14 Hours to Western Peace




Some commentary:
Prepare yourselves, this post is going to be very long and full of snippets of pictures and videos from my trip to西安(Xi’an).

Crossing China

China’s public transportation is very efficient. The subways and buses run every couple of minutes and cost roughly 3-7元 (44¢ – $1). Trains can take you just about anywhere in China and if you’re in a pinch of time take the bullet train. I had the opportunity to try out China’s overnight train. On Friday evening, I departed for Xi’an.  This train provided bunk style beds to sleep during the night and would take 14 hours to get there.Picture by Suzanna Ackroyd. The mattresses are the standard Chinese firmness and were quiet snug. Pictured are some of my fellow Californians from the CSUIP program.

In Xi’an

After the 14 hours, we arrived in Xi’an nearby the old city wall. This used to encompass old Xi’an and helped defend the city from invaders.

A view of the city wall just outside the train station.

Yanling Masoleum

The first place we visited was the Yanling Mausoleum of the Han Dynasty which was built for the fourth emperor, Emperor Jing and Empress Wang. The Emperor wanted to be buried in a place that had the best fengshui. This location was chosen because there were mountains to the north, a river to the south, and a gold and jade mountain to the east and west. He is buried in the middle of all this so when he is laid to rest he has the mountains as a head rest/pillow, the river as a sign of flowing, and riches at both of his hands.

A diorama of the entire burial site with the tunnels that housed the figurines.

The Han dynasty came after the Qin dynasty (1st one) and learned from their mistakes. Instead of having thousands of unique life size warriors, they made smaller warriors from molds. The arms were made of wood to get silk clothing on each figurine. Unfortunately, the river flooded the tombs and tunnel system and buried the figurines and other objects under mud. The following pictures are a bit difficult to see (using an iPhone 6s camera) because the museum is designed to preserve the artifacts by controlling the humidity and light level.

Figurines from some of the tunnels. Pictures are taken from above. The floors were glass and shoe covers had to be worn inside at all times! 

Replica of figurines with colored silk clothes and intact wooden arms and chariots.

Tang Dynasty wonders

Our next destination was the Big Wild Goose Pagoda which was built during the Tang dynasty. It was originally a Buddhist pagoda and used to house monks but is now a tourist spot. If you dare, climb to the top of the pagoda for an amazing aerial view of the surrounding area. With only 15 minutes left before my group was to leave, I made it my personal challenge to make it to the top and back to our meeting spot. Thankfully I go to Humboldt State University (also nicknamed Hills and Stairs University). It seems as if my 3 years there conditioned me for this exact moment. I got to the top in about 7 minutes (weaving through people going both up and down a tiny staircase) and was winded from both the steep climb and the sights.

Views from the top of the pagoda.


At night, there is a water show that boasts the title of “Largest in Asia” and plays to traditional Chinese music. After the show, you can walk onto the water and some cool pictures using the reflections.

The trees mirroring off of the water reflection after the show.

Here is a short snippit of the water show.

The Terra Cotta Warriors

The next place we visited is probably the most famous site in Xi’an, Shaanxi: The Terra Cotta Warriors. This site was first discovered by a few farmers while they were digging a well in 1974. The place was never truly excavated until the Cultural Revolution ended. If you come early in the morning, there are still archaeologists gluing pieces back together. These warriors were part of Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s burial and were to guard him in the next life. Each soldier is unique which makes gluing millions of fragments together quite difficult. They have different facial features, hair styles, armor, stances, and shoes. The hair style, armor, and shoes determine the ranks of the warriors.

The Emperor didn’t want his burial site to be easily navigable so he had 7000 builders entombed. Family members of the builders were rightfully furious and came to destroy the parts they knew of. They smashed all the soldiers and burnt a wooden mat. It acted as a barrier between the warriors and earth above.

Completed warriors, broken warriors, and warriors still being glued back together.

This is a comparison of the Terra Cotta Warrior to the Han dynasty figurines.

Food, food, food

While in Xi’an I got to explore a different type of cuisine. Xi’an means Western Peace as it was the beginning of the old Silk Road. This was an important path that allowed cultural, commercial and technological exchanges between the East and West. Xi’an is home to the Hui people (a Muslim ethnic minority) so certain places will not have pork at their restaurants/stalls – they have lamb based dishes.

This is Paomo, it is a partially cooked bread which you tear up into tiny pieces that finish cooking in a lamb broth. It is typically served with picked garlic and chili sauce. It wasn’t my favorite dish as it was too oily for my taste – the pickled garlic helped cut the oily taste!

This is easily my favorite street food item that I could eat everyday: yang rou chuan (chuanr for the Beijing accent). Delicious fatty pieces of lamb skewered onto wooden sticks and seasoned with cumin and chili. These tasty morsels are a bit pricey and comes in at 12rmb per skewer ($1.74) but is definitely worth it.

Last adventures

With all this delicious and carb dense foods I needed to do something to feel better about gaining what felt like 5kg (hahaha). My last activity consisted of a 13km bike ride around the top of the old city wall. Here’s a short POV video of biking the wall. I apologize for the shakiness due to my inability to multitask and the bumpy wall (I never learned how to balance on my bike with no hands). On the other hand, here is Marvin, another student from my program.

Video by Anthony Carlino

Final thoughts

China’s mass public transit is very cost efficient and convenient. The only grievance I have is the smoking. There is a cart designated for smokers (they never close the door) and the cigarette smoke wafts into the other carts. This is the worse time to be on a top bunk as the smoke just gets trapped. Let’s just say my trip back I spent most the time under the blanket trying to filter out as much smoke as possible.