On the train to Xi'an, I got into a wicked drinking game with about 8 guys from Xining. Like most Chinese drinking games, it involved two people throwing out a random number of fingers and shouting out a random number, trying to guess the total number of fingers out; if you win twice, your opponent drinks. They insisted on me going around the circle, playing everyone twice. The drink of choice was, of course, baijiu. After my 16th round, more than half which I lost or won but was pressured into drinking anyway, I wasn't in good shape, so I stumbled back to my bed.
The next morning, we arrived in Xi'an. I headed for the Flats of Renmin Hotel, a semi-famous backpacker hotel in Xi'an. It was actually a bit of a rip-off. I paid more for so-called "dorm" accommodation than for a single room anywhere else I've been. But then again, not every place had a shower. After another shower, I stopped at the book exchange. I picked up perhaps my most favorite anti-war novel of all time: Bao Ninh's "The Sorrow of War." Written from the side of the Viet Cong, it was actually much more critical of the North Vietnamese government than the American government. It also made Kurt Vonnegut look like an MFA hack.
I headed for the Muslim quarter. It had a nice atmosphere. Nice almost to the point of being cliché. Lots of Muslim guys with wispy beards in their Mao suit best, riding their bikes slowly down these side alleyways. Lots of old men sat around, watching a chess game in their undershirts. Restaurant owners kept large crickets in wooden cages. There was a main road that led from the modern part of the city to the Great Mosque that was full of fresh of the plane foreigners, but it was easy enough to walk around the side streets, picking up lamb kebabs along the way. For dinner, I had a much-anticipated meal at KFC.
The next morning I felt like absolute shit. I had come down with a terrible cold. I think it was from using the same cup with 8 people during that aforementioned train ride. I went to a pharmacy, which sold only Chinese-made Western-style pills, which I'm convinced are completely useless. China lacks an FDA, so you see all sorts of ads on TV for pills that make ridiculous claims. "It boasted my son's grades! I lost 5kg! My daughter is well-behaved now!" I was a bit disappointed that they didn't have any traditional Chinese medicine. I was actually looking forward to seeing if eating powdered frog testicles would cure my cold. Unfortunately, they were fresh out of the powdered testicle of any animal that I could think of.
After buying some useless meds, I went back to the hotel and had my complementary breakfast, tea and two pieces of toast that took about an hour to toast. I was drinking some cold water, which didn't help my sore throat, but was necessary since I was sweating profusely in the steamy weather. In the meanwhile, I got into a conversation with a Chinese journalist who was there for some reason. We talked about American politics. He really thought that the Chinese media was more ethical than the American media because of the whole Kenneth Starr using his authority as independent counsel to publish soft-core porn debacle.
After breakfast, I decided to head to the Terracotta Warriors despite my wretched condition. I took a minibus over. About an hour later, we arrived at a place with a bunch of vendors out front. The driver stopped, dragged me out, saying that this was the place. I insistently asked if this were the Terracotta Warriors. He said that it was. Of course, it wasn't. It was a random park with a large hill with an outrageous admission fee of Y20.
The weather was incredibly hot and smoggy. My sinuses were completely clogged. I felt so light-headed that I was constantly tripping over everything. When I got to the top, after gingerly climbing up each step, and being able to see nothing because of the smog, I wanted to die. Even a violent, painful means of death would have been fine at that point. I gingerly climbed back down. I was tempted to throw my growing collection of used tissues at the ticket vendor, but I was too tired. As I sat in front of the park, waiting for the next bus, huddled over miserably, blowing my nose, some government official-type took sympathy on me and offered me a ride over to the Terracotta Warriors.
That official had one sweet ride. It was a brand new Toyota Landcruiser that he no doubt was able to afford after accepting a large number of kickbacks and bribes to allow the construction of some pollution-spewing factory. He dropped me off in front. I was not ready for what was the biggest culture shock that I had experienced the entire year that I had been in China.
There were hundreds of Americans waiting in line to get in. It had almost been a year since I had seen so many white people in one place. They seemed so fat, so red, so loud, so obnoxious. There was a particularly large number of American high school students there. Listening to them talk, I realized how long it had been since I last heard the word "like" inserted in front of every prepositional, adverbial, and subordinate clause.
The ticketing system at the Terracotta Warriors is microcosm of everything that doesn't make sense in China. The ticket that I had bought had a fancy magnetic strip so you could slip it through the turnstile and go through automatically, like you see on some subway systems in the US.
The actual warriors were pretty cool. The statues were supposed to guard the tomb of Qin Shihuang, China's first and by far craziest emperor. This is probably the single most-visited sight in all of China so I'm sure it's been collecting mad revenues. And it seems like they've been putting the revenues to good use. It had a very modern looking museum explaining the historical background of the tomb and I probably would have enjoyed it were it not for the fact that I was in absolute misery. I had to sit down 10 minutes for every 20 minutes that I walked around. I ran out of clean tissues and was reusing old tissues. My head continued to throb.
But being the trooper that I was, I went through all the exhibits. If you think about the thousand of warriors that they carved, each one supposedly modeled after a different person, it's really impressive. There were signs all over the place saying "No Photography Allowed." Judging by the number of flashes you could see from people blatantly ignoring the signs, you could tell that there were plenty of the Chinese tourists there as well. I took a bunch of photos as well without any qualms. When one conscientious American pointed out the sign to me, I snickered at his naivete. I soon left, ignoring the dozens of trinket sellers waiting by the exits.
(Note: This is where I stopped recording in my journal so this is all going off the basis of memory from here.)
The next day I did a bunch of errands.
Then some sunburned, bald, fat whitey came filming with his brand-new Minicam walked by and I said, "Ugh. How pathetic." They all were surprised that, being in a foreign country, I didn't feel an instant empathy with a compatriot. As anxious as I was to get home by then, I still despised him and everything he stood for.
I stopped by Dad's Home Cooking, a backpacker café place to get some soup and a new book. I had a passable imitation of chicken soup but I picked up Don Delillo's "Underworld," a horribly pretentious book that I ditched once I got back to the US. There was also a comment book where a bunch of travelers left their comments on where to go in China, the culture shock, etc. I wrote a masterpiece about how the Lonely Planet is on the same moral level as the Mein Kampf.