Xi’an – a trip that was almost worth it

The terracotta warriors, since their discovery in 1976, have toured the world as exhibition items in museums.  I saw them in Perth as a primary school student.

But we could not pass up the opportunity to see the thousand of warriors in the actual ground where they’ve stood guard for 2200 years. So we booked overnight train tickets to Xi’an. It was an uneventful trip, we enjoy trains and this one was just fine. In fact it was the most luxurious train trip we’ve had, we even had clean sheets, our very own power point and disposable slippers which Chris was quick to try out.

On arrival we bought a ‘bits and pieces’ breakfast of cold chicken, dry bread, yoghurt and bananas. McDonalds, which we love to hate, but is a reliable last resort when coffee is required, was SHUT. Unbelievable. So we had dodgy-brothers coffee with extra nescafe added from my private stash. We also had to blend food for Sparky; a simple task really. It did however attract maybe 50 people and the cops.  Here I am with the hand blender, in the square in front of the station.

We found the bus and drove out of town to the warriors. The Terracotta Warriors Museum gets TOP MARKS for wheelchair accessibility, the best we’ve seen in 9 months. The signage is rubbish though, and Chris had to backtrack 15 minutes to find the tiny ticket booth. While we waited, Meena was captivated by a large Clydesdale towing a carriage. She wrote an outraged journal entry on the treatment of animals in China as a result. (the terracotta warriors didn’t get much of a mention!) I’ve given up trying to over-orchestrate how and when and what my children will learn….

The Emperor Qin responsible was basically a bastard. Can I write that in China?  He was such a megalomaniac he insisted 39 of his concubines be buried alive with him, to go with him to the  next life. He also took, in clay form, all his officers, and army of 8000, a court jester, horses and chariots and plenty of other gear. Not a minimalist!  If whoever dies with the most toys wins, this guy is a strong contender.

How sad to have led a life so mislead. And yet, thousands visit every week….no one goes to visit the graves of people who’ve lived lives of quiet service to others. Maybe who visits your grave is not a reliable indicator of a life well lived. Indeed, my God is a man who lived well, and who has no grave.

Emperor Qin had plenty of enemies, and the warriors had been trashed at various times.


As we had put our bags in storage at the station so we could go straight to the Warriors, we had to retrieve them and find the bus to our hostel. The email said ‘catch the 263 and get off at XIAO NAN MEN, then you will see us.’

What kind of an instruction is that? It should have said, ‘get off, walk on a bit, cross the bridge, go under the wall, turn right, keep walking and THEN you may see us….. if you look really hard.’

Or that’s what we learnt from all the people who helpfully called the hostel for us and did lots of arm waving.

What actually happened is that I sat with the five children and packs, while Chris went hunting for the hostel. By the time he came back, we had drawn a massive crowd, been photographed and been given money for Sparky by a lady in tears. I find that really hard to handle. In a sense I have a thick skin, on behalf of Sparky. I put symbolic blinkers on to shield out the pointing and stares and rudeness. I’ve learnt to brush off the intrusive questions and the finger wagging the ‘tsk tsk’, and the frowns of disapproval. But when a lady sat next to me and began to cry, and tucked money into Sparky’s clenched hand, I struggled.  I have come to expect rudeness, but today I was surprised by kindness.

We climbed the dodgy stairs to our family room, which of course turned out not to exist, but to be two doubles. I speed-showered the children while Chris ventured out yet again for food. We had eaten nothing but a corn cob and an icecream all day.

It was 9:15 when he returned. Snowy was already asleep, without dinner. We were utterly exhausted.

The next day we were in recovery mode, and spent a happy couple of hours in the park. A highlight was when Tintin bargained for paddle boat hire!


The intense competition for train seats in China meant we had to take what tickets we could get. That meant a day earlier, and no sleepers.

But again, just as I was sitting around the waiting hall, feeling stressed in anticipation of no sleep, a kind lady again greeted Sparky, gave her money and a small booklet. The writing was all in Chinese, but the pictures are very well known to me.

There are conservatively 100 million Christians in China (5%) and the Chinese church, under persecution and suppression, is thriving and growing faster than almost anywhere in the world. I was touched by the kindness and bravery of this lady towards us, and grateful for our  shared faith.

The seven of us spent 13 hours returning to Beijing sitting up, with the lights on and music playing on five non-reclining seats. Of course, it was a very very long night. I may have slept an hour or two.  We snuck a couple of kids under the seats, and the rest of us just sat.


But actually, as I write this a week later, I haven’t really thought about the discomfort of hot baby on my lap for 13 hours, or the grizzling of children as they woke, disoriented, on the train floor at midnight. Or the men smoking outside the stinky disgusting toilets.  But rather I think of all the people who gave us food, practiced their English on us and patiently taught us Chinese words, and the nice guy who let Snowy lay his head on his lap.


So, we got back to our Beijing hotel, and I proclaimed to Chris that I was going to write a post about how the trip just wasn’t worth it. The trip was simply too massive an effort. Traveling with children is fun, but sometimes its just plain hard work.

The thing about evaluating decisions, is that in hindsight, bad memories fade and good ones getter better, especially with retelling and reviewing of photos. So a week later, I’ve sat down to write that yes, it was worth it.

It was an adventure.

A loud, smoky, amazing, tiring, sweaty, emotional, hard work, exhilerating adventure.

And isn’t that what we came for?

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9 Responses to Xi’an – a trip that was almost worth it

  1. Fiona September 4, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    And inspiring.
    Don’t forget it was an inspiring adventure for those of us who haven’t yet done anything half as adventurous (and maybe never will).
    It reminds those of us sitting in the comfort of our homes that so much is possible, and people the world over are inherently kind and good.
    So thank you again for choosing to amaze and inspire people you have never even met (yet!).

    • Jill September 5, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

      Thanks Fiona for your kind words!
      We have encountered a lot of kindness in China.

  2. Maria September 4, 2012 at 6:52 pm #

    I feel like the seven of you had a much better experience in China than we did. I’m so glad that Sparky isn’t attracting as much rudeness as she was in the rest of Asia?
    Maria recently posted..Journal of a nomad through VaastelandMy Profile

  3. Aunty deb September 5, 2012 at 7:36 am #

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I cannot imagine the hard work of your travels, but we delight in seeing the end product. Can’t wait for the next installment. Love A Deb

  4. Barbara September 5, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    Wow, what an epic journey. I can’t believe you sat up for so long on the train!!!

    I think I’d take more than a week to get over a trip like that. I am SUCH a wuss.

    I love your photos, especially the one with the blender. I’m wondering if you looked like you were begging because you were sitting on the ground?
    Barbara recently posted..Moon Cake SurpriseMy Profile

  5. Granny September 5, 2012 at 8:27 pm #

    Another amazing account of your trip ‘that was definitely worth it’! Gill, you give us a wonderful insight into your day to day adventures. Thank you!

  6. Trudi September 7, 2012 at 10:27 pm #

    I love this post Gill. You had me crying and smiling at the same time. I love reading your updates.

  7. Amy @worldschooladventures September 9, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    Wow you guys are hard core travellers! What a trip! I’m really enjoying reading all your adventures :)
    Amy @worldschooladventures recently posted..News Flash – Hong Kong is ExpensiveMy Profile

  8. Deb @ Bright and Precious October 7, 2012 at 7:11 pm #

    Yes, you definitely came for an adventure. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this before, but you’ve opened my eyes to how FULL ON it must be to just feed your family on the road every day. Keeping up with everyone’s needs. I’m in awe. (And I had a chuckle at ‘dodgy-brothers coffee’). :)

    Impressed with your train trip tales. You and your children did so well to survive it. It would be enough to send me home sobbing. You’re a remarkably woman, Jill. xx
    Deb @ Bright and Precious recently posted..Real Men Wear SkirtsMy Profile

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