Okay, China clearly has a different definition for hostel than the rest of the world. For me, a hostel is bunk bed rooms, in a building that hosts a lounge for socialising, a kitchen for cooking, and a noticeboard to request taxi-pools or sell of unnecessary clothing you’ve picked up etc.
This is now my second hotel/hostel in China, and the only part they’ve gotten right is the bunk beds. Do Chinese hostels just not do self-cooking facilities? It means I have to either eat the expensive food offered at their bar, or eat out. Don’t get me wrong, most of the foods cheap – its just not as cheap as it would be if I could cook myself. And as it’s a bar instead of a lounge, socialising outside of the bedrooms is hard.
That said, the bedrooms are just about perfect. The mattress on my bed is gloriously soft, and the bathroom has been designed with hostels in mind. The toilet, sink and shower are all seperated so its possible for 3 people to use it at the same time without infringing on the others privacy. Why don’t more hostels do this???
Today the three of us had planned to do the Terracotta Warriors. The hostel offered a tour, but when we did the math, it seemed rather pricy – so decided to give public transport a shot instead. Had the reception write down the bus numbers we needed, and hopped on the 603 to the train station. There is was a case of hunting down the bus stop of 306 (just look for the bus with the long line of people) while avoiding the dozens of taxi touts. You buy tickets on the bus once its in motion, which was a little unnerving considering we still didn’t know how much it would be (thankfully, it was a very reasonable 7 yuan).
Bus takes about an hour, and was so glad I was going with other people, because when you have no idea where you’re going, following the crowd seems like the best bet. And when 80% of the bus went off, I was tempted to join them, but was convinced by the others not too. Good thing too, because its the very last stop we wanted. Looked like the middle of nowhere, but managed to follow some poorly posted ticket office signs to the area we wanted. Once we were set upon by 6 or so tour guides, knew we had the right place.
Discovered in 1974 by farmers digging a well, the Terracotta Warriors were built by Qin Shi Huang to protect him in the afterlife. It has been estimated that there were around 8,000 Terracotta figures buried amongst the pits, and at the moment, many have still to be uncovered.
The Terracotta Warriors were definitely not what I expected. I think everyone’s seen the generic photos and know it was found buried, but I always took this to mean they were located in a cave, or at least underground. In reality, its more like an active dig sight, with a giant aircraft hanger built above it.
Decided to work our way up to Pit 1, which is supposedly the best of the 3. Started with the exhibition hall, which hosted some of the techniques used to identify the terracotta pieces and the digs history, then (as it was by far the easiest of the 2 smaller pits to get to), went to Pit 2.
There is almost no actual terracotta warrior in here. Those that are, are in glass containers to the side. This was apparently the Military Guard. Pit 3 had more actual figures, though has apparently suffered fire damage at some point in the past, and represented a command post, with its Terracotta figures taking the shape of government officials rather than soldiers.
Finally, we went to see Pit 1 – home of the majority figures…and sadly, very underwhelming. I guess you hear the 8,000 estimation and assume that’s what’s been discovered. It sort of skips your mind that these are delicate figures, in an active excavation site. So in reality you only see a couple hundred, and many, many, many of the figures have been shattered and are in the process of being put back together. So its nowhere near as impressive as my mind was certain it would be. I can appreciate the historical value of the site, but compared to the Great Wall or even the Temple of Heaven, it just didn’t seem worth the steep entry fee.
We headed back after some minor shopping (where my meagre haggling skills got a black jade (well, so they say) ring down to about half the original price – probably could have got it down by another half, but I just didn’t have the skill. The other 2 also blagged some small figures with far more haggling success.
Another bus back (this time traffic caught us and it took about 90 minutes) and another bus to the hostel, we calculated we’d saved about 11 pounds by not going on the tour. Admittedly we hadn’t had a guide, but in exchange we’d been able to go at our own pace, and do some shopping, so considered it money well saved.
Did a little wandering on my lonesome after that – the hostel is pretty close to a nice looking shopping centre and did some window shopping. Saw a nice (though some might say gaudy) ring in one shop. Liked the price too, but was pretty tight on my daily budget, so since it was just down the road, figured if I still wanted it, I’d get it before I left.
Also had dinner at the hostel with the others. Getting really frustrated at not having cooking facilities – food is okay, but its nothing to write home about. The laundry facilities aren’t fantastic either – they do it in house, and don’t have a dryer, so once you give it to them, they hang it outside to dry. My 2 tour mates had done a wash, and now everything they own ‘reeks of China’ – so many food stands outside this hostel that you can’t even open a window without getting a powerful wiff of spices and old oil, and now their clothes reek of it too. And since the sinks don’t have plugs, can’t even do a hand wash – hoping my clothes will last long enough for me to get to Guilin.
With no other plans, we decided to go searching for the Muslim Quarter, which was apparently the go-to place for cheap food and souviners. Course along the way, we find 2 things of interest. One is two puppies in baskets, apparently for sale. But according to a fairly good English speaker watching the event, the puppies had probably been dyed in order to make them more appealing. The second part I wasn’t sure I followed, but definitely suggested that the dye was toxic – and between that and the stress of going through the dye job – would probably kill the pups in about 10 days. Since getting back to the hostel, looked it up and apparently it IS a thing. And I thought nothing could top the poor hamsters trapped in the hamster wheels from yesterday…
The second thing (which tickled the German of our trio to no end), was a ‘German Christmas Market’ in the middle of town.
Course, NOTHING they were selling had anything to do with Christmas, but it was still funny to see.
The Muslim Quarter isn’t too hard to find so long as you keep going West from the Bell Tower. Pass the Drum Tower and you’re pretty much on top of it. Sort of looks like a mix of Beijing’s Hutongs and any city’s Chinatown.
Course, there was so much neon lighting that my camera was pretty much useless, but it was a lot of fun to walk through. There’s so much stuff here – admittedly most of the shops sell the same stuff – weird paper chandeliers, shadow puppet picture frames, jade EVERYTHING, but they were a very laid back about selling – no grabbing or pushing if you so much as looked at something.
The food was the most fascinating thing to me though. I love pomegranate, even though its stupid expensive. So I was in for the shock of my life when I got to China and discovered just how BIG these suckers get. I’m talking as big as a baby’s head! Back home you’re lucky if they outsize the apples. But then a lot of fruit seems to be huge over here.
There was also fried egg sticks, which I’m still kicking myself over not trying. It was basically a kebab stick held over one of those weird pans people use to make mini-pancakes. Someone cracks a little birds egg into the hollow, until there are 5 fried eggs on a stick – looked unbelievably good.
Tour mates had their own kick-me moment too – found some chopsticks for 10 yuan, but guy wouldn’t haggle so they walked away. Admitted later that when the guy didn’t call them back they should have swallowed their pride and done so – gonna come back for them another day.
Not entirely sure what we’ll be doing tomorrow, but I’m interested in the City Wall and they’re interested in the Big Goose Pagoda, so maybe one of the two.