Suitcase and World: Xi'an. A museum, a pagoda, two towers, a mosque & some dumplings.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Xi'an. A museum, a pagoda, two towers, a mosque & some dumplings.

an and I woke up early enough to grab breakfast at the hotel before meeting up with everyone. The first destination on our sightseeing agenda was the Shaanxi Historical Museum. We headed out to catch the same bus that we took the previous night to the Tang Dynasty Theme Park as the Historical Museum is located very nearby.

As we arrived at the bus stop, Jenny reminded us that we would be boarding Bus 606. I saw the bus arriving on the main road rather than on the service road that the buses normally pull into. I followed Jenny out to the main road to board the bus. The others followed. Once we all boarded, we took a headcount and realized that Mairead and Jan were not on board. Jenny instructed us to ride to our destination....she asked the conductor to let us know which stop to get off at. She then left the bus to double back and look for our missing tour mates. We made it to our destination safely and a few short minutes later, Mairead and Jan arrived on another Bus 606. They had accidentally boarded one of the buses that had pulled into the service road but very quickly realized their mistake and got off. They then boarded another Bus 606.

So, while we were all at our destination bus stop, Jenny was somewhere in Xi’an looking for Mairead and Jan. I had her cell number and I knew my phone would work so I decided to call her and let her know we were all safe. I was certain the poor thing was worried to death. It took a bit of effort to figure out how to place the call as Jenny had given us her phone number but without the country code. Luckily, someone had their guidebook with them and a quick look up and I was able to place the call. I told her we were at the designated spot waiting for her. I could hear the relief in her voice. It took her a awhile to get to us as she was arriving by taxi but we waited and soon enough, she showed up.

The group was back together and we followed Jenny for the walk to the museum. We handed over our passports so Jenny could get us our tickets. We then had to store our backpacks in the security office. We would be allowed to take photos inside but without flash.

Though a small museum, the Shaanxi History Museum is actually very well laid out. Galleries showcase collections by dynastic period so as you tour the museum, you see the progression in Chinese arts over time.

The first gallery focused on the bronzes which dated back to more than 10,000 years BC in age!

A few other items captivated me starting with these tiny solid gold dragons….so well crafted that you can actually see the scales on the dragon. They were absolutely stunning! I snapped a photo of Robbie to provide size perspective.

There was also a Ming Dynasty Honor Guard of 300 strong. Each guard was crafted out of pottery and stood no more than a few inches tall. Considering the fragility of pottery, it’s astonishing that they have survived intact all these years!

Lastly, the painted statues of the ladies from the Tang Dynasty - always with chubby faces that seem to reflect contentment. So, so cute!

We were in the museum for may be a couple of hours and then it was time for lunch. Jenny took us to a nearby restaurant for a local noodle lunch – my kind of place!

After lunch, we all split and went our separate ways. Jan and I decided to head back to the Wild Goose Pagoda. Bernd and Dean joined us for the short walk back to the theme park. While Jan and I plunked down RMB to go inside the grounds of the pagoda, the guys opted to forego the visit. It was a blisteringly hot day and the trees on the grounds of the pagoda were far and few between. Jan and I started to wilt.

We went quickly from one pavilion to another – mainly so we could be in the shade. I don’t know if it was the heat or lack of interest or maybe that we had seen our share of pavilions but we were both ready to leave after a few minutes. We were not hardy tourists that day!

We did make it to the Pagoda itself and Jenny had told us that we could climb it. We tried to enter but were turned away because we had not purchased the separate ticket to enter the Pagoda. It never occurred to us that we would have to buy a separate ticket and I didn’t recall seeing a sign at the ticket counter telling us did nor did anyone no one at the ticket counter tell us. We debated for a few seconds as to whether or not to get the ticket but we really couldn’t be bothered to go up the Pagoda so we walked on.

 While Jan sought shelter under some trees, I quickly dashed over to another part of the grounds to see if there was anything worth seeing. Just more pavilions. By the time I made it back to Jan, I was ready to leave and so was she so that’s what we did.

On the way out, I had to have my photo taken in front of the many bronze statue strewn about the park. The statues are cast in the figures of characters from the Tang Dynasty. I picked the one that I nicknamed "Tang Dynasty Warrior Princess" - very befitting of me, don't you think: :-)

As we walked back to the bus stop, we decided our next destinations would be the Bell and Drum Towers which are both located a stone’s throw away from our hotel.

We rode to our destination bus stop, got off, headed to the underground pass and followed the signs to the Bell Tower. Robbie and Jackie had been there the day before and told us that every hour, on the hour, there is a bell performance at the Bell Tower and that every hour on the half hour, there is a drum performance at the Drum Tower. For 40 RMB, you could buy a single ticket that would let you into both sights.

By the time we made it to the Bell Tower, it was nearing the top of the hour. We entered in and walked around a bit, keeping an eye on Jan’s watch. I took the opportunity to snap a few photos. The hour came and went and didn’t hear any bells. Granted we really didn’t know what we were suppose to hear. :-) At about quarter past the hour, we decided that there wasn’t a bell performance that day and so we quickly left and scurried over to the Drum Tower. Later on, we would find out that there was in fact a performance, that it was held inside the tower and that we hadn’t walked around the tower enough to find the entrance. Oh well.

We made it to the Drum Tower a few minutes before half past and this time, Jan found the entrance. She waved me in.

I tried to take a spot, standing, up front so I could shoot video. Wouldn’t you know that some guy would walk directly in front of my camera and another would stand so close to the stage, he might as well have been on it! Sheesh, how rude can you be? No matter, I was still able to capture video that will remind me of the short performance which showcased Chinese drumming skills.

After the performance, we left the Drum Tower and decided to head to the Muslim Quarter which was just located a short walking distance from the Drum Tower. Jenny told us that the one thing to see in the Muslim Quarter is the Grand Mosque which is more Chinese than Islamic in style. The other thing to do in the Muslim Quarter is to shop for souvenirs. We figured we had arrived at the Muslim Quarter when we saw the banner welcoming us to Beiyuanmen Islamic Street. We’re savvy travelers, don’t you know? :-) We started walking down the street, trying to follow the signs to the mosque but we got confused as to where the arrows were directing us to go. At one point, we noticed a sign to the Xi’an Tourist Information Office so we decided to go there to get clear directions. Unfortunately, the woman behind the desk was not very helpful other than to say that it was a five minute walk down the street. I figured we hadn’t walked far enough and so we headed back and walked further. Jan spotted the sign that pointed us down a narrow street and so we went. It was lined on both sides with souvenir vendors shouting at us to look at their wares. We were not interested and so we marched on. Then, there was another sign that directed us down an even narrower street that was lined with even more souvenir vendors all shouting at us. It was getting a bit claustrophobic for me. Luckily, it was only a short walk down the alley and we came upon the mosque. There was a very friendly greeter at the entry gate and we had a very nice exchange. Him: Where are you from? Me: United States. Me: Where are YOU from? *smile* Him: Xi’an. *grin* Him: What is your name?  Me: In English, it is Julee Khoo. In Mandarin, I think it is Zhou Jin Li. Me: What is YOUR name? Him: Abdul Hakim. Me: Abdul Hakim? What kind of name is that for someone who is Chinese? *grin* Him: I am Muslim Chinese. *smile* Him: Have a nice visit Julee. *smile* Me: Thank you, Abdul Hakim. *smile* Jan and I bought our tickets and entered. Although I didn’t have any expectations about what I was going to see on the grounds of a Chinese mosque, I must admit I was a bit surprised to see a Chinese style garden with pavilions and pagodas rather than a courtyard with ablution fountain as you would in a traditional Islamic mosque. Jan and I strolled through the gardens, taking in the views and stopping along the way to rest our feet – we were getting tired. Eventually, we did make it to the mosque. Devotees were praying inside so out of respect, I did not take any photos. By now, it was late afternoon and both Jan and I had had enough of sightseeing so we decided to skip souvenir shopping and instead call it a day and head back to the hotel. On our way out, we bumped into Jackie and Robbie. A few minutes of chatting and we parted ways. Passing through the entrance, I said goodbye to Abdul Hakim…..such a nice man.   Back at the hotel, we showered but though we were both tired, there was little time to rest. Jenny had asked us all if we wanted to partake in a Dumpling Banquet as it is a specialty of the region. We all said "Yes" so that was the dinner menu for the night. The restaurant she took us to is known for its “artistic” dumplings – dainty, little dumplings that are shaped to reflect the contents so for example, there was a walnut shaped dumpling that held a walnut based filling and there was one that was divided into four little compartments with each one holding a little bit of the food item. Each dumpling is just about a bite or two in size. The white dish in the photo below is a soy sauce dish that’s maybe 3 inches in diameter so you can imagine just how small the three dumplings that are in it are! Steamer tray after steamer tray of these dumplings came out. There were so many dumplings that by the end of the meal, I was stuffed. Oh….and we had live entertainment as well - two women playing traditional Chinese music. 
After dinner, it was straight back to the hotel which was thankfully only about a two minute walk from the restaurant.

Back at the hotel, we once again faced our temperamental door card reader. I prayed to the Door God but to no avail. The damn thing would not open on first, second or even third tries. Somewhere around 20 or so tries, it finally works. Again, Jan and I lost it in a fit of giggles. After all, how difficult can it be for two adult women to open a door?

As soon as we got in the room, it was bed for both of us. It had been another long day and we were both definitely worn out but what a great day it had been! I'm really loving this city! Tomorrow we would be seeing one of the most famous heritage landmarks of China – the Terracotta Warriors and we both wanted to make sure we were fully rested!