I imagined the Silk Road to be dry and windy yet mystical and exotic. This ancient trading route extends from China across Central Asia to the Mediterranean region.
My parents who have been there explained that the most popular route is from Xian in Central China to the Xinjiang Autonomous Region in the west.
Xian is one of China’s ancient capitals and the main gateway to the Silk Road where the Terracotta Army is buried.
It consists of thousands of live-size statues of warriors, horses and chariots buried 2,200 years ago along with the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang.
This, combined with other rare features such as a city surrounded by ancient city wall, a large ethnic minority population, a museum filled with China’s rich history and a famous mountain all in one place fascinates me.
Without any hesitation I booked my flights and accommodation.
Soon I find myself checking into the new 565-room Wyndham Grand Xian South Hotel in the Yanta District. Entering my deluxe room of 600 sq ft, I am delighted with the decor, furniture and the bathroom.
Early next morning I walk across the huge lobby to Tang Cafe where buffet breakfast is served.
An unusual sight caught my eye – a Caucasian man in uniform clears the tables and waits on guests in China. Turns out, Michael from USA is the manager of the cafe.
My sightseeing starts with the Shaanxi History Museum which has a vast collection of cultural artifacts and records of all the emperors of the various dynasties.
There is a long queue to collect free entrance passes and I reluctantly join in under the sun. Out of the blue a man offers me a pass as one of his friends has left to go elsewhere. What a blessing!
Next stop is the ancient Bell Tower built in 1384. It is situated in a busy roundabout surrounded by large shopping malls. Majestic as it is, the structure does not appeal to me. After snapping a few shots, I move on.
Walking along an underpass with numerous stalls on both sides, I emerge at Huimin Street or Muslim Street.
This is the entrance to the Muslim Quarter which is made up of four streets full of shops and restaurants operated by ethnic muslim minorities and it looks like an Arabian town.
Locals and tourists flock to Xinjiang restaurants for the famous local mutton noodle soup. I cast caution and diet aside and indulge in two large greasy piping hot bowls.
Dried fruits are aplenty and much cheaper than in Malaysia. So I decide to buy a few kilos of dried persimmons, red dates, raisins, wolf berries and nuts.
Having to haul my shopping, I decide to skip the walk on the ancient City Wall that surrounds the inner city.
Instead I head back to the hotel and straight to the Executive Lounge on the top floor to relax. Luxuriously furnished, it occupies the whole floor and offers a panoramic view of the district.
For dinner, I indulge in the widest buffet spread in the hotel I have ever seen – Chinese, Western, Japanese and Indian.
Murkesh, the specialist chef from India introduces himself to me and recommends the Northern Indian cuisines he cooked. He obviously loves his work and enjoys interacting with guests.
Early the next morning, I visit the site of the Terracotta Army in Lintong District, 44 km east of the city which is the highlight of my trip.
It is said that besides the terracotta army, scores of young palace maids and eunuchs were buried alive with the emperor who was fearful of being alone in the afterlife.
Amazingly, all the soldiers look different, leading the historians to believe they are the images of real people.
I am particularly fascinated by the Terracotta Army due to my keen interest in China history and having watched a Chinese movie where terracotta warriors came to life and fought with the hero. I relish my time here as I soak in the history.
On the next clear day I set out to Huashan, one of the five famous mountains in China which has five peaks. Going up the North Peak by cable car I still have to climb a steep slope to reach the peak. Unfit, I huff and puff my way to the top.
Finally I reach the mountain summit with fresh air and cold winds blowing against me.
I stand breathless from the hike and in awe of God’s creation with an excellent view of the many mountains and valleys.
Next I leisurely walk to the Big Goose Pagoda Park where the locals stroll, play Chinese chess or practise Latin dances.
Everything about China is big. I encourage more Malaysians to visit China, especially Xian, to appreciate the long Chinese history and better understand her people since the prosperous country is now heavily investing in Malaysia.
For Muslims, there is halal food abound.
Today is last day of the Chinese New Year festival. I wish everyone a wonderful year blessed with peace, joy, prosperity and good health.
Happy Chap Goh Mei!
Chermaine Poo is a chartered accountant turned actress, TV host, emcee and columnist. Now she juggles between motherhood and running her classic car restoration workshop, Restoration Performance Design (RPD). And because she doesn’t sleep, she writes this column and a blog on www.chermainepoo.com. Follow her on www.facebook.com/ChermainePoo , www.instagram.com/ChermainePoo or drop her an email at [email protected]