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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  



May 9. XIAN (Shaanxi Province) After another western breakfast at Kane's Kafe we went to catch a bus to the Teracotta Warriors.  It was about a 40 minute bus ride from the Xian train station.  The site had be built up into a pretty nice tourist spot over the years.  It was easy to imagine the complex crawling with tourists but instead it was totally dead.

We rushed past the hawkers and touts and bee-lined for the ticket window.  A fancy little plastic card inserted into the gate was our ticket.  The huge courtyard that preceded the excavation pits and museum was empty.  We went to the tourist information office.  Closed.  Then the movie theater. Closed.  A few more tourists trickled in bit by bit.  We saw the same western couple from the day before.

There must have been all of 10 of us in Pit No.1, a cavernous building with the largest population of excavated warriors.  It was the only building to see 12 years earlier and it hadn't changed much.  But it was a great experience to have the place to ourselves and not be herded along with droves of tourists.  And, an even more pleasant surprise was that they had decided to allow tourist to take pictures of the Terracotta Warriors!  They had been fighting that battle forever.  Several people I know had managed to snap off some illegal shots in the midst of the crowds, at the risk of having your film yanked if caught.  Now we had no tourists and no nosey guards on the look out for cameras!

We took about three hours to walk through the three excavation pits, stopped for a coffee break in the middle. But, along with the tourist info office and the movie theater the newly added museum was also closed.  This was a disappointment because it housed the chariots that had been excavated from the sites.  That was the SARS tradeoff I guess.

As we neared the exit we saw about eight hawkers practically crawling all over each other to be the first person in our face when we passed through the turnstile.  We considered staying longer to avoid them but figured it was useless.  A museum worker tried to yell them away but only succeeded in getting them to stand back a bit.  We took a deep breath and blazed through the gates saying "No Thank you" or "Bu Yao" (Don't want).  They didn't persist for too long but where they left off others joined picked up the battle.  They were trying to sell boxes of miniature warrior sets.   There were five 2-3 inch pieces in a cloth box and by the time we reached the bus we were hearing offers for Y3 (about 40 cents US).  Hawkers can be an entertaining annoyance but in this situation is was hard to ignore their desperation. This would normally be a busy season for them and business was next to nothing. 

That warriors took up the better part of our afternoon but we made one last attempt to visit the mosque when we got back to Xian. Again, it was closed.  This time we were told it was closed due to SARS.  Another tradeoff.

Near the Muslim area I tried to get a traditional Chinese pharmacy to give me a concoction to strengthen my health and prevent SARs.  We had seen the SARS preventative herbs talked about on the news and I was curious what was in the concoctions.  But, this pharmacy only managed to come up with Ginseng and at a whopping US$15 for a few ounces.  No thanks.  They'd seen too many tourists.  I'll take my Centrum!

When we arrived at Kane's Kafe for dinner we actually shared the restaurant with two young women from Australia.  They were also traveling from Beijing. One had been working there for three months and her sister had joined her for a trip around China.  We compared SARS info but mostly just had speculation about what lie ahead. 

In the lobby of our hostel we stopped to use a couple of their Internet computers.  We were tapping away when biohazard storm troopers came wheeling up and dashed into the hotel.  They were dressed in head to toe biohazard gear - hoods, goggles, gowns, pants, shoes covers.  It was a funny sight but also a bit alarming.  We had few people at the hotel and it was hard to imagine we had encountered the 11th case of SARS in Xian. The women at the desk kept saying "Don't have" in Chinese and we saw the storm troopers get on the phone and gesticulate wildly while talking.  It appeared that they had stormed the wrong address.  All of the SARS

The SARS mania was starting to go nuts.  It was good to see measure taken to prevent the disease but there was also a feeling that a lot of busy work was going on because the provincial governments had been threatened with their jobs if SARS spread in their area.   

May 10. XIAN (Shaanxi Province)  Xian is China's old capital and goes back seven dynasties as opposed to Beijing's three dynasties.  Unfortunately there is not a proportionately large number of sites to visit that cover all of those dynasties.  Inside Xian's well preserved wall is an every modernizing city.   However, Xian is home to one of the country's top twenty museums so we spent our last day visiting the Shaanxi History Museum.

The museum had us fill out a health form and took our temperature before letting us in the building, but we only encountered about six other visitors in the whole time we spent at the museum.   The exhibit was well laid out and spanned all of Xian's dynasties.  It progressed from dynasty to dynasty and took up two large floors.  Most of the items were smaller - pottery, bronze work, porcelain, religious artwork - but they did a nice job of showing the advancement of civilization in Xian.  

On the ground floor there were two smaller exhibits.  One exhibit was focused on the diversity of cultures in Yunnan Province, featuring the costumes, customs, and art of the many minorities that make up Yunnan.   It made me regret that we weren't going to make it there on this trip.  The second exhibit was a random collection of items from the museum archives that was more of an extension of its main exhibit.  The entire visit didn't take us more than two hours but it was very worthwhile.

With the rest of the afternoon we went to visit another museum, The Forest of Stele Museum.  We really went to see the exhibit it was supposed to have on the Silk Road but were disappointed when we realized that it must have been a temporary exhibit that LP mistakenly reported.  The steles were interesting, showing famous literature and calligraphy carved into rooms full of stone tablets and a final exhibit of stonework from tombs.  But, by the end of the day, we were museum-ed out and just took a leisurely walk down a nearby old shopping street and up the center of town to catch our minibus back to the hotel.

The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent at Kane's Kafe, talking to a couple of  fellow travelers from the US and Australia and updating this journal.  The owner of the restaurant was there that night as well.  At about 10:45 we headed for the train station and departed for Xining at around 11:30.

CLASSIC CHINA Beijing April 23 April 24 April 25 April 26 April 27 April 28 April 29-30 May 1-2 May 3-4 May 5 Pinyao, Shanxi May 6 May 7 Xian, Shaanxi May 8 May 9-10

TIBETAN PLATEAU Xining, Qinghai May 11 May 12 Tongren, Qinghai May 13 May 14 Xiahe, Gansu May 15 May 16-17

THE SILK ROAD Lanzhou, Gansu May 18 Dunhuang, Gansu May 19-20 May 21-22 May 23 May 24-25 Turpan, Xinjiang May 26 May 27 Kashgar, Xinjiang May 28-29 May 30 May 31 June 1-2 June 3-6 Hotan, Xinjiang June 7 June 8-9 June 10-11 June 12-13 June 14-16 June 17-19

A LAST LOOK Shanghai June 20-29 Beijing June 30