Last weekend I traveled from Beijing to visit Xi’an.  Xi’an is the capital of the Shaanxi province of China, and is also home to the Terracotta Army.

I traveled to Xi’an via train from Beijing.  The 12-hour trip was mostly uneventful.  I watched Zombieland on my tablet and slept (like a rock).

The train station at Xi’an was a sea of people.  Most were waiting to get train tickets so they could travel for Chinese New Years.

For 7 RMB I took a micro-bus to the Terracotta Army museum.  The museum is located 75 minutes outside of Xi’an.

Entry to the museum was 110 RMB.  As you can see in addition to the 3 covered solider pits there is a museum and a park.  Well worth the 110 RMB.

The timeline of the discovery of the Terracotta Army.  The army itself was assembled for the first emperor of China.  To protect him in the afterlife, an entire army, complete with supporting staff, was built of stone.  He recruited 700,000 of his closest friends to lend a hand.  And you thought helping a friend move was bad.  In the late 1970’s a group of farmers digging a well discovered pieces of the stone soldiers.  The area was partially excavated and more of the army was discovered.

A relief of the Emperor himself.

In addition to the massive stone army, the Emperor also had a chariot pulled by bronze horses.

It’s tough to capture the size of the biggest pit in a photo.  It’s roughly 400m long by 250m wide; quite big.

After visiting the Terracotta Army, I headed to the Small Goose Pagoda, which was right next to my hotel in Xi’an.


The following day I headed back to Beijing.  Xi’an will be my last adventure in China.  I’ve got a little over a week left at my assignment before I head home.

Until then, safe travels.


Welcome back faithful readers.  Now begins part two of the epic Shanghai trip.  If you missed part 1, scroll down a bit.  I’ll wait.  Caught up?  Ok good.

Nanjing Road East

One of the nice parts about Shanghai, is that a lot of the roads are named after places in China.  Nanjing Road, Beijing Avenue, Tianjin Road and so on.  Nanjing Road East stretches from the Bund to People’s Park.  It’s mostly a pedestrian avenue, so of course I ambled my way down it.

I thought this place sold squid and ice cream.  I was disappointed to learn they in fact sold ‘squid-balls’.  Think meat balls, just replace meat with squid.

2012 is the year of the dragon, so there are lots of dragons everywhere.  Just remember, the dragon has three heads.

I personally think this is a bit of a bold proclamation, but the sign can’t lie.  It must be the number 1 department store in Beijing.

Peoples Park (Renmin Gongyuan)

People’s Park is at the Western most end of Nanjing Road East.  It’s a pretty big park (about 98,000 m-squared) that houses the Shanghai Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai Municipal Government buildings, shops, gardens, and a miniature amusement park.

Uh, thanks?  You too?

Pudong & New Years

The Pudong is on the bank of the Huang Pu River opposite the Bund.  For everything the Bund has in history and awesome architecture, the Pudong has in sheer immensity.  Many of the tallest buildings in China reside in the Pudong, including 100 and 90 story hotels.  Additionally, the Pudong area is a financial hub in China.  If it were a separate country, the GDP of the Pudong would exceed Slovenia.

What is this?  A ferry?  I don’t have my flippy-floppies though.

Let me translate the Mandarin for you – “This is the Pudong.  We’ve got big buildings here”

Left – 90 floors, Right – 100.

To get to the 87th floor (where I spent the better portion of New Years Eve) you need to take three elevators.  The first elevator takes you to the 50th floor lobby.  Elevator two takes you to the 85th floor.  From the 85th you’ve got to take another elevator to the 87th.  It was awesome.  My ears popped.

New Years was awesome.  I got a bit sick from some raw fish, but being up on the 87th floor watching the city come alive at night was great.

If I’ve set this post up to publish correctly, as you’re reading this I’m on my way to Xi’an.  Xi’an is roughly 1200 miles South-West of Beijing and is home to the Terracotta Army.

Till then, safe travels (The Pudong at night, shot from the Bund)

Hello lovely blog readers.  Happy New Years!  Those of you following along at home may remember that I spent New Years in Shanghai.  Shanghai is bigger than Beijing (nearly double the population), as such it’s impossible to do the city any justice in just one blog post.  So, instead of creating a scroll-a-thon of epic proportions, I’m going to try break this up into a few posts.

The Train

Flying in China is fun.  The airlines here feed you and treat you with some amount of respect.  In fact, they even tolerate my horrible Mandarin.  I mean, it’s still airplane food (which is doubly mysterious when it’s Chinese plane food), but that’s not the point.  Everything about flying, except for the flight, is kind of a hassle.  In the lead up to the Beijing Olympics the city built the second largest airport terminal in the world (Dubai is number 1, thanks Wikipedia), which is surprisingly efficient, but still prone to delays.  Getting to the airport is a nightmare, even in Beijing terms.  2+ hours by cab is the norm.  Now what does this have to do with the approach, you ask?

Why, I took the high-speed train to Shanghai.  For slightly less than a plane ticket, I zipped down to Shanghai in the comfort of a nice big Recarco-like seat, with two whole power outlets.

My view at 0 km/h

Warp speed!

Nanjing suspension bridge at 300 km/h

The Hotel

After my 5 hour, 1200 km train ride, I made it to my hotel.

Hotel Astor is the oldest hotel in China.  And it’s also one of the cheapest places to stay in Shanghai.

The lobby. 

Over its storied history, Hotel Astor has hosted many well-known people.  President Grant, Einstein, and Chaplin all patronized the hotel multiple times.  Aside from well-known Western folks, the hotel also holds some economic significance in China.  The first stock exchange opened in Hotel Astor conference center in 1990.

The Bund

Shanghai is different from Beijing.  Aside from location and Mandarin dialect, this difference is also notable in the architecture in the city.  Hotel Astor is located just north of an area of Shanghai known as The Bund.  The Bund is a mile long park along the Huang Pu river which also happens to feature a number of differing architecture styles.

Next post, I’ll give you a tour of Nanjing Road, People’s Park and the Pudong.  Till then, safe travels.

Remember that Emperor?  In addition to his regular palace, his summer palace, and his ability to communicate with the supreme overlord of the universe, he had a lot of pets.  In the 1700’s he, or most likely one of his ambitious eunuch attendants, decided to build a palace for his pets.  And the successor to that pet palace is the Beijing Zoo.

Today all you need is 10Y for the Zoo or 15Y if you want to visit the panda’s in addition to the rest of the Zoo.

Important fact about the day number one – it was 17 degrees out.  These birds were out and about like nothing was going on.

Important fact about the day number two – the ravens were everywhere.  Quork-ing to each other, to other zoo animals, and probably to themselves.  Also, note the turkeys.  They’re really not all that smart.

Not surprisingly, the flamingos were indoors.

American animals consisted of raccoons, moose, and a bison.  After visiting the American animals, I headed over to the big cat area and it was closed for renovations.  So was the rhino pen and the elephant pen.  Sometimes you get what you pay for.

Although this stone monument was pretty cool, it was not a sufficient replacement for a Siberian Tiger.

Yup.  It’s a Panda.  Moving on.

After the Panda Pen, the Zoo started to have progressively cuter animals doing progressively cuter things.  I went from Lemurs to….

Red pandas to…

Lemurs and chickens and bunnies.  It was like cuteness overload.

Fearing that I crossed the cuteness railing that that suddenness was certainly bound to happen, I left the zoo for the day.

Sunday, I headed over to 798.  798 is an artist’s district similar to Kunsthaus Tacheles in Berlin.  The biggest difference is that 798 occupies an entire rezoned factory.  Unfortunately, most of the galleries didn’t allow flash photography.  What I’ve captured below are some of the installations and street art.  Plus I found a really old sled.

No big plans for Christmas weekend.  I am headed to Shanghai for New Years though, but till then, safe travels.  And yes, that’s Deadpool.  I don’t get it either.

On Saturday I took the high-speed train from Beijing to Tianjin.  Tianjin is a major port city close to Beijing, it is also one of the ten largest cities in China.  In 1902 the 8-Nation Alliance that fought in the Boxer Rebellion ceded control of Tianjin to the ruling Qing emperor of China.  At that time, each of the nations were allowed to keep troops garrisoned in their respective concession. 

Fast forward to today.  Tianjin is a financial hub in northern China and one of the fastest growing cities in the nation.  Although urbanization is rapid, the concessions remain mostly preserved, replete with necessary tourist trappings.

Not quite top speed, but still fast enough to make the 117 km journey from Beijing in little more than 30 minutes (287 km/h = 178 mp/h).

Tianjin station has more than 20 train berths.  Above the station is a nice park, with this really cool clock.

The tallest building in Tianjin.  The fog/smog was pretty thick for most of the morning, unfortunately.

The shopping in Tianjin is laid out more like strip malls than traditional mega-malls.  Christmas trees and reindeer were out in full force.

Yup, like a big poker chip.

6th largest Ferris wheel in the world.  For 60Y (10$) how could I refuse?

After 30 minutes in a 10 ft square box with 3 of my new closest Chinese friends, I was ready to walk again.

After meandering through the Italian Concession I realized just how cold and tired I was from walking around all day and headed back to Tianjin station.

It’s as delicious as it looks.  Don’t judge me!

20 minutes after getting back to the station, I was asleep on a train headed back to Beijing.

Next weekend I’m hoping to visit Beijing’s 798 artist’s district and I’ll probably also visit the zoo.

Till then, safe travels (and watch out for Fonzie Jr. in Tianjin).

75Y well spent at Astor & Ivy.  The turkey was surprisingly good, as were all the fixings.  After feasting, I went back to my apartment and slipped into a turkey-induced slumber.


The following morning, I got up, at breakfast, and head out to the Temple of Heaven.  The name isn’t quite accurate, as the area is actually a park with three temples.  Three times a year the Emperor would enter the temple to make sacrifices and talk with his superior (the supreme overlord of the universe).  Today, the temple and park are roughly twice the size of the Forbidden City.  The weather was nice, so I spent most of my afternoon there just enjoying the park.  Unfortunately my camera died and I was stuck taking pictures with my cellphone.

The map doesn’t quite do the scale of the park justice.

Lots of greenery and lots of space.  It was quite nice and very easy to find a sunny, quiet spot to sit down and watch the world go by.

When the Emperor needed to ensure a good harvest, he’d make a sacrifice at this temple.

When he needed to talk to his boss, he’d stand directly at the center of this mound.  I stood there for a bit, that’s all I heard was tourists.  Maybe the supreme overlord of the universe was busy or maybe my cellphone dying was a sign that someone was listening?

This weekend I’m headed to Hong Kong.  From what I’ve heard, I can get good batteries there, most of the signs are at least somewhat in English, and real (as opposed to fake Chinese knock-offs) electronics are cheap. Till then, keep your flames well dressed, and safe travels.