This was a pretty awesome week, and I’m sorry it took so long to get around to writing about it. Enjoy the lengthy descriptions of my adventures, as well as the 100+ picture gallery (there’s some good ones in there). Sorry again for the endless typos throughout – no time to proofread.
Monday, I had to wake up to do my homework that was due in class at noon. I got it done in time, and made it to class, where I remembered we had a quiz that day – it didn’t go over too well. We also had an experiment, which no one knew was a requirement of the class. Nonetheless, we finished the brutal experiment, and then it was time to officially celebrate Ben’s birthday. A big group of 9 of us went out to a Korean Barbeque restaurant right outside of campus for dinner. We ordered a ton of food and it was delicious, and fairly inexpensive since it was split amongst so many people. Afterward, Mike and I went to Highland Bar with Ben to celebrate with a quick drink and some pool. It was a relaxing, nice time. After some fun, we knew it was time to work on our thermo homework, so we headed back to the dorm where we worked on that for the rest of the night.
Tuesday, I still had some homework to finish up in the morning unfortunately, but I finished most of it. Class was the usual, and then I got lunch in the beautiful outdoor dining hall with a couple friends. In preparation for my upcoming vacations, I got a fresh haircut (my third in China now), and it went smooth as usual. I should’ve spent the rest of the day doing homework and stuff, but it was such a beautiful day that I went to play basketball with Mike and Kevin. We played 3-on-3 against a bunch of Chinese guys that would rotate teams. We won like 10 games, and then decided we were tired. It was a lot of fun completely dominating the court. I did do some homework after that though, and spent a lot of time planning out the last minute details of my May Day trip. I got some good rest and relaxation in there as well.
Wednesday, I woke up early to get some work done and do my final packing since we would be leaving for Xi’an later that day. I went for a run in the afternoon and it was an absolutely beautiful day out – maybe even a little too hot for an afternoon run. I spent the rest of my time before leaving catching up on my blog – I was way behind (and evidently, still am). We all got burritos for a quick dinner, and then headed out of our dorm to the subway around 5 to start our Xi’an adventure.
On our Xi’an trip with me was Mike, Brendan, Katie, Abby, and Josh. We also met Annie in Xi’an and spent a lot of our trip with her too. Anyway, the walk to the subway took longer than we anticipated, and when we arrived at the train station, we realized we were cutting it too close to our 6:40 train. We started running through the station, yelling, “Jia you! Jia you!” We made it in time, with about 6 minutes to spare. Our tickets were fore sleeper cars, as it was a 14 hour train ride to Xi’an. Since we booked the tickets kind of late, we weren’t all near each other. However, a few were able to switch beds, and we had 3 beds in the same compartment. For the first few hours of the ride, we hung out in those 3 beds (I shared mikes bed – the bed was smaller than a twin). We played some fun games, talked, and Mike and I each had a bottle of wine to make it even more fun. The lights turned out at 10, so I returned to my bed, where I read some Harry Potter and then fell asleep. I was in the very top bunk (it was 3 beds high), and about 2 feet from the ceiling, so it wasn’t terribly comfortable. I slept pretty well though, and, for some reason, I thought it was really cool sleeping in a bed on a train.
Thursday, I woke up pretty early because the whole train seemed to get an early start around 6. I just laid in bed and read Harry Potter though. I eventually packed my stuff up from the top bunk, and made my way down to the aisle. There were little seats along the aisle that I just sat at and enjoyed the view. The countryside was actually quite beautiful. We arrived in Xi’an around 9:20 am, where we disembarked and were immediately met by an employee from the hostel we were staying at (prearranged to pick us up from the train station for free). He had a sign with my name on it, which was pretty exciting. He showed us the way to the hostel via bus and then a little walking. We dropped our bags off at the hostel, met Annie, and the seven of us headed off to explore Xi’an. For lunch, we got handmade spinach noodles from a restaurant across the alleyway from the hostel, and they were delicious – unlike anything I have had in Shanghai. We made our way to the city center where the Bell Tower was located. The Bell Tower was pretty cool, but nothing crazy special; we spent about 30 minutes there, and then made our way to the nearby Drum Tower, which was very similar. The famous Muslim Quarter was right there, so we spent quite a bit of time exploring this. It was basically a street solely dedicated to street food and fake merchandise/souvenirs. The most famous thing we had heard about was fried bananas, so that was the first thing we got, and it was delicious. Some of my friends got pomegranate juice, among other delicious items. We headed back to the hostel shortly after to actually check in and get our room. Don’t worry, we made a few more trips back to the Muslim Quarter. After getting settled into the hostel, we made our way to the Xi’an city wall. This is perhaps the coolest and most popular thing to do in Xi’an, and it is most common to bike around the wall. We all rented bikes and spent about an hour and a half biking the 13.7 km (8.5 miles) around the wall. It was a beautiful day for a bike ride and the view from on top of the wall was quite extraordinary. After the fun bike ride, Katie and I decided it would be a good idea to run around the wall too. Turns out this was a great idea, and probably the coolest run I have ever done (although I did it in my khaki shorts). We finished the whole wall in just about 1 hour, so that put us at 7:00 mile pace. We were exhausted, and then had to walk the mile or so back to our hostel. On the way, we actually met some people from Chicago, so we talked to them for a little bit and gave them a little travel advice for when they visit Shanghai. After getting back to the hostel and showering, it was dinner time. But we had time for a pre-dinner drink first, so we ordered some long islands and beers, and then the bartender, Lei Lei, started giving out free shots to us too (we later found out Lei Lei is the owner). We got dinner at a nearby Muslim hotpot restaurant – it was all-you-can-eat and delicious, for only 30 RMB ($5). I don’t think I have ever gotten more food for less money in my life. We went back to the hostel after dinner, and booked a tour through the hostel (I’ll explain more on this later), which we bartered to include a beer tower for Thursday and Friday night. We were enjoying the beer tower, and then we met a few Canadians at a nearby table. Eventually, it was basically a huge party at our table with Americans, Canadians, Swedes, Dutch, Irish, and of course, Lei Lei. It was a ton of fun just sharing experiences with each other over a few drinks. I called it a night pretty early because I wanted to get up for a run. Some of my friends stayed up and went out to a bar with Lei Lei and the others.
Friday, Katie and I woke up early to go for a run. We wanted to run the city wall and along the perimeter, but got very lost – eventually we made it to the wall, but it was time to turn around by then. After the run, we got free breakfast as part of our tour package deal. The tour for the day was to see the Terracotta Army. We each paid 190 RMB for the tour, free breakfast and coffee, and the two beer towers. It was a pretty good deal. We set off for the Warriors around 10, and it took almost 3 hours to get there because traffic was so terrible. We had to go in two separate vehicles too, because there were so many people. The majority went on a bus, but Mike, Abby, Brendan, and I were in some guy’s VW Passat. Still not sure who he is. Anyway, the Terracotta Warriors were awesome. They have it in 3 separate pits, which are enclosed in buildings. It was surprising to learn that they had just discovered the warriors about 40 years ago, and they are still looking for more. We saw pits 2 and 3 first, which were very cool. Pit 3 had the only Warrior that was discovered fully intact. Pit 1 is the most famous one, so that was saved for last. It was incredible, seeing all the Warriors in formation – it was a little disappointing to learn that they had to have artists reconstruct them though, since they were discovered in pieces. It was still quite fascinating though. Out tour guide for the day, Zha Zha (went by Lady Zha Zha), was awesome too. She spoke great English, and was a lot of fun. After seeing the Terracotta Army, she took us to the souvenir shop, where she casually pointed out the farmer that discovered the first Warrior. We were all shocked to learn he was still alive, and sitting feet from us. They had books we could buy that he would autograph, but I didn’t really want that. Mike, Brendan, and I decided to buy replica statues of the first Warrior discovered (the Kneeling Archer) that was fully intact. It was wrapped in a nice box, and we asked the farmer to sign it. He refused, but then Lady Zha Zha came to the rescue, said something in Chinese, and then he signed each of ours. Lunch was the last part of the tour, and it was absolutely delicious. It was Chinese style with a ton of dishes, and all of them unique and incredible. We were starving too, so it was quite welcome. On this tour, we met a lot more people from our hostel. There was a really nice French couple and a guy from San Francisco. They guy from San Fran actually used to work for Cisco (shout out to my Dad here). He worked for them for 6 years, lived a frugal life, and then decided to quit, and travel for 18 months around the world. He is planning all his travel around sports, so he is seeing all types of sporting events across the world – it sounded like a pretty incredible experience. Anyway, we made our way back to the hostel (much quicker ride this time), and then headed some of us out to the Muslim Quarter. I got another fried banana, as they are so delicious. We also tried what they call ‘Muslim Hamburgers.’ They are essentially delicious biscuits cut open, and filled with shredded beef that is marinated and topped with a delicious spicy sauce. They were all over the place, but we found a cart with a long line (this usually indicates higher quality). We waited for about 15 minutes, but people started letting us skip in line because they could tell we were in a hurry and because we were white. They guys at the stand loved us, and they hamburgers were unbelievable. After enjoying this, we the four of us (Mike, Brendan, Katie, and I) hopped in a Tuk Tuk to head to the Wild Goose Pagoda. Every night, there is a water and light show in the plaza in front of the pagoda that we had heard good things about. We got there just in time for the 8:30 show, and most of the good spots around were taken. So we got creative with some other Chinese people and went into the fountains where there were little walkways. It turns out we got possibly the best spot in the entire place. We did get a little wet at times, but it was definitely worth it. The show was absolutely incredible – it was reminded me of something that would be in Vegas, although I have never been to Vegas. After the show, we got another Tuk Tuk back to the Muslim Quarter for more adventures. We all got some snacks for the next day in which we would be hiking. I also stumbled across some fake Zippo lighters that looked pretty cool. It was only 10 RMB, so I got one. He filled it up with lighter fluid, and I tried it out using a lighter trick involving my pants. Lighter fluid leaked everywhere and the entire lighter and my hand caught on fire. I tried again for whatever reason, and this time, my pants and hand caught on fire. I had to stomp out the lighter and pat my pants out – it was actually pretty scary. I put on a show for the locals though, and no burns, mom! We called it a night after that and started to walk back to the hostel. On the way, I stumbled across street noodles. I had heard that Xi’an street noodles were amazing, so I had to try them. And they were fantastic, as I had heard. This was a great Friday – much better than we would have had back in Shanghai, where we were supposed to be for class in the morning (oops).
Saturday, we all woke up really early to head to Huashan (Mt. Hua) for the day. We met up with some hostel friends to head to the mountain with, and we all left for the subway around 7. However, a few people for forgot their passports, some people didn’t get on the same train, and other complications happened that caused us to get separated into several groups. Anyway, we took a bullet train from Xi’an to Huashan that was only 40 minutes, and then a taxi to the park, where we hiked up the entire 2000 meter mountain. It was me, Mike, Josh, Katie, and a French couple from our hostel. It was a really fun group to hike up with. We went at a pretty good pace the whole time, and stopped to see some breathtaking views along the way. This was by far the highest and longest I have ever consecutively hiked. It was not an easy hike either – there were some obnoxiously steep and long staircases, most of which had tiny stairs with minimal traction. There were also some so steep that they were referred to as “sky ladders.” They had chains along the side that you had to hold onto because they were around 80-100 degree grade. It was actually really dangerous and shouldn’t be allowed at all. Our first priority was getting a hostel on the mountain, as we wanted to see the sunset and sunrise – so we went and got a room on the East peak, which was a crappy room and way too expensive (150 RMB per person), but it was ultimately worth it. We then made our way to the South peak, where Plank Road is located, or as it is more commonly known, the Most Dangerous Hike in The World. There, we ran into Abby and Brendan and some of the other people from the hostel. Anyway, the hike is just 3 planks on the side of a mountain, but there are harnesses and wires to clip into. I am very scared of heights, but I knew I had to do it for the incredible experience. It was absolutely worth it. The views were outstanding and the adrenaline rush was great – it was one of the most breathtaking things I have ever done. The hike was somewhat crowded, so we had to go around other people, which involves unclipping from the wire at times (but there are 2 clips, and you never have to unclip both at the same time (although I did, for the extra adrenaline rush (sorry mom))). There were plenty of spots where it wasn’t too crowded though, and we were able to sit down and relax. Some of us also did some crazy things, like leaning off the board, relying on the cords and clips. I can’t express how much fun this whole thing was – I already want to go back and do it again! After the hike, we went to the West peak to watch the sunset. It was a really pretty sunset and we found a nice, secluded spot to watch it. The hike back in the semi-darkness was a little cold, though. We got dinner at a restaurant near the hostel – it was a pretty miserable meal experience; they didn’t offer water and bottles were obnoxiously priced, they wouldn’t let us order some dishes, and the other people in there were obnoxious and staring the whole time. The food wasn’t bad though. Abby and Brendan weren’t able to get a bed at the hostel, but they did rent these awesome surplus Chinese Army jackets. They were only 50 RMB to rent for the night, and it was pretty chilly, and it would be nice for the sunrise – so we all got one. In the comfort of this, I was able to lay outside on a mountain and stargaze. This was the first time in as long as I can remember that I had laid on my back and admired the stars, identified the big dipper, etc. It was incredibly relaxing. We went to bed fairly early around 9:30, and Brendan shared my bed, and Abby shared Katie’s bed (both of us on the top bunk, some reason).
Sunday, we woke up really, really early, around 4:45, to go get a good spot for the sunrise. They were all full already though. Chinese people take their sunrises very seriously, apparently. We have heard that a lot of people start climbing the mountain at 10 pm, and climb through the night so that they arrive to the peak for sunrise. Nonetheless, I found a nice spot over the railing and just hung out on a rock and watched the sun rise over the city. It was nothing spectacular since it was quite cloudy and not rising over the mountains. It was really enjoyable and peaceful though; waking up on a mountain and having some peaceful alone time, watching the sun come up and the sky changing colors – it doesn’t get much better than that. After the sunrise, we got our stuff together, took some awesome pictures in our ridiculous coats, and then headed down the mountain. We hiked for about an hour, then took the cable car down to a bus, which took us the rest of the way down. It was a lot quicker this way, and we needed to get back to our other hostel in Xi’an. We got our train tickets (first class again because they were sold out of second class), and made our way back to Xi’an. Once back at the hostel, we all packed our stuff up to check out of the room there, and hung out in the lobby for a little bit. Then, Mike, Brendan, and I went to the Muslim Quarter for one last hurrah. We got our Chinese hamburgers again at the same place, and the guys recognized us immediately. They took us to the front of the line, skipping everyone else, made us our burgers, and then took a bunch of pictures with us. It was actually pretty awesome to see how excited they were, and they were very nice about it all too. After that snack, we explored the fake markets there. The street with fake markets is nearly endless and had all sorts of items, most of which are similar to what I have seen in Shanghai. I wanted to get a silk robe like some of my friends had gotten from there before, but I couldn’t get them down to the same price. I did, however, purchase a fake North Face backpack with Mike – we have a lot of matching travel gear now (2 backpacks, money belt, and microfiber tower). Anyway, we kept going down the street and then we ran into our Irish friends from the hostel that told us about the Great Mosque. We had heard about it, but couldn’t find it. Turns out, it is quite hidden and just off the side of the street with the fake markets, so we decided to check it out for a little bit. It was beyond disappointing and the furthest thing from ‘great.’ We didn’t spend much time there, and then made our way back to the hostel. On the way, Mike and I got some street tofu, which we had tried some of the other night. It was so delicious, I cannot find the words to describe it. They are so good at seasoning everything here. Once back at the hostel, Katie and I decided to go for one last run in Xi’an. This time, we successfully ran straight to the city wall, and then along a really nice path along the outside of the wall. It was a beautiful day, and we took it pretty easy because we were a little sore from the mountain. We also tried running along the moat, which required hopping a fence. We successfully hopped the fence (I tore my shorts in the process), and then a security guard yelled at us to come back. So that was fun. It was a really good run though, and a nice way to close out our time in Xi’an. When we got back, I hung out in the hostel for a bit, then headed out to get some food. I got my last pineapple from there, which I don’t think I have mentioned yet – the pineapple was delicious, and only 3 RMB for half a pineapple. I also picked up some of the spinach noodles we had the first day, and got them to go. Our hostel called two taxis for us, and we were on the way to the airport. Our plane got delayed an hour, and we were already scheduled to get in late, so that wasn’t fun. I passed out on the flight back, and we landed a little after midnight. We got Uber to take us back to campus, and our driver got lost on the way – a great finish to the night. Eventually, he got us back to our dorm, and we were able to call it a night. The trip to Xi’an was absolutely unreal, and possibly my favorite trip in China.
Enjoy the pictures below! Unfortunately, I had trouble uploading 15 pictures to this gallery that I really wanted… But there are still some good ones here!
Beautiful day on the mountain.
Hanging off the side of a mountain
Attempting to get a selfie of everyone, while riding…
Double unclipped..sorry mom
Recruited to Chinese military
What a beautiful lookout
It was a very impressive display.
Lei Lei pouring us free shots. Best hostel yet.
Sittin on a plank in the sky
Sharing a bed with Brendan
Pit 1, the most famous, of the Terracotta Army
Pit 1 of the Terracotta Army
Another steep staircase.
The start of the climb, with our French friends.
The last four standing (after everyone else started dropping for various reasons).
5 of us hanging out in 3 beds, playing games and drinking wine. What an adventure.
View from up in the bell tower in the very center of the city
Drum tower lit up at night
Smoking while climbing a mountain with backpack on the front – classic China
Enjoying the great views while strapped in.
Our awesome hostel
Rest after a huge staircase.
Buy yourself a medal to congratulate yourself for climbing the mountain.
The train hallway, rooms on the right
Oops…. I unclipped my harness completely. #danger
Group pic in the sunset
Stand where we get our fried bananas from
Sharing a bed (taken while I am sharing a bed with Brendan)
Can’t get enough plank walk pictures
The boys, enjoying the Terracotta Army.
Group pic on the plank walk
Break to sit on the wall
We were a little wiped out from a great trip
Looking like some thugs on the city wall, biking.
Enjoying the sunset
Pit 3 of the Terracotta Army – not much to see there
People camp out in tents for the sunrise…
All the guys at the Drum Tower
Just a guy enjoying his sunset.
Sitting on the plank walk
“Headquarters” was never finished because the Emperor died – that is why they are headless (Pit 2)
Muslim Quarter is crazy during the day too
The farmer that discovered the first Terracotta Warrior. Yes, that’s really him.
Making our Chinese hamburgers
This picture was taken in front of a sign saying, “no striding.”
The warriors don’t smile, so neither do we….
This is what the walk looks like… And we have to go around all those people.
They carry a lot of stuff…
First attempt at being crazy.
Our favorite Chinese hamburger guy
We ran around the entire Xi’an city wall (8.5 miles) in exactly 1 hour.
Enjoying long islands on our first night in Xi’an
View from the end of the plank walk.
Selfie on the plank walk
The classic Chinese daredevil pose on the plank walk.
Bell Tower at night (picture taken from a Tuk Tuk)
The ‘stairs’ down to the plank walk.
A bathroom on the mountain… It just drains down the side of the mountain
Last night in the Muslim Quarter.
That’s a long way down…
The whole gang biking the wall
Some steep stairs.
Gathered around the table in the hostel lobby making plans.
This was only the beginning of a long 5 hour hike up the mountain.
Getting picked up from the train station!
Our first fried bananas
Beautiful panorama of this gorgeous mountain.
Chillin’ on the city wall.
Putting my faith in the harness
Muslim Quarter at night
Terracotta Army from the side
Warriors that artists are still working on restoring
Our tiny hostel room with 10 beds – slept 12 that night.
The only Terracotta Warrior recovered fully intact.
This is our hostel. Decent view.
First Xi’an meal – spinach noodles. Yum.
Wild Goose Pagoda during the water/light show
Hanging out with my Warrior friends