzzle I can only imagine! We did the pits in reverse order, as Jaja said it was to save the best until last. There were 3 pits in all and in the first you can only see where the Warriors were buried. They were buried in rows and each had timber supports, but when the tombs as it were, were raided, the intruders burned the wooden struts so they collapsed onto the Warriors; that’s why they’re in bits and why the pit is undulating, for want of a better word!

Bumpy pit!

Around the pit they had 5 specimens of Warriors found, from archers, to generals and high ranking officers. Apparently the way to tell a high ranked Warrior is by his belly and his feet. The more curved up his shoes are and the fatter his belly, the higher the rank.

Fat General

Clearly, the general had the most curved shoes and the fattest belly. We were also told that the Warriors were originally coloured, but when they are excavated the colour only lasts for 30 minutes or so? The original archer found though, does have colour on his back.

Red colour on the back of the armour

He also has nails in his shoes, which apparently tells us that he was married.

The second pit we saw Warriors mostly complete, but without their heads, which was funny.

Headless horsemen?

There were also chariot drivers and their horses, but no chariots. I think they are in a poor state of preservation.

The best was saved until last however, as the final (but really, first pit), had over 1,000 Warriors who had been completed. Altogether in the 3 pits there are apparently over 8,000 Warriors, but it could take 60/70 years to put them all back together.   They have Warriors that represent the 56 ethnic minorities in China and in addition to that, every Warrior is different, as every man who made one made it a copy of himself. Unfortunately, in order to protect his Terracotta Army and keep it a secret so it wouldn’t be raided, Emperor Qin Shi Huang had every man who built a Warrior killed.

After visiting the Warriors we wandered into the shop, where I bought a great book about them (Mum/Dad, it’s on its way to you right now!) which I got signed by the guy who found them! He sits in the shop, I don’t know which days but I thought I might as well get him to sign it. I also managed to get some great postcards, some of you will be lucky as they’re in the post right now…

We ate lunch as a group together, which was nice, with a lazy Susan on the table to help out, so a proper Chinese meal. I was stuffed! Had a great chat with Robin as she came to sit next to me about anything and everything. Unlike Duncan all those years ago though, she didn’t make me mad. I think I’ve just learned to be a little more tolerant, at least to other people if not to my brother!

After the Warriors I headed out to have a look around the shopping area again. As we’d only focused on jeans the evening before I wanted to have another wander, plus get some food for my trip the next morning, as I had an early start to get to HuaShan, the mountain with five peaks. The most famous peak is the East Peak, as many Chinese tourists climb the mountain at night to watch the sunrise over the East Peak. In the evening, I had a pizza (the hostel made fantastic pizzas in a proper oven!) spent some time chatting with Nico and Laurence and a guy called Max, from Chile. At one point, all 4 of us were speaking German; it was pretty funny considering our diverse nationalities!

11th February 2012 – A 7.45am start and I was walked from the hostel to where the bus picked up the tourists. I was the only one from my hostel, but I got to the bus to find some Chinese and an English couple, David and Chris. They had been working in China for a few weeks as volunteers and were currently on holiday. We had a nice chat as the bus began to fill up with Chinese tourists. There were another foreign couple on the bus, but I didn’t meet them until later, which you’ll hear about.

Once the bus was full, we headed off to HuaShan, which was a 2 hour drive. On the way, I befriended the little boy sat in front of me, with as much Chinese I could use. We were almost at the mountain, however, when we stopped, to be sold random bamboo products. Fortunately, it seemed to be aimed more at the Chinese tourists as we first had a presentation then got shown the shop. Needless to say I walked through the shop pretty quickly and back onto the bus. Yay, I thought, onto the mountain. Not so. We stopped again for lunch, which I didn’t really want, some kind of buffet affair, but nothing like a Chinese buffet you’d expect in the UK. Neither, as it turned out, did the other foreign couple, Alex and Russ, from Chicago. They have just moved to Beijing for a year to lean Chinese, and Russ’ is not bad at all! According to the guide we were 5 minutes walk from the bus to the cable car to go up the mountain, so the three of us decided to get our tickets and head on without the rest of the group.

This was the beginning of a great day. We caught the bus to the cable car, but before we went up, we grabbed some instant noodles and milk tea. Now, so far I have avoided milk tea, as it sounds like it combines two of my least favourite liquid substances. However, I had a chocolate one and I’ve not looked back. It didn’t taste of milk or tea so I am now hooked. Having fed and watered ourselves we headed up in the cable car.  Daunting to say the least, it reminded me a little of the cable car I took in Salzburg 2 years ago up Untersberg mountain. The only other way to get to the top is a 4 hour hike up a lot of steps, and you’ll see later my comments on this. We couldn’t do this today however, time constraints and the fact that the route was closed due to snow.

Closed due to snow.

What a shame.

Once at the top of the cable car, we saw what was in front of us; it was an incredible view and we weren’t even on a peak.   Now, I’m not the world’s greatest lover of mountains; I’m too lazy most of the time to get up them. Untersberg was an experience because it was all snowy and served as a natural border between Austria and Germany. HuaShan however, is completely different. It was not without snow, being over 2000m high at the highest of its five peaks, but the geography of the mountain couldn’t be more different. I know nothing of geography, I got bored after Year 9 when we learned about the Antarctic, instead of learning where countries are in the world and what their capital cities are, so know nothing of what rock it is or how the mountain was formed, (Alex, Russ and I eliminated the whole volcanic process), but what I can tell you is that it was stunning. There were sheer cliff faces which were smooth, as well as faces which were covered in vegetation. It was beautiful and breathtaking, in every sense of the word. We hiked up what is called the ‘Blue Dragon Ridge’ in English, but I have since been told the translation is bad and that it should be ‘Dark

Dragon Ridge

Dragon Ridge’ I think.

Finally, you will understand the provenance of my title: the steps are steep. This picture shows the ridge in the background; I climbed that! It was unreal. I felt better in the knowledge that Alex and Russ were finding it as painful as I was; you just had to keep forcing yourself to continue, but boy was it worth it. We stopped awhile at the top of where the ‘Blue Dragon Ridge’ met a peak. Unfortunately due to time constraints, we couldn’t climb any further. There is apparently a boardwalk around one of the peaks somewhere, which consists of walking on boards attached to the side of the mountain, only a sheer and deadly drop below you. Thanks anyway, but no thanks. Going down was just as hard as going up. Our legs having been worked hard going up were now all like jelly. You stood still but your legs would shake incredibly; it was an odd sensation. Couple that with the dangerously low “safety barriers,” which were just chains at an unbelievably low height you had to step down gingerly. I hate walking down steps and stairs just as much as I despise walking up them, although going down is more of an irrational fear rather than anything more. I haven’t mentioned yet, the locks and red ties that were attached to pretty much every chain too. The locks are for lovers apparently, and the red ties for good luck. Nothing new about the Chinese and their belief in luck. It makes for a pretty scene, but when you’re trying to use the chain to help yourself up and down steps, it becomes a little tedious! There were many funny signs on the mountainside too, either misspelt in English or the meaning was just hilarious for some reason. Here they are:


Sorry, but no shit Sherlock…

But that’s how some people walk…!

No emergency here

Simply awesome


The day was amazing; we got back to the bus and began having a conversation with the little boy again. His mum spoke quite good English once I’d used all my Chinese and Russ had a go with his. He had the whole bus in stitches, neither Alex nor I knew what he was saying, but it was clearly tickling the Chinese! I slept most of the way back to Xi’an as I was exhausted! Alex, Russ and I got dropped off at the same place as our hostels were very close to each other, but unfortunately, they were leaving on an overnight train to Chengdu that evening so we said our goodbyes. They are however, looking at coming down to Xiamen, which is close to Zhangzhou where I’m living, so I left Alex my phone number and email address.

Got back and found that one of my Chinese roommates who I’d had a good chat with the previous evening had left me the sweetest note ever on my bed, including her QQ number, which is the Chinese version of MSN as I have told you in an earlier post. After some food, (more pizza I think!), I met up with Max and Laurence again, had a few drinks and before I knew it I was crawling into bed at 2.30am – at least with the bar being under the hostel it wasn’t a long walk!

12th February 2012 – The next day Max and I met up to go to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. We were impressed with ourselves being ready on time after the fairly heavy night previously, but we had to do it early as Max was leaving for Nanjing that day. I also had a problem with my legs, as HuaShan had decimated them the previous day.

We caught a bus to the pagoda, an expensive ¥2, and it stopped right outside. On the way however, I was talking to Max about how I was disorientated even with the walls, and how we hadn’t passed through them yet. He then said, “we did see the walls, we walked through them to catch the bus!” I couldn’t believe how silly I’d been. Classic Sarah.

Max and I took photos of each other, as he’d been saying he only had one photo of him in China, and I sympathised with that.


Travelling alone is harder to get photos of yourself, you just have to be brave and ask people! As he was taking photos on his phone however, I can see why he didn’t want to give that to strangers. Anyway, the pagoda was nice, neither of us could be bothered to walk up it however, so we just wandered around the park it was in. This was fairly entertaining as we saw lots of dancing and tai chi, and we had a good chat about everything we saw, and China in general. There were some funny statues all around the park too:

Scary statue – I love how his beard has been rubbed many times!

We moseyed back to the hostel, where Max and I said goodbye, exchanging emails first of course so we could send each other the photos! I headed to some lunch, and then to the Drum Tower. I had begun asking more when paying for tickets about my ISIC (international student card – I bought it at the same time as my flights to China, means I am officially a student until December 2012!) and most of the time I have been given student discount, score! My penny pinching days of The Courier are not over yet. There were a lot of drums in the Drum Tower, surprisingly, and I had a nice wander around, although climbing the steps to get there was somewhat of a pain. I looked to all and sundry as if I was an old, old woman, gingerly climbing the steps because it hurt so much!

Drum Tower

I had a ticket for the Bell Tower too, but decided to explore the Muslim quarter behind the Drum Tower. It’s full of shops selling anything and everything

Gaddafi/Osama playing cards anyone?

and again, it’s all down to how hard you haggle!  I bought a couple of things and then headed back to the Bell Tower, which, as I have already mentioned, is practically in the middle of Xi’an; you could look North, South, East and West. I had some food after this, Pizza Hut. Yes, I know Western food and pizza again, but remember where I lived in Ordos there was no Western food outlets that I really like; there was a Pizza Hut but I only went once. Don’t get me wrong, I love Chinese food but it’s nice to have Western again when it’s available, it becomes a serious luxury! Anyway, had a funny incident in Pizza Hut, a little girl kept coming over to my table and staring at me. It didn’t just happen the once but several times. I tried to speak to her in Chinese but when I did she ran off. I just found it hilarious. After dinner, I headed back to the pagoda, as at 8.30pm every day they have a fountain show with lights and music. I’d seen one in Ordos and Kang Bashi way back in the summer, but as it’s so cold there they drain the water in the winter. In Xi’an though, it’s pretty temperate all year round so they can continue doing the shows. I got some good pictures actually, as finally, after having it for almost 3 years, I have worked out how to take fairly good pictures at night!

13th February 2012 – As I had my flight to Beijing in the afternoon, I got up fairly early to make the most of the day. I’d packed the night before and then left my bags in the hostel luggage room. I’d planned to go to the Shaanxi History Museum this morning, but I got there and it was closed. My Rough Guide said that it was open on Mondays and closed on Tuesdays, but this was wrong and I have since sent them an email about that. I also had to send an email as the 50 odd pages I needed covering my new city were missing! I would have never known if I hadn’t moved! I’ve had a good result though as they will send me a replacement China one and a new guide of my choice, obviously I went for New Zealand. Anyway, apart from that my guide has been brilliant, and I won’t get rid of it as I have so many notes in it. Anyway, as the museum was near the Big Wild Goose Pagoda I decided that I’d go there instead, thinking that my legs would be able to cope with the 250 steps (Laurence had apparently counted them!) to the top. As I wandered though, I saw this amazing sign. It suggests that it’s for a furniture shop, but I think it may have been a bar. I just thought “I can go to Narnia!” as soon as I saw it. What do you think?


My legs just about managed the 250 steps and the view was alright; unfortunately it was a little hazy so you couldn’t see far.

I also saw a cat in a cage in a tree. I don’t know why. There were birds in cages in the tree too, but I’ve no idea about the cat. I headed for some lunch, nipped back to the hostel to pick up my bags and headed for the airport bus. I was very lucky as I managed to get on one that was just about to leave, which was perfect timing! Had a good chill in Xi’an airport, including having a nice milk tea (Chinese airports generally have water dispensers, hot and cold!) before my 1 and a half hour flight to Beijing.

So I’ll stop there, as that gets into Beijing territory now and I’m separating that. I managed to do a lot in Xi’an obviously. Again, if it was too much, I hope the pictures helped!

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Author: Bennett

2 years as an expat in China and now doing the same in New Zealand, Bennett sure likes to experience "slow travel!"

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  1. I giggled a lot at the Wooden Furniture Cupboard Experience. That’s one of the best mistranslations so far.

    HuaShan is, I believe, in a granite-rich area, so it would be volcanic in origin as it used to be magma. Sorry.

    Kinda shocked at how much of a seasoned traveler you look in that picture of the pagoda. Not in a bad way you understand, just not used to you looking like a BBC foreign correspondent.

    Post a Reply
    • There’s no end to the shit you know, is there?

      Yeah, cupboard experience made me giggle a lot too – especially if my first glance through the window was correct and it was a bar!

      And thanks for suggesting such a good job, I don’t often get nice comments from you, dìdi (that means little brother in Chinese!)

      Post a Reply
  2. Thanks for the sharing of your adventures! China is on my list of places to see and experience.

    Post a Reply
    • China came to me quite my accident and spontaneously but it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made! I love mixing some of the traditional sights with more off the beaten track, which can be easier when living here 😉
      Sarah 🙂

      Post a Reply
  3. I enjoyed your descriptions on of Xi’an and I’ll practice my stair climbing before going to visit. China’s on my list of places to visit and explore!

    Post a Reply


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