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Using our blog as a handy Chinese time machine, I would like to take you back a month to the October holiday. Since David’s passport was somewhere in Visa land and we had not made any money, we spent most of the holiday laying low in Beijing. However, David and I had been wanting to take a trip to the outskirts and more natural areas of Beijing, so when our friend Caroline suggested the ancient village of Cuandixia, we jumped at the opportunity. As explained by Beijing.trip.com, this small village about 90 m outside Beijing “has a history of about 400 years and preserves more than 70 courtyards with approximately 500 rooms which were built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).”

Four of us began our journey with a long bus ride to the western end of Line 1, the Pingguoyan Bus Terminal. Like bus terminals anyway it was pretty gritty and full of people trying to rip us off with taxi and car services. Caroline had researched the bus service, so we headed for the local bus to Cuandixia. Well, after the first bus came and left completely packed, we started looking towards a private car. We tried to ask a few Chinese going to the same town if they wanted to all go together, but they just nervously declined. Despite the fact that Caroline was slightly in favor of the 7RMB standing room only bus, we got a driver to down to 100RMB for the slightly over 2-hour trip. I will pay 20 RMB extra for a seat any day…heck, we know I will pay three times that for a cab in the city if I’m tired, cold, or lost and David isn’t around to complain about it.

Anyway, after a somewhat treacherous ride winding in and out of trucks on a windy mountain road, we arrived at the “quaint” village of Cuandixia. Well, not exactly. Although the area was certainly remote and natural, it was teeming with tourists. It wasn’t exactly the village we had envisioned in terms of seclusion, but the authentic courtyard houses were certainly not a let-down. We quickly breezed through Cuandixia and headed on a hike further into the mountains. The leaves were just changing, and the bright red vines snaking down the cliffs made a gorgeous spectacle that almost resembled dripping blood. We hiked for about two hours, stopping to take lots of photos and wound up in another ancient village called Baiyu.

Baiyu was great; truly secluded and sparsely populated with courthouse families cooking dinner and offering places to sleep. The people and animals in this little village made for one of the most fun picture-taking experiences I have had in China. As you can see from the photos, the doors and goat man were my favorite! We settled on a courtyard with a friendly Ayi, who made us a large dinner full of local ingredients as we chatted with some self-proclaimed avid “outdoorsmen” and women. I didn’t really love the dinner, kind of bland, and went to bed rather hungry.

The four of us shared a large room for 100 RMB ($15) and got up early to the rooster’s crow in the morning. We had a breakfast of soggy mantou and the most disgustingly rotten egg I’ve ever seen or smelled, so needless to say I was happy I packed a granola bar. We hiked for about two hours further into the mountains, hoping to catch a glance of The Great Wall in the distance, but had to head home for lack of water and to catch the bus. We stopped on the way back to have another local, bland lunch, but the highlight was a “grass” tea that is harvested from actual grass up in the mountains. I wouldn’t drink it every day, but it was a unique taste.

We walked back to Cuandixia to catch the local bus…and experience the least fun part of the trip. They crammed twice as many people on the bus as there were seats, and left us in there with no A/C for a half an hour before taking off. After walking most of the day we stood half of the way home, and then sat on the floor when the bus emptied a little. Thank goodness for my ipod, as I try to stay lost in the music. Overall though, a good trip to a more remote village outside of Beijing and nice break from the city.

Ni hao, we are going to start detailing our great visit from my good buddy and former college roommate, Matt Busa. Before we left for China, many of our friends told us that they would definitely visit. Of course we knew this was a blatant lie, but we hoped that at least 1 person would be able to make the long trek to the far East. A few months ago, Busa told me that he would be coming to China with his friend Bill, who I had met before and liked. Unfortunately Bill’s place of employment underwent some turmoil, and he was unable to go at the last minute. That didn’t stop Busa, who had organized a pretty action packed excursion, first landing in Hong Kong for 3 days, then off to meet us in the midwestern city of Xi’an, then heading to Tangshan and Beijing on the last leg of the journey. I gave him a detailed itinerary of what he should try to do in Hong Kong, and tried to make it as easy as possible for him to make his desired destinations in one piece. This can be difficult for a person, especially a person that doesn’t know a word of Chinese. Remarkably, he made it to Xi’an right on time, looking well tanned after 3 days wandering around Hong Kong (which sounded like a great time!). This post will detail the trip to Xi’an, since that is the part of the trip that we first met my globe trotting friend.

Xi’an is a city in midwestern China with an urban population of about 7 million. It is one of the most highly regarded cities in all of China, by foreigners and Chinese, because of its blend of modern and ancient culture. The cities major tourist attraction is, of course, the Terracotta Army. Thousands of soldiers made of Terracotta were built over a period of 36 years (by 700,000 artisans!!!!!!) to commemorate and protect the emperor of China. For the Chinese people, Mount Hua (Huashan) is another major tourist attraction, being one of the 5 sacred mountains for the Taoist religion. I wanted to hit up both of these spots, so we had to move pretty quickly. After struggling a little bit to find the hotel, we were met in the lobby by a smiling Busa. He told us a little about his trip to HK and the differences he had noticed thus far, but we didn’t have a ton of time, and we wanted to go see some stuff. We headed out to walk around a bit and make our way to the train station to go see the Terracotta Army, stopping at a typical Muslim noodle house on the way. This was Busa’s first real intestinal test, and we were glad that we were able to help him experience a side of China many travelers are too afraid to. The train station was much farther than I anticipated, and it was very hot, so we hopped on a rickshaw and made it to the station. After 1.5 hour bus ride (which cost 7 yuan (about $1) per person), we were at the Terracotta Army.

We walked about 15 minutes past souvenir shops to get to the Army, walked through the completely underwhelming museum, and made our way to the 3 pits with warriors. Pits #3 and #2 were still being excavated, and were very ancient and fragile looking. I was a bit disappointed with the pits, because I was expecting an endless sea of warriors (700,000 people worked for 36 years making these things(!!!)). Pit #1 was what we were looking for, with rows of soldiers in traditional Chinese battle formations. Hard to imagine that a farmer discovered these pits only 40ish years ago after digging a well! After walking around Pit #1, we hopped back on the bus to try to see the fountain show at Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, which our friend Ada from our school had told us about. After a fun ride with an extremely friendly taxi with some nasty looking teeth, we made it to the fountain. The fountain was multiple levels, stretching about half a mile away from the Pagoda. There were THOUSANDS of people out, many of them families letting their children run in the fountains before the show began. At 9 pm, the fountains were cleared of people, and a half hour long musically choreographed fountain show took place, which was pretty amazing. It gave the city some real character, especially considering it happens twice every night! The huge crowds all watched and got sprayed, and after watching for a while, we got some food on a REAL food street (after wandering around trying to find the Muslim Quarter). We ate some noodles and Busa was starting to get a true taste of China, and he was loving it.

The next day, I wanted to get up and head to Mount Hua, to Erin’s dismay. It was a 2-3 hour bus ride each way, so it was quite a trip. We grabbed some breakfast on our favorite food street, and I must say that Xi’an’s street food is easily the best I have had so far. We found the bus station, and were ushered onto our bus which wasn’t leaving for another hour, and told to sit and wait in the baking bus for an hour. We decided to wander around, and happened upon a real commodities market, which was 6 floors of basically everything made in China. These are a real site to see, so I was glad that we had stumbled upon it by complete accident. We then got back on the bus, and unfortunately the blistering heat didn’t subside very much for the 2.5 hour ride. Busa got to sit next to a father and son (on the dad’s lap), and the son was so hot that he actually vomited! People stuffed onto the bus and were sitting on stools set up in the aisle, and I think this was something that any foreigner would find amusing, vomit included. We got to Mount Hua, and after wandering for a bit, took the bus up to the cable car station, then the cable car to the mountain. Busa and I thought it was worth the painful bus ride and steep entry fee, because it really was beautiful. The mountain is remarkably smooth and white, and had some spectacular views until the smog returned. We were luckily that the smog, an ever present cloud which settles over every city I have been to in China, had cleared just enough to get some really good pictures. We hiked up 2 of the peaks with tons of other tourists, who were singing and yelling and in especially good spirits. The mountain is famous for being dangerous, but other than a few spots where you were basically climbing vertically, it seemed pretty safe to me. Highlights included singing trash collectors that hiked the mountain everyday carrying stuff up on a pole which they balanced on their shoulder and of course a massive line to get back down the mountain on the cable car. The ancient Chinese tradition of cutting as many people in line as possible was in full effect, so we had to lock down our positions so nobody could cut us, climaxing with me squishing a short and fat kid against the wall so he could not get by. We barely made it back in time for the bus to Xi’an, thankfully with some real air conditioning, and met another very friendly taxi who took us to the Muslim Quarter to eat.

The Muslim Quarter is an area of Xi’an which consists primarily of restaurants of the (you guessed it!) Muslim variety. Muslim food is pretty delicious in China (see our previous posts about the subject), and we stopped at a place where you cooked all of your own food on a hot skillet in the center of the table. It was pretty solid, and we drank our second batch of Ice Peaks, an orange soda exclusive to Xi’an which EVERYONE was drinking. It is pretty tasty and only costs 1 yuan! Erin really wanted to try the mutton soup that is famous in Xi’an, so we stopped at another place on the way out. It was a good time just sitting and talking with Busa, and I think he was really starting to see some of the most fun things to do in China. Eating outside with friends and being looked at and treated like a celebrity is pretty fun, and our reactions to certain situations are also interesting and sometimes have a big impact on the Chinese people that witness (or that is what I tell myself). After Erin had her delicious mutton soup, we headed back to the hotel and passed out.

The last day (I realize this is a book, but hey, Busa only comes to China once (I think)) we wanted to rent bikes and ride around the city walls which surround the downtown of Xi’an. The walls are one of the major reasons people think Xi’an blends ancient and modern, and it definitely is striking to be driving in a taxi past McDonalds and shopping malls, and then having to go through a 40 foot wide wall constructed hundreds of years ago. We had to walk through an extremely busy traffic circle in order to reach the city walls, and after dodging traffic, we rented bikes and rode around. The ride was fun and hot, and the smog had returned big time. We took some pictures of strange parade float type things which were located on the southern side of the wall, one of which Busa is hiding for our “Where’s Waldo?” picture from the trip. We got off the bikes just in time, grabbed some grub from another food street, drank our last (2 for me and Busa) Ice Peaks, and headed to the airport.

Find him!

Find Busa!

All in all it was a great trip. This is only the first installment of the Busa experience, so please come back soon for the other portions (I am hoping he will write one of these portions). I would give Xi’an a 9 out of 10, with minus 1 being the smog, which was pretty terrible. The food was excellent, the tourist sites were world class, the prices were China cheap, the people were uber friendly, and they were out at all hours of the night. Our fellow foreign teacher, Arzola, will be moving to Xi’an for the next semester, so I will have to get back there to visit at some point. Happy Birthday to my lovely brother Andrew, who is back at school (I think) after his trip to South Africa (potentially another guest post about their travels brought to you by the best travel blog this side of the Great Wall!) My sister just had her own birthday, and headed off to grad school, and I hope that she, and all of you, are doing well. Alrighty, nighty night! Enjoy the pics (and try to find Waldo)!

The Master said, “The demands that a gentleman makes are upon himself; those that a small man makes are upon others.” Analects, 15.20

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