Xi'an

March 21, 2010 - Xian, China

OK. Lets talk history. Permit me to weave ye's a tale involving two weary travellers, the beautiful game, a walled city and two of it's favourite sons. Please be hereby warned, this entry goes on a bit.

The city in question is Xi'an former capital city of China. Xi'an (pronounced Shee'an) was the capital of China on and off for some 2000 years. This town has seen a thing or two let me tell ye. It's had more names than Sean Combs and been sacked more times than Graeme Souness. It's got a 14km long, 12m high wa' aroond it's city centre. It's got towers, temples, mosques, pagodas and tombs. It's had earthquakes, been burned doon and bombed. It is the Eastern terminus of the Silk Road. It's a pretty interesting place.

We dae another train journey fae Guilin tae get here and are this time sharing a cabin with two Chinese blokes who are evidently transporting a nuclear missile and The Arc of the Covenant from Guilin tae Xi'an. When we pitch up in the cabin, they've got this massive crate stuck between the beds in the middle o the floor (as if the cabins arny cramped enough) and a big, white, bullet-shaped thing taking up a large proportion of the luggage rack. Jacs and I dinny make a fuss aboot it but this is reasonably annoying. Particularly the crate which makes it pretty tricky getting in and oot o the cabin. They've also got a third guy who keeps hanging aboot and popping in and oot o the cabin for a blether. Man, there's nae room for ye....sling yer hook. It's a 28 hour journey this. Och, they actually seem like alright guys and one o them, a baby-faced youngster, speaks a wee bit o English although we dinny really converse much until aboot half an hour before we get tae Xi'an.

Dialogue is provoked when I whip oot Cris' bag and sit it on the bed in anticipation of a hasty departure fae the train. Noo for those o ye's unfamiliar wi Cris' bag - it is covered in patches fae Cris' many travels aroond the globe. He's got Mexico, Cambodia, India, Mongolia, Japan, Malaysia, Burma, Nepal, Russia and Thailand tae name a few. He has kindly loaned it to me. Well...these three Chinese guys are amazed when they see these patches. Obviously they think that I am that seasoned traveller and are looking at me with a new respect and chattering between themselves - probly saying 'Hey, look at this guy's bag, man...he must be so cool...and...he looks like Bruce Willis circa Twelve Monkeys era'. I catch the attention of one of them and point to the Saltire, in pride o place in the middle at the front, and point to myself and Jacs and say 'This Scotland...this where we come from'. They digest this for a second and then the fella closest tae me goes 'Ah...Scotaland...Glasgow Celtic?'. I say 'AYE! Glasgow Celtic...you know them?'. Quite amazed. He says 'Glasgow Celtic have Chinese player, Zheng Zhi, he good player in midafielda'. Unfortunately I am unaware of the whole Zheng Zhi saga at this time (I have since been briefed by Cris) so come over all confused. Nevertheless, me and this fella go on to have a 'conversation' aboot fitba which involves him more or less naming players and me confirming that, yes, these are indeed football players. He starts off with Chelsea and names all of their players and where they play. 'Franka Lampaad, he midafielda to Chelsea' - 'Aye...Frank Lampard...guid player...guid right foot on him' and so on and then we move onto Manchester United. 'Ah....Manchester United!' I say 'Darren Fletcher! Darren Fletcher is Scottish [pointing to the Saltire on the bag]. Midfielder. Great player'. He thinks for a minute 'Ah yes...Darren Fletcher. He velly good player. In midafielda'. Ah football....the international language.

And thats us intae Xi'an then. A cab ride gets us tae the hotel, which is right in the town-centre, and we just crash. Unfortuntely, poor Jacs has had a bit o a shit time the last few days, starting wi food-poisoning in Yangshuo, then her tonsils all swole up and noo she has the cold. Since we're here for 6 nights then, we decide tae just chill on the first day, the Wednesday, and end up staying in the hotel all day. Oor only venture ootside is when I nip oot for a KFC bucket. I know, I know....it's comfort food ok! The lassie isny well!

So next day Jacs is feeling a wee bit better and we go oot for a few hours and check oot some o the city centre sights, namely the ancient Bell and Drum Towers, and then hae a wander roond the markets in the Muslim Quarter browsing all wee brass Buddha statues and Chairman Mao T-shirts. Man, ye might actually buy something if it wisny for the fact that, if ye make even the slightest sign that ye might stop tae look at something, some pushy salesperson comes up and goes 'Looky Sir, you like? I sell. What you look for? You want T-shirt? Come see inside. I have bag, watch, shoes....see see see you buy something, you buy...give me money! Please....money!'. It just drives ye away. It's interesting though. Some of the food on sale looks and smells braw but ye've nae idea what it is. It could be tasty, spicy, lovely neck of lamb...then again it could be rat-meat. Yer no gonny take a wild stab in the dark, are ye? Well I'm no at least. Anyway this kills an hour or so. We go oot for a Sichuanese meal at night which is the tastiness. Man, the Sichuan people ken what they are daen when it comes tae scran, likes. And they like it spicy. Which is just braw and the gang as far as I'm concerned. Jacs hits her scratcher early doors and I sit up late hoping I can catch Fulham Juventus on the telly. Good old ESPN are showing it so I sit doon tae watch it and then spot an e-mail fae Cris Thacker saying tae get online and he'll watch it wi me remotely. He hasny got the Fulham game but does have Valencia v Werder Bremen so we exchange messages over Skype while both commenting on the respective games. Cris drinking wine and me drinking some Chinese spirit I procured earlier at aboot 60p a bottle. We manage tae keep the banter gaun even through the subsequent Liverpool Lille game which keeps me up until aboot 6am. Great fun. And two cracking games o fitba at Fulham and Valencia. Liverpool game is pretty gash though.

Noo...the history part...there are a couple of Buddhist pagodas in Xi'an called the Small Wild Goose Pagoda and the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda. Friday, we decide tae take a gander at these. Hah! A gander....goose pagodas...geddit....goose...gander....aw, man - I should write for...eh...the beano? Onyway, what we dinny realise is just how flipping big Xi'an is. It takes us aboot an hour tae walk tae the wee pagoda, which is reasonably underwhelming though has quite nice grounds and a decent museum. We spend a couple o hours here, then stop for lunch and coffee in a wee place next door. We then plough on, still walking, doon tae the big goose thingy. Jesus...it's far away. Xi'an is a town that could really use a metro system. I read somewhere that there is one in the planning but it's controversial as there are so many ancient sites in and aboot. Buses are the only mode o public transport in the city and ye widny fancy yer chances on one o them. Got tae be some o the most crowded buses in the World, surely. They whizz by wi people's faces plastered against the glass o the windaes looking distinctly uncomfortable and not a little afraid. No ta. Walking, though, we dinny get there until aboot 5 o'clock. Anyway...this brings me to the first story aboot a favourite son of Xi'an.

Back in the early days o the Tang Dynasty, in 629 AD, there wis this young fella called Xuanzang. Xuanzang wis born just up the road in Luoyang and wis quite intae his Buddhism so he wis. Matter of fact, he was a monk - had the haircut and everything. He came tae Xi'an (then called Chang'an) tae study and started tae get a bit confused by all the contradictory versions of the Buddhist teachings that were kicking aboot at the time. Not one tae let things lie, yer man Xuanzang decided tae get right tae the heart o the matter, strapped on a giant bamboo backpack full o....monk....stuff....jumped on a scabby horse, hired a crazy old guy as a guide and split along the silk road for India, birthplace of Buddhism. Noo...this wis a brave move in 629 AD since foreign travel had been banned by the new Tang ruler, Taizong, who wis busy consolidating his empire, scrapping here and there wi various provincial entities. As ye do. Xuanzang wis more or less pursued oot o the place, a fugitive from justice. An outlaw, if you will. Fleeing for his life, in actual fact, since the Tang were nae strangers tae lopping aff the odd heid or two. But he got away. Phew. So...no easy getting tae India fae China in those days...what wi there being deserts and mountains in the way and young Xuanzang nearly came tae grief a few times. His horse carked it, his guide tried tae murder him and he nearly died of thirst at one point. When he got to the oasis of Turpan (now in the far West of China but at that time a seperate Kingdom), he ended up being detained by the King who wanted tae hear him preach. He did such a good job o this that the King decided tae sponsor his mission tae India and chucked him some dosh, letters of passage through the neighbouring Kingdoms and organised a party of fellow pilgrims tae go wi him. Unfortunately most of these guys were picked off by bandits or died in the Tian Shan mountains. Xuanzang wis alright though and made it through Krygyzstan and Afghanistan, finally getting intae India in 630, more than a wee bit knackered, it's fair to assume. Xuanzang ended up staying in India for 15 years, covering some 15,000km travelling up and doon the country visiting holy sites, studying the different forms of Buddhism, meeting people, lecturing, debating, learning languages, collecting artefacts...drinking tea. He was a major hit. Onyway eventually he decided it wis his responsibility tae carry all this crap back tae China so he set off on an elephant at the head o a caravan of 100 other monks, carrying 500 trunks fu' o texts and statues back through the Hindu Kush, over the Pamirs (where his poor elephant either drowned or fell aff a cliff - is it me or dis this fella sound like a bit of a flipping jinx?) up tae Kashgar in west China. He then spun South-East tae Khotan from where he wrote tae the Tang Emperor, Taizong, tae ask if he could please come back tae China noo. So while he'd been away yer man Taizong had had a major change o heart, probably due tae his remarkable military successes, and welcomed young Xuanzang back with open arms. He arrived back in Xi'an in 645 tae a glorious fanfare. Taizong tried tae get Xuanzang tae enter politics as a foreign relations guru but all Xuanzang wanted was a monastery built where he could chill oot, write an account of his travels and see oot his days translating the texts he had brought back fae Sanskrit intae Chinese. Taizong agreed and commissioned The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda for exactly this purpose. Xuanzang's account of his travels was, and still is, very popular in China. He called it 'Record of the Western Regions' but it was later turned intae a novel of wild fantasy, fable, allegory, humour, tragedy and romance called 'The Journey to the West' in which Xuanzang's character is re-named Tripitaka [Can ye tell what it is yet?], and he is helped in his journey by such characters as the Bodhisattva of Mercy, Guanyin (or Sandy), the greedy and lecherous Pigsy and Sun Wu Kong, the brilliant Monkey King. You got it folks, Xuanzang's 'Record of the Western Regions' is the book that inspired Monkey - remember Monkey? Aff the telly. It wis great! - and it wis all put doon here at the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda. I get pretty excited when we get there.

Unfortunately, we only really have an hour or so tae look aroond the place, a sprawling temple complex and I've left it too late tae actually get intae the pagoda itself, pah! Neverthless it's a pretty cool place and we quite dig walking roond it. It then takes us aboot 2 hours or something tae walk back tae oor hotel and we just have some scran oot the Singaporean restaurant doonstairs fae oor hotel and hit the scratcher early. We have an early start tomorrow.

And this brings me tae the next guy I wanty tell ye's aboot. Fella called Zheng. We need tae go further back in time here tae the 3rd century BC when China didny exist as such and, in it's place were a patchwork of rival Kingdoms. One of which was the Kingdom of Qin (pronounced Chin) whose capital was at a place called Xianyang (ie Xi'an). Zheng succeeded tae the throne of Qin when he was just 13 and, happily, inherited a fairly substantial Kingdom in the first place. His great-great-great Grandad, King Hui, had been a bit o a battler and had managed tae conquer some o the other nearby Kingdoms including Shu (to the South in modern Sichuan) which he had nabbed in quite a novel way. As legend has it, what he did was this: he befriended the King of Shu and made a play of inviting this boy up tae Qin fae time tae time, a journey that required a trip through the mountains that lay between the two Kingdoms. Just before one such visit, old Hui had strategically positioned, in a field along the road-side, a herd of life-size stone coos he had had made. These coos all had gold splattered over their arses and the field was duly peppered wi a number o gold cowpats. When the gullible King of Shu asked what wis the Hampden wi these golden-arsed coos? - Hui told him that he just happened tae have these stone coos that shat gold and would he like some as a present? The King of Shu was delighted and so Hui hit him with the kicker - just how was he supposed tae get these coos through the mountains? Wid it be cool, in order tae deliver the gold-shitting bovines, if Hui built a wooden road on stilts and cantilevers through the mountains and intae the Shu Kingdom? The King agreed and a massive civil-engineering project commenced building the road and, when it wis finished, several coo's were duly delivered. These were closely followed by an army of sodjers, chariots and supply wagons as Qin invaded Shu and comprehensively cuffed it. The road was called The Stone Cattle Road and archaelogists have found convincing traces o it. Quality.

Anyway, I digress. By the time young Zheng had ascended tae the throne of Qin he already had a substantial Kingdom which previous Qin Kings had been steadily building since the days of old Hui. Zheng carried on the imperial traditions of his ancestors and in a fairly short time was in control of what amounted to a fair amount of what is still modern-day China. Deciding that the word 'King' nae longer cut it...he re-christened himself 'First August Emperor' or Shi Huangdi. Zheng is historically regarded as the first Chinese Emperor. He adopted a brutal and oppressive code called 'legalism' and re-pointed all of his Empire's cultural traditions. He was, in no uncertain terms, the big cheese, the head-honcho and ruled with an iron fist. It is speculated that the name 'China' comes from the name of the royal dynasty he founded. Also inheriting his family's fondness for large civil engineering projects (ie The Stone Cattle Road) he commissioned a defensive fortification be built along the Empire's Northern border - this was the foundation of The Great Wall of China, though in Qin Shi Huangdi's day it wis little more than a line of large mounds of Earth. Noo...we ken all this because a fella called Siam Qian wrote a book called 'The Shinji' which details all of Qin Shi Huangdi's acheivements. 'The Shinji' claims that, approaching death, QSH was obsessed with obtaining immortailty and spent his last years searching in vain for the mythical Islands of Paradise, supposedly located somewhere in the Yellow Sea, where people reportedly lived forever. In the meantime as a safguard, should he fail to achieve immortaility, the Emperor commisioned a tomb be built the likes of which had never been seen on Earth. A reported 700,000 men were commisioned to begin work on a secret underground city outside the capital that would house the Emperor's tomb. His tomb would include giant replicas of the city's palaces and towers, thousands of silver and gold artefacts and a ceiling decked out to form the heavenly constellations entirely in glittering pearls. He would have the rivers and seas of China depicted in mercury with an elaborate system of machines constructed to ensure these flowed realistically and would have thousands of crossbows and arrows rigged to ensure the slaughter of any potential intuders. On completion, all workers engaged in the project were reportedly murdered to ensure the secrecy of the location. Soon afterwards, the Emperor himself was killed on one o his nautical missions and, presumably, interred in this elaborate tomb which was in turn swallowed up by the sands of time...and vanished. For two millenia Sima Qian's description was dismissed as a gigantically exaggerated flight of fancy. Surely no single man could have the authority or command the manpower to ensure the completion of such a project? The tomb's existence was largely dismissed. That is, of course, until 1974 when two old guys digging a well aboot 20km ootside Xi'an stumbled upon one of the most significant archaeological finds of all time. The Terracotta Army. An estimated 7000 unique, life-size, human figures including warriors of differing ranks, officials and court entertainers. Horses, carriages, animals, spears, riding crops etc etc all crafted to meticulously exact specifications in bronze, copper, stone and clay. Nothing quite like it had ever been found anywhere. Crazily, there is no mention of the terracotta army in any of the historical records. "Jings!" thought the historians - this guy Zheng was surely capable of anything - maybe thon tomb does exist! The search was on. Fairly soon, geological examination of a nearby hill threw up some pretty encouraging signs. Further hi-tech examination pin-pointed what must surely be the Emperor's burial chamber. Surveys, scans and probes have confirmed the existence of a massive underground chamber - intact ie not filled with dirt or water, which may indeed contain the Emperor's Sarcophagus amid the giant replica landscape so described in 'The Shinji'. Abnormally high traces of mercury in the surrounding soil seem to confirm the existence of the flowing, metallic river system. The likelihood is, it's very real - and has been lying undisturbed for over 2000 years. Now this is the crazy bit...thanks largely to politics and arguments over the appropriate scientific techniques - Qin Shi Huangdi's tomb has yet to be excavated! It has not been touched. Outrageous. It is surely the most tantalising prospect in the world of archaeology. Cool eh? Old deid Zheng lying there with all that bling, under a pearly canopy of stars, a mercury river trickling around him and a thousand loaded crossbows pointing at the door...and some 2200 years later...naebody still dares disturb him.

Jacs and I make oor way oot tae see the Terracotta Army on the #306 bus which takes aboot an hour and costs 70p each.We pass the old Zheng's hill on the way up to the site. Just looks like a hill. When ye get tae The Terracotta Army place ye have aboot a kilometer tae walk past all the tourist stalls afore ye actually get intae the site. It costs 90 Yuan to get in to see this. That's about £9. There are 3 main pits. We wander intae the first pit and, wow, it's massive. It's basically a mucky excavation site inside a hangar with walkways built around it. Several hundred warriors and many horses stand facing forward, mostly at the front, inside the pit and other areas just have mounds of Earth. At the back they have reassembled some broken warriors and they are standing on a platform at eye level, again facing forward. It is well, well smart. We hae a slow walk roond and snap snap snap wi the camera then go see the other 2 pits which arny quite as exciting but still very cool indeed. Here and there there are half-excavated piles of broken warriors and horses. It's still very much a work in progress. We then hae a walk aroond the museum where they have several isolated figures and artefacts inside glass cases so ye can get a closer look at them. Amazing. Ye just cannae quite get yer heid aroond the amount o work involved in putting something like this together. It must have been quite something tae see in it's heyday. Anyway a couple of hours nails it and we loup back on the bus and head back to Xi'an, suitably awestruck. When we get back we pay tae get up on the city walls and have a peaceful wander aroond the West side of it as the sun sets. Pretty good day.

So it's Sunday the day and we've done nae too much wi it. Just wandered aboot having a last look at the place. The morra we're back on the train and up North again as far as Beijing - the current capital of China. Tianamen Square, Forbidden City blah blah blah. Looking forward tae that. Gotty be said though...Xi'an, Chang'an, Daxing, Fengyuan, Anxi, Jingzhao, Xijing...whatever the hell people wanty call it...is a city very richly steeped in brawness. I really, really like it. A lot.

Later dudes.


Pictures

Baldy and the Bell Tower
Xi'an Street
The McP's and the Drum Tower
The bells, the bells....
 
 

5 Comments

Ally Thacker:
March 21, 2010
So... to summarise... you are in China, right?
Blair:
March 21, 2010
Excellent work as always McP - Top quality, interesting reading on a lazy Sunday evening, esp. as I never bought a newspaper today (not as much time on my hands for the big Sunday papers these days!) Wonder if they'll ever excavate that tomb - very intriguing. If you keep up the quality of your blogs you may be commissioned as a travel writer and escape the clutches of the NHS yet.
Monkey:
March 22, 2010
Born from an egg on a mountain top
The punkiest monkey that ever popped
He knew every magic trick under the sun
To tease the Gods
And everyone and have some fun
elliot Mather:
March 26, 2010
Man that entry didn't half go on. Started reading that on Tuesday and Tony Mowbray still had a job.......now he's on the dole, when did that happen.

That sounds braw, makes we want to go on holiday to somewhere exotic.
Nicky Graham:
April 2, 2010
So lucky we are due a two week camping trip in Scotland then Elliot as you are looking for a holiday somewhere exotic! Exotic might not be first word that springs to mind if it is still snowing then - its BST now for goodness sake and there are still trains stuck in blizzards in Aviemore!!! Blogs are brilliant McP and Jacs and the China ones are huge - must be all that creative thinking time on the toilet.... Seriously think you should put them in a book when you get back and publish. Looking forward to last installments and seeing you both next month. Love Nicky
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