Exploring The Heart & Soul of Xi’an

Xi’an is truly a city with heart and soul. When in China, don’t miss out. Why not treat yourself and book a flight for a long weekend of history, hiking and hot springs?

No—working abroad and traveling abroad certainly are not the same. Any corporate trainer, foreign teacher, translator, editor, techie and so on living in China, knows this to be true. I discovered this while in Xi’an (西安市). In the three years that I lived and worked there, it was a blessing to integrate. It is easy to become a part of the city life slog in China, but we mustn’t forget to go and enjoy tourist spots that may be challenging or impossible to visit one day. While getting caught up in Dongguan working life, take the time to book a weekend away in Xi’an, you can find return flights for as little as 1,000 RMB. Maximize the time you have and it could end up being one of the best weekends of your life.

It was only at the end of my time in Xi’an that I made the green bus tour from the old North Gate of the ancient city walls to the Terracotta Warriors (兵马俑), a few kilometers outside the city (from 80 to 150 RMB) to the utter amazement of some friends, colleagues and even family members back in South Africa. They didn’t understand why, when for them, it would’ve been their first stop. It makes me smile, thinking about how one can truly appreciate Xi’an and its culture if one sees not only the crown, but the people who wear it.

Upon entering the pit of the Terracotta Warriors, I suddenly fell silent. And then it hit me.

Surrounded by countless other tourists and locals, I saw something different, something that was a potent mix of honor, respect, power and reverence. It felt wrong to take photos. It felt wrong to even light up a cigarette outside. For when you stand in the presence of greatness, the shoulders of a giant from the past, you simply cannot help but stand in utter awe at what he has done and then realize and marvel at the fact that this man, Emperor Qin, was the very architect and progenitor of this world my colleagues, friends and I had been living in up until then.

He is indeed still in the eyes, hearts and souls of the people of Xi’an, Shaanxi and China. For in all the people that I have worked with and befriended, I certainly have seen the very power of this man echoing in their philosophy, deeds and lives. This was absolutely an experience to remember, one that you have to experience for yourself to understand the depth of what I am talking about. Xi’an itself is a beautiful and dynamic city, and visiting the Terracotta Warriors site simply echoed that.

Upon entering the pit of the Terracotta Warriors, I suddenly fell silent. And then it hit me.

Dacien Temple (大慈恩寺) added to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List in 2014, was built in 648 by the Tang Dynasty’s Emperor Gaozong in memory of his mother, Empress Zhangsun. Xuanzang, the famous monk from Journey to the West, was placed in charge of it when it was completed, and it was during this tenure that he oversaw construction of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. The entrance fee is a mere 40 RMB.Daxingshan Temple (大兴善寺) is also a must-see and has a history going back about 1700 years. It’s literally one of the oldest temples in the city and is also considered the birthplace of Chinese Esoteric Buddhism. Check out Guangren Temple and Qinglong Temple too. All of these are open daily between 9 am to 5 pm.

In terms of mountains and hiking, the famous Hua Shan with its immense cliffs, hazardous yet exciting paths and histrionic scenery, is certainly worth the money; yet for those on a tight budget, you can go southeast out of Xi’an to Mount Jia Wu Tai. It’s an equally steep climb with two small local restaurants near to the base, but make sure you take lots of water with you. The costs vary depending on your transportation and food, but it can certainly be done for anywhere between 60 to 100 RMB.

Xi’an also boasts hot springs almost everywhere, both in and outside the city. I used to love Angsana (西安临潼悦椿温泉酒店), not far from the Terracotta Warriors. Start your morning early with a local breakfast before checking out the famous Terracotta site, and later indulge yourself in the springs of nature. Pure bliss, right?