Here it is, the newest installment of my travelblog that I promised in the recent e-mail I sent out to most of you. Well our studies came to completion on Friday the 22nd of September. We had a couple of final dinners in Nanning, one with the staff of the college and another that only involved all thirteen students (we had an extra student from Switzerland start her studies there during our final week). After the final dinner, we headed up onto the roof of the college we were staying at and had a few farewell drinks. The next morning saw the boys from Melbourne leave the college at around 7:30am, each on their way to different locations (some went home, and others stayed in China to commence some traveling). As for myself, I was booked on an afternoon flight with Camilla and Mitch, bound for Xian.
Xian is host to the world famous Terracotta Warriors that were built between 246BC 208BC (or somewhere very close to that) by one of the very first Chinese Emperors (if not the first). During his reign he had many of his people build the warriors so that they could be placed outside his tomb in order to protect him in the afterlife. Some local farmers not all that long ago accidentally discovered the warriors. Only one of the 6000 strong terracotta army was found intact, the rest of them have been a working progress, finding all the pieces and placing them back together. It is believed that a later emperor set light to the tomb and the warriors, destroying much of the outer area. However specialists believe that the Emperors tomb is still intact on the inside, and a replica of what believe the inside to look like has built not far from his resting place. The actual tomb itself has not been opened, as specialists have not found a way to open it without allowing the outside environment (air, etc.) to destroy what lays inside.
Also in Xian, we went to see some ancient hot springs, believed to belong initially to the same emperor, and from there I think preceding emperors used it. This was a sort of retreat area for the emperor, where all his concubines (girlfriends/female company) would pamper him, and his soldiers and workers were also able to come here and relax. It seems that he was really the Hugh Heffner (Playboy Owner) of ancient times. Apart from the huge number of people that were walking around, this place was really quite beautiful, with well maintained gardens and some pretty cool ponds, plus of course the number of hot spring baths that were there. However all the hot spring baths were now either empty or had a small amount of pretty grimy looking water, and are now for looking only.
Once we got back within the inner city of Xian, we decided to go out and have a look at two ancient buildings that are located in the heart of the city (the inner city is surrounded by a pretty huge wall, built back in the day as protection for the city). Once we arrived at the Drum tower, we got side tracked by some night markets that stumbled across. After a couple minutes, we realized that we were now within the Muslim quarter of Xian, as many of the men wearing their headpieces and the style of the food changed dramatically. The vibe in this area was very cool and everything was really buzzing. After walking around for a while, checking out all that the markets had to offer; we came across a street that was lined with restaurants, all boasting Muslim cuisine. We were stoked, as we now get extremely excited over small things like different taste sensations of foods. After seven weeks of basically eating the same flavour day in and out, you become like a kid in a candy store when the opportunity arises for something different. After our meal we strolled around for a bit more, and then called it a night, heading back to our hotel. Oh yeh, I forgot to mention, the hotel we were staying at was probably one of the funniest things that happened in this city. When we arrived in Xian we had no accommodation booked and were just going to rock up to some cheap hostel and ask for a room. This way you normally get much cheaper rates. However when we got off the bus that we took from the airport into the inner city, we were immediately dragged into staying at some place by a travel agent who was standing on the street. Bit of a mistake! The place was located in what I can only describe as the ghetto of Xian. Our street was lined with groups of prostitutes and some pretty dodgy looking characters, especially the guy in the sex store half way down the street. For what seemed to me to be a conventional country, theres definitely some obvious out there characters. The hotel we were staying in even had an oclock room advertised for 40RMB. Hmmmmm, wonder what that was for!!!! But just to make it a little more obvious, the mini bar was stacked with condoms, lubricant and underwear, I guess just incase people didnt realize their new found female friend was a hooker.
The next morning, we woke up reasonably early and went to the south gate of the inner city wall, where we hired three bikes and went for ride around the whole wall. The ride took us about two hours, and if it wasnt the three of us doing it, would have been pretty boring. However with the child inside coming out in all of us, we managed to make it a little more fun, reliving the days when you ride around as kid with a bunch of mates. There was silly bugger action going on, and as you can see in the photos below, we even decided to take the mickey out of some locals. We have discovered that the many of the Chinese people, especially females, love to do full on poses for their photos. So heres our version. Hahahaha J
After the wall, we made our way back to the drum tower for round two. This time we actually made it inside to check it out. Got some good photos here, but all up it wasnt really an overly exciting attraction. Being gluttons for punishment we then decided, what the heck, lets go and look at the bell tower while were here. Guess what, pretty much the same deal, except this one has bell instead of drums. Probably should have clued onto that hey. However I will say that anyone who likes old pottery or furniture may find these attractions a little more exciting, as inside they had a few items that date back quite some time.
(Some chillin out in front of Yin-Yang drum)
That afternoon it was time for us to say goodbye to Xian and head off on an intrepid thirteen-hour train ride to Beijing. We got ourselves three tickets in the hard sleeper section of the train, and being in a group of three meant that someone would end up on the outer. No surprise to me, I drew the short the straw and ended up on the other side of a wall that slightly divided me from my fellow travelers. I have never felt time go so slow in my whole life, not only was I segregated, but I was also finding it impossible to get any sleep. After getting just 1hr or so of sleep, we arrived in Beijing. We then set out to find ourselves some accommodation. We had been given a business card for a hostel nearby the city centre by one of the other Brisbane students before we left Nanning. That is how we ended up at the Hua Tong International Youth Hostel. The room is a little cramped, but all we need really, and is only costing us 70RMB a night. It has a shared bathroom, which seems to be kept reasonably clean most of the time by the staff.
Once we were settled, we dropped our bags and headed for Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City (home to the royalty of China as such for many years, where nobody else was allowed, hence Forbidden) wasnt quite what I expected it to be, as I think the restorations that had taken place have taken away from its appeal. That and the whole touristy thing that was going on there, with stores and crap set up all over the place. There were a few sections however that had been left somewhat untouched, which were really cool. The best part of the Forbidden City to be without a doubt the Imperial Garden, found right at the back of the city. It was definitely a place that would have been cool to sit down in with nobody around and just simply chill out. We then headed across the road to check out Tiananmen Square, the biggest square in the world (or so I believe). Here there was a really cool water fountain in the center of the square, with some beautiful garden work around the front of it. We sat down in front of the water fountain and took the opportunity to chill out and wind down. It was really cool to just sit down and take time out to clear our heads and sit in relative silence. After a while, we ended becoming a mini attraction ourselves, with some locals coming up and taking photos with us, and some others trying to take photos of us on the sly. Their sneaky factor however wasnt very high, as it was plainly obvious what they were up to. But now being relaxed, and simply being three laid-back aussies, we just went with the flow and allowed them to have their spot the whitey moment.
The next day was early one, as we had booked in for day trip up to the Great Wall of China. We left the hostel at 8am and headed for a section of the wall called the JinShanLing Great Wall section. It took about 4hrs to arrive here and we were dropped of to walk the wall. From here we made our way up to the wall, in order to begin our walk of the wall, which was to take about 4hrs and end at another section of the wall known as the Simatai Great Wall section. This has been the most amazing I have ever seen. The sheer enormity of this construction was enough to take your breathe away, but then to think that it was built thousands of years ago makes that much more amazing. There were many photos taken on the wall, however I must say that no photo could possibly capture everything that is experienced by actually being there in person. There were endless mountains running into each other and the wall crept along some of the highest points of these mountains. The walk was amazing, as we got to see not only the sections of the wall that had been refurbished, but also some sections that were a bit run down and somewhat in ruins. This is one of the only sections where people are now able to still see some of the run down sections, as they are now trying to stop going to these areas so they can fix them up. The walk included some rough terrain and some steep inclines and declines (up to 70 degrees), but it was all definitely worth it. At the end we took a ride on a flying fox from on the bridge over a river, which can be seen in one of the photos, down to where our bus was to be waiting for us. We didnt arrive back at our hostel until about 7:30pm and had to get ready straight away, as we had planned to go out for a slightly more expensive meal and a night on the town. . The special occasion was that we would be losing one of our travelers for the next two weeks. Camilla has had to temporarily interrupt her trip in order to make a trip to South Africa and attend her grandfathers 80th birthday party, who is recently not 100% in good health. Dinner was really quite nice and the night out definitely had some fun moments, which we have not been short of since leaving Brisbane airport.
(Me and Mitch on the wall)
The next day we had a western style breakfast (toast, eggs, bacon) which is not often seen in china. After breakfast we headed into the city to visit some of the local Hutongs (old buildings found in tight alleyways in Beijing city). After this we headed home so Camilla could pack her bags and get ready for her massive trip over to South Africa. It was quite a sad departure, as the three of us have become best friends, and pretty much family over the past seven weeks. So Camilla when you read this, I hope everything is going as well as can be for you and your family over the other side of the world and us boys cant wait to pick things back up in Hong Kong in two weeks time. You are definitely being missed and we even had a beer for you at dinner the night you left J Take care!
Yesterday Mitch and myself ventured out after sleeping in for the first time this whole trip (or at least for myself) to the silk markets. The name is a bit deceiving, as it is really a bunch of markets all contained within a big department store. Plenty of bargaining took place and some cheap items were bought. We also realized that some items we bought early on in the trip, we could have bought for much cheaper. But hey, thats all part of overseas traveling really isnt it.Well I definitely think that I have dribbled on long enough for this blog and will do my best to keep you all up to date with our upcoming adventures. Until next time, Ciao.