Day 41 - Friday 12th May - Pingyao to Xi'an

Because the cars were parked outside of the city walls and we had a bit of a haul with the bags, we had a later start and a short drive to the Shuanglin Temple. An interesting place.

Like in France during the Revolution and England during the Reformation, China faced incredible destruction of temples and important works of art during the Cultural Revolution. Somehow this place escaped it.

While it has some incredible Ming statues and ceramics, they sit there today pretty much untouched for hundreds of years, which means under a thick layer of dust. The colours faded, but still visible. While marked on the map it does not seem to be on the tourist route yet. I am not sure whether its lack of money or knowhow on how to attack the renovation and preservation of the statues.

While we climbed a bit in the morning to nearly 1000m, the terrain was an unwinding of the previous day – plateau then gullies and we descended back down to around 300m. Every now and again we would come across another ravine, some approaching the size of the Grand Canyon, but the road did not dip or deviate. The roads went straight across on bridges that were hundreds of metres above the valley floor.

Terraces abounded on the hillsides, but today they seem to be growing cypress pines. The revegetation program seems to be widespread.

We crossed the Yellow River and into Shaanxi Provence (not to be confused with Shanxi Provence which we had just left). The Yellow River, which is described as the mother river of China, was little more than a trickle in a wide river bed ready for the rains to fall and snows to melt in Tibet.

On the Shaanxi bank was one of the largest industrial complexes I have ever seen. It looked like it was kilometres of petrochemical processing. Of what we are unsure as there is no oil in this area, just lots of coal. Black, grimmey and smoky. It was not what you usually see on a river bank nor the introduction to a new province.

At lunch in a truck stop we settled for noodles. Locally they are the nearest thing you’ve seen to spaghetti. No water or broth, just noodles in a bowl and add your choice sauce. As usual the bowl was big enough to feed a small army, all for the princely sum of AU$4. Loris was struggling to eat hers with chop sticks, so she was just digging in, twirling and hoping to pull up a mouthful. The family on the next table took it on as their personal mission to teach her how to use the chop sticks properly and master the art of noodling with chop sticks. Given the language barrier it was an interesting discussion.

We had not left the lunch stop for long when I noticed that the exhaust noise was getting louder and louder. We had blown an exhaust coupling gasket that sits in the joint between the exhaust manifold and the exhaust pipe. It got worse pretty quickly, especially when the accelerator was planted. Luckily it did not affect the cars performance, rather just the comfort inside and outside of the car.

At the last tollgate we were pulled over at the usual police check. I was a little concerned that they were going to look at the vehicle road worthiness, but instead it was just a simple and polite check of documents, and no defect notice.

We arrived in Xi’an at 1730. Possibly the worst possible time. The tollway emptied into the main road through the city and we had 11 kilometers of noisy, slow grinding bumper to bumper Friday evening peak hour traffic to get to our hotel.

When the name Xi’an comes up, I immediately focus on the terracotta warriors and don’t think too much about the town itself. Recollection tells me that in a previous life as Chang’an it used to be the capital of China and the start of the Silk Route, rather than thinking about the 8m people who currently live in a modern bustling city. I’m told that today it’s a manufacturing hub, although we did not see much of that. We did see enough multi story high rise buildings to house all of the population and the streets of high rise office towers that would put Sydney CBD to shame. Tourism is only a very small part of the local economy.

When we went out for dinner, the first thing we noticed was the change in demographic. There is a strong muslim influence. The food has changed as well. Lamb is prevalent. Rice is absent. The English translation of the local delicacy is a Chinese hamburger. Shredded lamb on a flat bun. BBQ skewers are also common.

We are staying in the centre of town and are surrounded by shopping malls and designer brands. Prices in Zara, Uniqlo, etc are all the same as Australia. The shops are crowded. The muslim sector, a series of narrow alleys full of food stands was absolutely packed. The noise louder than an MG without and exhaust. The light show was brighter than Vivid.

This was not what we were expecting in Xi’an.