Only Planet

One Child, One Year, One Planet. A family of three traveling around the world...

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Sunday, October 02, 2005

Xi’an China: the most overrated tourist destination in China

Xi’an is pouring rain. It has been raining here since the moment we landed, and is still downpouring. We hate Xi’an. It’s the first time on our trip that we really have wanted to go home or anywhere else and can’t, and it’s been an exercise in frustration. Most people come to Xi’an to see the terracotta warriors. They were discovered in 1974 by some poor farmer digging a well and since 1979 tourists, western and Chinese alike, have been flocking here at the rate of a million a year. Of all the sights in China that we’ve seen, the terracotta warriors have been the most anticlimactic. Maybe it was the presentation, maybe it was the 8-hour tour that we went on, or maybe it was because we felt more like cattle than ever, herded through the site with thousands of other tourists, but after experiencing the relative peace and awe that struck us at the Great Wall, this hardly seemed worth the effort and money to visit.
Here’s the scoop about Xi’an: This is a city of about 7 million people and there is nothing for a poor tourist or even traveler to do. Not many good restaurants, the shopping consists of a bunch of stores with no-name brands, sporting high-end facades, and aside from the warriors, the Big Goose Pagoda and some hot springs (which we saw on our tour of the warriors), Xi’an is kind of a one-hit town. Most westerners who come to Xi’an are with large tours, and spend at most a day or two. They are catered to by the large hotels, come, take pictures, eat dumplings at De Fa Chang, and then leave. They are the lucky ones. We had hoped that there might be more to this town—there is a cool Muslim section
and this was the famous eastern end to the Silk Road—so we thought that giving ourselves from Wednesday to Monday we would easily fill our time exploring this walled city. Perhaps if it wasn’t raining so bloody hard and not during the big National Holiday we would be having fun. Imagine a million people here on holiday; imagine them with umbrellas open, now imagine them walking kind of slowly and erratically, then imagine trying to avoid the water flooding the sidewalks while dodging the umbrella-wielding Chinese and you can picture what an outing has been like for us.

So after seeing the warriors on Thursday, trying to see the Muslim area on Friday and watching an obnoxious amount of CNN and Chinese shows that look like American Idol, we wanted to get out of here. Friday we tried to see if we could get out any earlier. Remember, we were trying to avoid the crush of people traveling at the start of the national holiday week on Saturday, which is another reason why we didn’t take our leave on the 30th or 1st. But hope springs eternal for your intrepid travelers and we went to a tourist office in our hotel to see if we could somehow move our tickets to another, earlier, day. The person at the desk said there were no flights Saturday, but yes on Sunday. But they couldn’t change it, so we had to go to the airline office itself. I (Loey) tried asking the crucial questions: “Is this something we need to hurry with? Do you know how many seats would be available for that Sunday flight?” They had no idea. Okay, so Saturday we got up leisurely, had lunch (another huge disappointment) and went to the airline’s office. There were no seats to be had on the flight. Maybe today, not tomorrow (the today flight would leave in one hour, and it is at least that long to get to the airport!). The exact opposite message we got from the day before. Here was our first head-on with pure communist inefficiency coupled with the Chinese concept of saving face: we weren’t getting or going anywhere!

So dejectedly we waded back to our hotel, this really lame place that is not equipped for people who might want to stay for more than one night, and who are not on a big tour. They are totally unable to answer simple questions for us, like “Do you know of a good non-Chinese restaurant?” Or “Can you tell me where I can catch a taxi around here?”

The hotel itself (the Bell Tower Hotel) is supposed to be this four star joint, and I suppose it would seem that way if you were here for about 10 hours, sleeping 8 of those hours. We have had a broken air conditioner, and our repeated pleas to fix it were ignored until they told us that they turned the air conditioning off for the year, we’ve engaged in a daily struggle for towels (The manager said two should be enough for us. “But you only gave us one,” we had to say!), we’ve found smokers puffing away on this supposedly non-smoking floor, a broken sink, and a TV (our link to the outside world) with two volumes: inaudible and blasting high! While we expected conditions like this in China, we thought it would come from one of the grimier youth hostels, not a four-star place. Mostly because of the rain, and partly because of the crowds, we’ve had to spend a huge amount of time in our room. Needless to say, we are feeling, for the first time, a bit kicked around by China. With any luck and the gods on our side, we should be able to leave Xi’an on Monday (our originally scheduled time) barring any flight cancellations or major delays. This weather may be part of a weather system that is causing a typhoon to hit Taiwan now. If we do escape here, we will be heading to Chengdu so that Dylan can have a picture with a drugged panda.


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