Margot Polo Hits the Silk Road

Love Ones, China is a country of vast contrasts and I went from the sublime (Yangshou Mountain Retreat) to the ridiculous (Xian, population 8 million NONE OF WHOM KNOW HOW TO DRIVE!

003_640_x_480.jpgI spent my first morning in Xian watching a Chinese HORROR SHOW. I had an excellent front row seat in the balcony protected by bullet proof glass. There was the usual cast of suspects. Triad truckers, bad-ass bus drivers, cold-hearted cabbies, careening car drivers all supported by an army of motobots.

The evil plot unfolded complete with high-speed car chases and games of Russian roulette. The sole purpose of the evil plot seems to be, to annihilate as many of the human ant colony as possible who are armed only with bikes and brollies! It was a real gong show!!!!!

005_640_x_480.jpgMembers of the HAC didn’t seem to mind and went about their daily business as if oblivious to the danger. I think they are drugged! (Don’t you think its cool that in China they have footpaths down the middle of the road? )

011_640_x_480.jpgSo far I have only witnessed three SERIOUS (fatal) accidents which is amazing UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES. (OOps! Make that four – there was another one on the way to the airport.)   Traffic lights here seem to be optional guidelines and I learned early, while crossing on a crosswalk, that pedestrians NEVER have the right of passage – the rule of the road here is MIGHT OVER RIGHT.  Now, whenever I have to cross, I look for a member of the human ant colony (HAC) to use as a human shield!

Road rules of China.

When your light turns green, try to turn in front of the oncoming traffic as quickly as possible and then stop, so that the intersection comes to a gridlocked standstill

Be sure to drive along the shoulder of the road, the white dotted line or the straight yellow line – there are fewer other vehicles to contend with.

Always warn a HAC with a horn blast or flicking lights before you run them over – it comforts them.

I thought I had landed in hell! My wonderful DJ said “Be patient” Good things will come” – and they did.

terracotta_army_640_x_480.jpgI made the mandatory, one hour drive out of town to see the famous Terracotta Army. An entire life size army, hand crafted out of clay in battle ready positions, fired in kilns, painted and completed with real weaponry. The 3 pits are thought to contain a total of 8000 soldiers, 130 chariots and 670 horses.

It was a staggering sight, more for the audacity of its concept, the magnitude of its scope and the technology involved in its execution than its actual beauty. The army was constructed around 210 B.C. for Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of a unified China. It is believed that the army was constructed and buried close to his tomb, to protect the necropolis and help him conquer an Empire in the afterlife. Good King Qin was obsessed with immortality but only his own apparently as hundreds of thousands died in the completion of his folly.

I also went to visit Qins mausoleum which lies un-excavated a short distance away. A famous Chinese historian wrote soon after Qins death, that the First Emperor “was buried with palaces, scenic towers, officials, valuable utensils and ‘wonderful objects,’ with 100 rivers fashioned in mercury, and above this, heavenly bodies”. Recent soil studies near the tomb, showing very high levels of mercury, give credence to his account. After an entire life size army anything is possible and I hope I’m still around to see what they unearth.

010_640_x_480.jpgAfter the Warriors I whizzed around and saw the major important sites. I saw the BIG Wild Goose Pagoda built in 652 AD and rebuilt in 704 AD

220px-xianwildgoosepagoda2.JPGand the Small Wild Goose Pagoda (707 AD)

083_640_x_480.jpgThe drum tower constructed in 1380 which now houses a museum collection of ancient drums

belltowerxian.JPGand the Bell Tower constructed soon after.

This place is OLD! The Lantian Man, which dates back over 500,000 years, was discovered in 1963, 50 km southeast of Xi’an and a 6,500 year old Neolithic village was discovered in 1954 on the outskirts of the city. The city itself has a history of over 3,000 years and is one of theFour Great Ancient Capitals of China. When China was unified for the first time by Qin Shi Huang under the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE), its capital was located in Xian. There is great speculation about what might actually be buried under the concrete jungle that is now strangling Xi’an – we will probably never know.

mosq4_640_x_480.jpgXi’an was also the eastern terminus of the famed SILK ROAD that established trade routes to the middle east. There is a significant Islamic Chinese population in Xian who congregate together in the colorful Islamic quarter; after dusk, its streets come alive with a night market specializing in Islamic food and buried in a rabbit warren of lanes is the stunningly beautiful Mosque. Although it is built entirely in Chinese style it retains a very special and unique character. The difference I think is that the Chinese have ‘renovated’ (unsympathetically) many of their ancient sites. The Muslims have resisted apparently, offers of cash from the Chinese government to “upgrade’ the mosque, so it remains ancient and mystical. As a place of simple worship it was devoid of the garish new Buddha’s and the massive bowls of brightly colored plastic flowers. I loved it.


xian_citywall_dilou_640_x_480.jpgA TOBY TIP suggested a magical thing to do would be to rent a bike and ride around the spectacular city wall. It would indeed have been EXCELLENT but when I arrived at the South Gate of the wall – no bikes! The gatekeeper kept pointing at the sky and I finally deduced that it looked like it could rain – so cycling was NOT an option. Poo!

019_640_x_480.jpgThere was not another soul on the wall – absolutely deserted, but I was determined, so I set off at a jog to the cheers (jeers) of the gatekeeper. 12 kilometers later, the same gatekeeper was there to witness my triumphant return! It was exhilarating and a wonderful way to view the city. The wall was constructed during the Ming dynasty around 1370 and measures 12 m in height, and 15-18 m in thickness at the base. WooHoo!

DJ was right – there was a lot to see in Xi’an. Fear not dear Love One, I am drawing to the end of my tale but I am saving the best for last.

A TOBY TIP  led me to the Forrest of Steles – GOOD TOBY!  I thought it was the most amazing thing I saw while I was in Xi’an – an exquisite, tranquil garden (tranquil is ALWAYS good in China) somewhat off the beaten tourist path, containing some of the most important cultural treasures of China. Once called the Temple of Confucius, the garden houses a collection of over 1000 steles, many cut in A.D. 837 – the oldest existing texts of the Confucian classics. The ‘steles” are massive stone slabs that have been etched as if they were on paper, carved in order to record ancient history, provide maps and illustrations. It was exquisitely beautiful as well as staggering in its historical significance……it is the closest I will ever get to Confucius.



008_640_x_480-2.jpgFrom Xi’an to Xining and into the arms of my FAM. My brother is working here for 5 months and my sister-in-law has come to visit from Hanoi and will travel with me to Lhasa. Xining is on the north eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau and I am inching closer to TIBET. “There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do here” my brother said “Oh, how WONDERFUL” I thought……little did he know how much I was looking forward to what Xining had to offer…….

Laundry! Woohoo!

5 Responses

  1. Anonymous Says:


  2. To The Max Says:

    OMG! Another fabulous travel tale that puts the reader smack in the middle of the adventure. Fantastic! I have to say, I am a bit in love with the Terra Cotta army – especially the horses. I actually have (somewhere) a miniature replica of a soldier that I bought when I was over there but I would have loved a horse.

    I was equally fascinated by the picture of the woman at the end of the post. Her face is gorgeous. And I loved her necklaces. I am looking forward to the next installment.

  3. Colin Steley Says:

    i am so happy to share with you this journey. Thank you for coming to celebrate Colins 60th birthday. it meant a lot for Colin and it is somehting he will not forget, neither me.

    lets see what await for us tomorrow after this incredible shopping day: i never thought i would say something like: I had enough! enough shopping! Lhasa is amazing : tomorrow the real thing i
    love Consuelo

  4. To The Max Says:


  5. Raymond Says:

    In such a short period you have seen more different parts of China than I saw in all of about six months I spent there working! Keep up the exotic blogging.

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