Saturday, 4 April 2009

Xian: Forest of Stelae Musuem

The glimpse I’d got of the Forest of Stelae Musuem had intrigued me, so I decided to make it my last stop, despite the Lonely Planet guide describing it as baffling to Westerners. The reasons it will confuse those who don’t speak Chinese is because the main draw is their collection of stone stelae inscribed with ancient Chinese texts.

I have to admit that, yes, I didn’t gain a great deal out of seeing these, although I did find it incredible that Mandarin speakers could easily read the writing on two thousand year old tablets. It really brought home to me how incredible China’s historical continuity is. Does anyone even know what language native Britons wrote in that long ago? And also made me pause to wonder how wise it is to have almost completely phased Latin out of British state schools, seeing as so many of our important historical documents are written in that language.

There was also a collection of beautiful and interesting picture stelae, although unfortunately they were housed in a really tiny building, that was crowded with only twenty or less people in there. If you wanted to look at or photo some of them, you had to ready to defend your spot with your elbows! You could also order rubbings of your favourite stelae, a task that this guy was engaged in.
The best part of the museum was the stone sculpture museum, which had a huge collection of animal posts inside and interesting and varied sculpture inside. I was particularly taken with the rhino and lion, the artists had captured the essential 'rhino-ness' and 'lion-ness' of the animals well.
The entrance to the museum is beautiful: there is a walkway flanked on either side by strips of garden filled with miniature pagoda-ish buildings, shrubs and trees. I tried to sit for a while and appreciate the surroundings, but it was still cold, and after I’d been sitting down for a couple of minutes a Chinese guy came over, sat next to me and decided to try and open the conversation by saying: ‘So are you here alone or do you have friends?’
At which point I got up and walked off. He looked a bit miffed, and I know that again, there’s probably a linguistic/cultural issue going on, but I just wanted to ask him how that could not be considered insanely creepy? I don’t want to put anyone off China by making it sound like it’s full of creepy men, because it really isn’t. I just feel that, in general, sometimes Chinese people are so eager to speak to foreigners and to try and befriend them that they don’t realise that they come across as very stalker-ish. (Good case in point, this week I had to tell one of my senior students that it was inappropriate to call me on the phone at ten thirty at night.)

I strolled back to the hostel through the Ancient Street area, where I saw this calligrapher working with great concentration and deftness. I stopped and watched him for quite a while. I also wandered into a tattoo parlour, which was one of cleanest places I have seen in China. I was mainly curious to see what sort of flash they had, but there wasn’t any on display, or even any visible books. I would’ve really liked to have seen what sort of stuff they did, but I just didn’t have the energy to try and make myself understood, especially when I had no intention of getting a tattoo done.
Xian is famous for its unique styles of food, so I went to buy what I thought was a lamb ‘sandwich’. It was only when I saw it being made that I realised one of the main ingredients was the disgusting, and frankly unnatural, tea eggs that are so popular in China. The egg was added to lamb, some weird noodle, and cilantro, which I can’t stand either, then wrapped up in a mini tortilla. It was a terrible as it sounds, the most vile substance I had tried in China. The one bite I took was spat out and the rest of the snack abandoned. I had to have a latte and chicken panini in the hostel café to recover from the trauma.

I absolutely loved the hostel I stayed in, and would highly recommend the Shuyuan hostel to any independent travellers visiting Xian. This is a photo of the hostel taken from the City Walls, and it really is as quaint and traditional as the exterior suggests. It's a traditional courtyard house converted into a hostel, and is not only absolutely beautiful but the staff were the most professional, friendly and efficient that I've met with in a hostel anywhere.

This is a photo of the lobby area, where the two spoilt hostel cats are often to be found. It was a good place to chill with a book and to meet other travellers. A bonus for me as a single female traveller was that there was a cafe and bar on the premises, so if I didn't have to worry about getting home alone at night.

I was really quite sad to leave Xian. I had such a wonderful time, that if money permits (which, sadly I don't think it will) I'd love to go back in the summer.


  1. I just came on your blog from Catholic teacher's blog. My husband and I spent 18 months in Hong Kong and China. One thing I wish we had done more of is buy art. We did not realize that the purchases did a great amount to suppliment people's income while filling our house with memories.
    I Hope you enjoy your time there as much as we did. Maybe we will join you there someday!

  2. Interesting to see the museum and the calligrapher at work. The hostel looks very nice. Strange about the Chinese men being overfriendly.

  3. You don't like tea eggs? Really? I LOVE them! But then, I love cilantro as well, so I reckon our tastes just don't quite match. I'm sorry you had to go through such an unpleasant experience. Did you ever have any of Xian's famous paomo?

  4. Janette - Yeah, I've seen some beautiful art for very reasonable prices but unfortuantely I'm on a budget, and also everything I buy needs to be able to be shipped home.
    flyingfish - *shudder* they're not right! That was my only forray into Xiannese food. I ate every meal at my hostel as the food was delicious, I don't get to eat Western food in my city and the weather was so bad most of the time that I was there that I didn't want to have to leave the hostel more frequently than was necessary.

  5. This trip was enriching!
    I was virtually relishing the shots of your trip.