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Qiānlǐ zhī xíng, shǐyú zú xià

(A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step) – Laozi

We have taken the first step into the fascinating world of China, and Xi’an is the starting point of our exciting journey.

So why Xi’an, and not Beijing or Shanghai?

Our tour guide Jacky Wu explains it this way. He compares the history of China to a tree.

“If you want to find the crown of the tree, with all its fancy palaces and the Great Wall, go to Beijing but if you want to find the root of that tree, come to Xian,’’ said Jacky.

“Xi’an is the birthplace of Chinese civilization.”

Somehow this sounds so much better in Mandarin.

Xi’an was the capital city of China for 13 dynasties, starting with the Zhou Dynasty over 3,000 years ago. Among the ancient cities of the world, it is ranked among the top 4 together with Rome, Athens and Istanbul.

Xi'an - more terracotta soldiers
Xi'an - terracotta soldiers

We have always wanted to visit China to discover its many wonders, both ancient and modern, but kept putting it off because we do not speak Mandarin.

Imagine our joy when the Sri America travel agency decided to introduce its English-speaking tours to 8 destinations in China. And Xi’an is one of them.

In our group of 10, only a young man in his 20s who accompanied his mum is fluent in Mandarin. The other 9 of us are very comfortable with English. Six of us are above 65 years old, meaning we can get into some tourist attractions free.

We were lucky to have Jacky as our tour guide. He teaches English at a local university, has a wealth of information but more important, he is a very good singer and kept us entertained throughout our stay.

Xi'an - Muslim streetfood

Before this trip, I thought Xian would be one of those backward cities. Silly me! I soon discovered that it is a bustling modern metropolis of 10 million, with over 3 million cars on the road, served by 3 ring roads around the city. It is home to 63 universities, and each one takes in about 5,000 students every year.

There is now a network of only 4 subway lines in the city but there are plans to expand that to 23 lines. When this is completed, you can take the subway direct to the Terracotta Museum from the airport.

Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province, is also linked by high speed train to Beijing and Shanghai for those who think there is not much to do here.

Xi'an - outside terracotta soldiers museum

There are four aspects of China that intrigued me:

  1. Ancient history, palaces and emperors
  2. Culture and arts
  3. Beautiful and breathtaking scenery
  4. Futuristic China

I managed to experience the first three on this 5-day trip, so I am definitely coming back for more in the other Chinese cities.

Michael Aeria

Michael Aeria is a retired journalist & seasoned traveller.

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