Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Trip to Xi'an 西安

Hello all.  I hope this finds you doing well.  It's been a little while since I've written an update, mainly because of exams and an awesome trip to Xi'an I went on last weekend.  To make up for that, this will be a really log post.  So get some snacks!

Since I wrote last not much has happened on campus, mainly just school work that we wanted no part of.  Last week we had two exams and a quiz.  By far the most work we've had at any one given point this whole semester.  And boy, let me tell you, this was rough for us.  Because of that, I have no idea how I'm going to survive next semester at Purdue.

This last weekend was the last weekend that allowed us to travel, so we decided to head up to Xi'an to check out the Terracotta Warriors and see some mountains.  For the most part, this trip went smoothly and the people I went with were awesome.  We started off by leaving the train station on Thursday afternoon in the "hard sleeper" section for a 16 hour ride.  None of us had used the hard sleepers yet, so we really didn't know what to think of them.  As it turns out, they were pretty comfortable.  I think this might be because we've gotten used to sleeping on much harder beds that what we have in the States (we're going to sleep on clouds when we get back).  These did allow us to get a decent amount of sleep and be ready to go when we got the Xi'an the next morning.

Besides having a little hiccup finding the city bus station by the train station, we got to our hostel without any trouble.  It turned out that this hostel was in prime location for a lot of things in the city.  We got a meal right when we arrived and checked in right after that.  When we went up to our room, there was one guy still sleeping in there (around 11 am).  He would still be there when we got back from our adventures that evening.  We still had a lot of time that day though, so we got showered and went off into the city to check some things out.  We went to the Bell and Drum Tower, both of which were nearby.  Then we walked a few blocks south to the city gate.  We had heard that you can rent bikes to bike around the wall, so we did that and enjoyed the beautiful day outside while we got to look at the city.  After biking we stopped at a Baskin Robbins to cool off and relax.  After getting ice cream we just wandered through the city on our way back to the hostel.  This was when we ran into the first Wal-Mart that I've seen since arriving here, and for the most part, it looked just like any normal Wal-Mart.  Except for the part where we kept getting weird looks and the abundance of Chinese food.  It was around 5 pm when we made it back to the hostel.  We were expecting our stranger roommate to be gone by this point.  But unfortunately for us, he had just rolled over from his previous position.  We finished off the evening by getting dinner, playing pool, and enjoying each other's company.  We decided to get up early the next day so we could get an early start on getting to the Huashan Mountain.

Pretty much from the moment the day started, everything went wrong.  We started off by assuming that the hostel would serve breakfast at 7.  They didn't open until 8.  Because we were already up and ready to go we went over to a McDonald's and got breakfast quickly.  By the time we left it was roughly 8 am.  We did not arrive to the top of the mountain until 4 pm, eight hours later.  To start this off, our hostel gave us bad directions and we wound up going 30 minutes out of our way on the city bus.  When we finally got to the bus station that would take us to the mountain about an hour and a half had passed.  Our time at the bus station was ridiculous.  We got in the back of the line where we thought most newcomers would go.  As it turns out, when tickets for the next bus started to be sold, it turned into a free for all.  Tori and Mike tried blocking for me as I moved forward in an attempt to get us seats on three different buses.  It wasn't until the fourth bus, when I had to pull a man's arm out of the ticket seller's face, that we were finally able to get on the bus.  Now it was time for a 2 hour ride...to what turned out to be the wrong place.  We got there and walked around for a little while until we realized that there wasn't a cable car to take us to the top of the mountain.  We remedied this by playing with charades with some people at a restaurant.  We eventually were able to communicate that we needed a ride to another entrance and it turned out that they were willing to help us.  When we first got into the van we realized that there was something lost in translation when we wound up at a junky train station.  We got this figured out and we finally wound up at the entrance we needed.  Unfortunately from this entrance we needed to take another bus ride farther into the park so that we could take the tram up.  We finally made it to the tram queue line around 2 pm.  Next we had a 2 hour wait for the tram.  This wait was made a little better by the man that just happened to be in front of us in line.  He was a Purdue Aero-Astro engineer who had returned to China after graduation.  We got to talk to him about all sorts of things and without his help, we probably wouldn't have made it to the plank walk in time.

The top of the mountain was pretty different from Huangshan (where we went a couple weeks earlier).  There was much less real estate and a lot more narrow ridges.  Most of our time was spent hiking up or down stairs that were chiseled out of the rock that were so steep that chain hand rails were very necessary.  After booking it across the mountain, we finally made it to the main attraction, the plank walk.  This was a section of the park that was essentially a path built into the side of a sheer rock face.  Most of the path was made with three 4x4's nailed together, but other sections were chiseled out of the mountain.  We had to rent harnesses as the drop off the dangerous path was one that would definitely kill you.  The only information that I can find estimates the drop at about 1000 meters (3200 feet).  I enjoyed the hike thoroughly as most of our group was freaking out.  It will definitely be one of my favorite experiences from China.

When we got done with the plank walk, we realized that we only had half an hour to get back to the cable car station before it closed and we would have to walk down the mountain in the dark.  It had taken us a couple hours to get to where we were on the mountain at that point and we weren't really sure if we'd make it.  Fortunately we did and were about 50ish people from the end of the line when the tram closed.  At the end of a day where everything was going wrong, it was good to see something go right for once.  We made our way back to the park entrance while trying to avoid an unnerving fact.  We were two hours outside Xi'an with only a vague idea how to get back.  When we got back to the entrance and found out it would be 450 rmb per taxi to get us back to Xi'an we got a little worried.  Fortunately the taxi drivers were really nice and offered to take us to a train station where we thought we might have a little more luck.  We were able to get a train back to Xi'an for the same price as the bus out there, but with the transit time being 30 minutes instead of 2 hours.  The only hiccup here was when we got the tickets 7 minutes before the train was supposed to arrive.  With how things were going that day we were really worried about missing the train.  So we sprinted through the terminal only to get to the platform with plenty of time to stare at each other and laugh about how worried we were.  We finally made it back to our hostel around 10:30 pm.  It had been a very long, but exciting day.

The next day we went to see the Terracotta Warriors.  This trip turned out to be a lot less eventful, but a lot of fun nonetheless.  Getting on the bus to head there was a lot better experience as we got on the 2nd one that was leaving.  Tori and I made a human wall and let our compadres file onto the bus fairly easily.  The Terracotta warriors were really cool to see, but I don't have a ton to say about them.  You'll just have to look at the pictures I took.  It really was amazing to see all the work that went into making them, and then hiding it all from people for a really long time.

After we got done at the Warriors we headed back and got ready for our train ride back.  We weren't able to get hard sleepers for the return trip so we got stuck in hard seats for 16 hours.  Hard seats translate to a three person bench with a vertical back rest.  Which means really uncomfortable after a little while, let along an entire night.  It did turn out to be a really good trip with a lot of laughs.  We wagered bunnies playing poker, listened to a hilarious story from Tori and Emily about a fox named Blade who hunted vampire bears (we were all laughing through tears at the end of that one), and trying to get some sleep.  It was a great end to the trip.

That's pretty much all for now.  We just have a week and half of classes left here and then I'll be heading off for my trip to Tibet.  I'll try to get an update included sometime in between.  I have some pictures and a video or two linked below.  Have a great week and take care!

Pictures from Xi'an
Mountain Video
Traffic Video