Thursday, 2 April 2009

Xian: Small Goose Pagoda

The Small Goose Pagoda is part of the Jianfu Temple complex and was built in A.D. 684 as some sort of funerary relic for a deceased emperor whose name I can’t remember even though I looked up two minutes ago. If you feel you can’t live without knowing his name, I direct you to wikipedia.

As you might have noticed from the photo, it looks a bit crumbly at the top. That is because the top couple of storeys fell off during a 16th century earthquake, as the designers had gone a little bit over the top by having several more floors that is normal. But given that the Pagoda had already been standing for over 900 years at this point, it seems quite impressive that it was so lightly damaged. Not to mention making me wonder how many modern buildings (and not just in China!) will be standing in 1300 or so years, even without earthquake damage.

The Pagoda is surrounded by some really beautiful gardens, and a huge ornamental lake, that I didn’t fully appreciate because it was so wet. I did get to climb up inside the Pagoda though, all the way up until I stood on the roof. The stairways for the last couple of storeys got tinier and tinier until at the last one I had to duck underneath beams (and remember, I’m not tall even by Chinese standards) and then scramble up something that seemed confused as to whether it was stairs or a step ladder. Either way, a handrail would’ve been appreciated here!

Shortly after I emerged onto the tiny roof, so did two Chinese girls. I was briefly thankful for the rain, as I imagine it must be extremely difficult getting up and down in such a constricted space during peak tourist season. I stood there, mentally ticked off ‘stand on the roof of a pagoda in China’ from my list of things to do before I die, peered at the view, hastily snapped a few photos and then got back into the dry.

I wandered off to look at the rest of the place, which seemed full of mysterious shuttered pagodas that could have housed shrines or shops that were closed because there were so few people there. I stumbled across a quite enchanting set of stone animals, and also many stone post with carvings of animals or gargoyle-type figures on top. The next day I found out that these were old posts for tying animals (presumably mainly horses) to.

I found the Bell Tower, and climbed up it after dutifully admiring the bell. At this point, I realised I couldn’t see a single other person, and had only the last people I’d seen had been at the Pagoda, fifteen minutes ago. This was almost eery. Solitude just does not happen in China. I half enjoyed it, half felt anxious that the place had closed early because of the foul weather. I walked down to the far gate, and then to the museum, where, in the warm and dry, I discovered the rest of the tourists.
The museum staff vexed me within seconds of walking through the door, as they tried to compel me to shell out more money (the entrance price was already quite steep by Chinese standards) and acted like I could only enter the museum if I did so. When I turned to walk away muttering something about already having paid enough for one day, they finally told me that the entrance fee they were talking about was only to go and see a film about the Pagoda, not to see the museum.
I felt this was quite shoddy, as I could easily imagine that many people end up watching something that that they don’t want to because they think otherwise they can’t get into the museum, and the price they were asking was ludicrously inflated just to see a film about a tourist attraction you’ve already paid to get into.

In a slightly huffy mood, therefore, I entered the museum. Honestly, by this point in the day I was a little museumed-out, so I didn’t stay very long. They did have some interesting exhibits but I found their organisation a bit monomaniacal. For instance, as it is the Chinese Year of the Ox they had an exhibition on ox statues: at least fifty of them. I really liked the ox statue below, but after 4 or 5 they all started to look the same to me. But over all it was an interesting and well laid out collection, but it couldn’t fully compete with the lure of a latte in the warm hostel cafĂ© so I left after looking at 3 galleries.

That evening at the hostel I had a slightly bizaare conversation with a young Chinese man, who seemed quite normal until he told me that it was 'obviously destiny' that we were visiting Xian at the same time, staying in the same hostel and had visited the same sights. Er, perhaps more like coincidence when the hostel and sights in question are the most popular in the city. Then he started making enquiries about what room I was staying in. As I was getting ready to make my excuses and leave, I saw the guy I'd met throuh couchsurfing and bounced over to say hi, at which point the somewhat weird Chinese guy found someone else to talk to. I'm not sure if he was a true crank, or whether the language barrier and over enthusiasm to befriend foreigners made him act like a bit of a stalker. I'd planned on having an early night as I was quite tired after overnight travelling, two days of sight seeing and interrupted sleep in the dorms but managed not to get to bed until after 2am!


  1. J, were you on this excursion all by yourself?

  2. The tall pagoda is fascinating, but you were brave to climb to the roof when part of it had already fallen off!
    Weird about that stalker dude. I would've been a little concerned, too.
    Great post.

  3. yes this was my first solo travelling experience. Practice for when I will be travelling by myself for a few weeks in the summer.