Saturday, October 27, 2007


Xi'an is most famous for the nearby "Terracotta Warriors." We intended to spend only a couple of days here, but we ended up spending a while longer just relaxing at the hostel with friends.

We did (on our third day) go see the "Underground Army." We had already seen so many photos of the warriors that they weren't all that impressive. The first emperor of China had the army built in secret to defend him in the afterlife. There are over 6,000 warriors, although three-quarters of them still need to be excavated. They were originally vibrantly-coloured, but the paint fades quickly after excavation. Work continues (at night, when the tourists are gone) and they are making several attempts to preserve the original colours.

We also visited a Wildlife Rescue and Breeding Research Centre to see some pandas. Pandas do not seem overly concerned with the extinction of the their species: the female is only fertile for a few days a year, pandas would rather hang out by themselves than mate, a mother will often club her baby to death, and will only nurture one of her cubs (leaving any others in a litter to die). After 20 years of trying, the Breeding Research Centre have only successfully bred two panda cubs - and both in the last four years. Hopefully, they're getting the hang of it now...

The panda cubs were very cute, and we were able to feed and pet them. Unfortunately, the rest of the 'Rescue Centre' was quite depressing. They had a cheetah (which had been kept drugged by a village), black bears (which had been milked for their bile) and numerous other sad animals. While these animals were being rescued from terrible situations, the rescue center seriously lacked financial support. Each animal was kept in a rather small cage, which consisting of only a concrete pad and steel bars instead of attempting to mimic the animal's natural habitat. We left the centre feeling really sad for the animals.

We spent the last few days that we were in Xi'an, actually seeing Xi'an. The city centre is surrounded by a 14km long (in perimeter) wall. The wall has a path along the top (about 5m across) that you can walk or bike around. We decided to bike the wall, so we rented a bike at the top and cruised around for a couple of hours. It was a really cool feeling to be cycling 15m above street level. If it weren't for the admission price for the wall and the fact that you can't bring your own bike to the top of the wall, it'd be a good commuting strategy for the locals...

Another key part of seeing Xi'an was the Muslim quarter. Unbeknownst to us, Xi'an has a sizeable population of Muslims (called Huis, who are descendents of Arabian merchants and travelers that came to the northwest of China by way of Persia and Afghanistan). The quarter consists of a bussling market area and street vendors, and so we spent a bit of time walking through it. We especially enjoyed the fried persimmons, the variety of dried fruits that you could buy (kiwi, tomatoes, oranges, etc.!) and the tasty halva!

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