Day 5 15th December 2014
After the lovely breakfast all packed up in the lobby ready to see the City Walls. Xi’An was the capital of China for 1100 years, and had its troubles in that time. The city walls are the longest in the world, full circumference being 9 miles. One corner was destroyed by the Japanese in the 1930s when they blew up the railway station, but this has been restored. It is now possible to go all the way round, and you can hire bicycles to do it. The walls are wide enough to take two lanes of chariots, and nice and flat. We came in by the East Gate, into a huge courtyard with smooth walls, ready to repel invaders. The wall is high with crenellations on the outside and with a low wall on the inside. Took a leisurely stroll for a mile or so, trying to imagine life within a walled city. In the shadow of the wall there were numerous small parks being used to play games, badminton, footie shuttlecock. A group of gentlemen were holding a birdsong cafe, with the birds in cages singing their hearts out, whilst their owners played cards or practised tai chi. Along the wall are very informative information stations detailing ancient weaponry, siege tactics etc, just in case the need arose in the future I suppose.
Back to the bus on a wild goose chase. Arrive at the Wild Goose Pagoda for more Buddhist history. The Pagoda was built in “ancient times” by Emperor of the day at the request of Xuan Zhuang. He was the monk who went to India to research the original Sanskrit texts having discovered that the Chinese translations did not always make sense or appeared to have inconsistencies. His travels were the basis for “The Journey to the West” (also available in Asiapac – seems to be a pattern in our Xi’An tour). Much like “Gulliver’s Travels” this biting political satire is also a popular children’s story. The temple and Pagoda are well-preserved and protected. We are shown around by a knowledgeable guide (Jerry having gone to sort something out). Once again I feel burdened by the weight of history and my own ignorance. Keeping up self-worth in the face of others’ enlightenment and lifetime achievements is no small feat. But life goes on, and the delusion of self-esteem returns with a promise to self to try harder.
Having been held captive in the temple’s art gallery for an explanation of Chinese calligraphy and the opportunity to buy donated works, we escape into the wintry sunshine. It is unbelievably cold and my mammalian thermoregulation does not seem to be working properly. The temple has become a meeting place for local people and to this end many foreign companies have also set up shop. I spotted Aston Martin and Lamborghini on the way here – plus Starbucks. Hmmm well, I promised a friend to buy the Xi’An mug, so in I trotted (just as well she didn’t want the bright orange Xi’An Lambo). Whilst in the lovely warmth decided I also needed a cinnamon bun and a cappuccino – just to use the wifi you understand. Somehow the rest of the group also seemed to need the wifi.
Once all reassembled, it was time for lunch. This was in “traditional folk Chinese restaurant” – given the location I have to admit that I’m not sure what the USP was supposed to be. Food was decent and the restaurant was particularly proud of its super-clean kitchens which are openly on view behind glass. Took some photos to show you, but for some reason my phone won’t send any right now, so I’ll add them in on my return.
Then it was on the bus for the five hour drive to Wudang, via the bank to change money. This turned into a fiasco worthy of a blog in its own right, but to spare the blushes of the person on the other side of the glass from me, I shall pass over it. You can ask me about it in class if you like – will last at least 3 planks. Anyway so back on the bus. The drivers are getting a bit nervous, as they have to drive back to Xi’An tonight, and buses are not allowed on the motorway after midnight. From Xi’An to Wudang in 5 hours by road – how is that possible I hear you ask? Well, until fairly recently it was not. However, much engineering has been done, civil and otherwise. We drive through tunnel after tunnel like a Swiss railway, with long downward runs in low gear in between.
There is much giggling at the back of the bus over a game of 20 questions amongst the youngsters. One comes forward – “anyone here got a biology PhD?” “Erm sorry – is a Physics PhD any good?” “Only if you can confirm whether a worm is an insect”. There follows heated debate about life form classification between the String Theorists and the Quantum Mechanists – “It’s an invertebrate” ” Yes but what’s it related to?” “Everything!” “You would say that”. I draw a veil. You should have heard them when they got on to spiders (sorry, arachnids), and as for the octopus (sorry, cephalopods)……
Eventually we pull off the motorway and academic differences are left to once side as the town streets come into view. Every shop is Wudang-something. Ye Olde Wudang Sworde Shoppe alternates withYe Olde Wudang Apothecary. Some shops only sell swords and alcohol – drunken tai chi anyone. Much excitement on the bus. The hotel turns out to be 5 star (hurrah!) though freezing (brrrr!). After settling in we head out to dinner. The whole place is like a ghost town, and the restaurant is deserted. All 17 of us sit around a huge round table with a gigantic lazy Susan in the middle. To pass the time whilst the food is preparing we take the medicinal baijiu (rice spirit) and decide to try a game of Non-Racially Specific Whispers. Does anyone play this anymore? One person starts, and whispers a phrase into the next person’s ear and they pass it on. Jolly dinner and off to bed – hotel rooms now warmed up a bit, rainfall showers and cloudy beds.