Xi'an page 1 of Carter's China Trip


On Saturday, two weeks into the trip, we loaded up for our post conference tour to Xi’an and Guilin.  Our bus zipped out of town on a toll road to the rather nice airport.  We boarded a China Air Boeing 777.  I sat one seat away from the window and tried to catch glances over my neighbor’s shoulder.  He was a Chinese businessman.  He asked if I wanted to sit by the window.  He said it didn’t matter where he sat so we changed seats.  Most of my colleagues on the flight did not get to see out the windows.

Over his should I saw a piece of the Great Wall as we were rising out of Beijing.  I was never able to find it again.  As we flew SW we passed over some rugged mountains and some very dry areas.  As we approached Xi’an I saw a great number of villages very close to each other.  There was not much farmland between these settlements so you know the land is used intensively.  This is where so much of the billion plus population lives. 

On this flight if you didn’t sit by the window you could still see what was going on because they had a camera in the front of the plane looking down.  Much of the time the monitors in the plane showed what the camera was seeing.  We got to see the plane taking off and landing from the perspective at the nose of the plane.  I had never seen this before but I liked it.  This was very effective in showing the landscape where it was cloud free.  Of course when the camera was displayed we couldn’t watch a movie, but so what?  But again, I am a geographer and I prefer looking at nature over movies most of the time.

On our flight were the colleagues who were taking the post-conference tour to Lhasa, Tibet.  Together we flew to Xi’an and had lunch together.  Then we got on separate buses but headed to the same hotel.  We saw them in passing in the lobby as we went from one tour to another.  They did things quicker than we and they headed out for Lhasa while we spent more time in Xi’an.  Surprisingly, there were far more persons going to Tibet than taking our tour, although the Tibet tour was more expensive.

Space in our luggage became a great problem, as did the weight of our luggage.  One of the problems is that we were told that things are quite primitive in China.  We were advised to take toilet paper and many other basics.  I took a small roll of toilet paper and tore off many sheets and carried them in my pocket.  One colleague brought four rolls of toilet paper and was still carrying them as he headed off to Lhasa.  Yea, there were places where you needed your own toilet paper but most places were very accommodating.


Zoomed map of area traveled in China. Red dots show cities visited.  Red lines show travel by bus and train.  

map modified from the CIA Factbook web map of China


We had a good breakfast at the buffet in our hotel before we left.  We had a good snack on the plane, consisting of a roll and cheese, a noodle dish and meat.  When we got to Xi’an they took us to a restaurant and we ate again.  Three meals by early afternoon.  And, I thought I would loose weight on this trip.  Ha!  There may be a lot of starving kids in China but they made certain we would not starve.  At times I was embarrassed by how much we were fed, but still I kept eating. 

Our tour guide in Xi’an was John.  As we drove in from the airport he pointed out the large conical mounds of dirt off the in the distance.  These are all mausoleums of past rulers.  Xi’an served for many centuries as the capital or center of Chinese culture and therefore this is a great area for history.  This is the least humid place we visited.  It reminded me of Albuquerque, New Mexico, in terms of aridity.  It was certainly a comfortable place.

China is known for its loess soils.  Loess is a soil made up of wind-blown material that locks together to cohere.  As such, in areas of deep loess you can have vertical faces of soil that do not fall down.  Geography textbooks usually include a photo of a homes in China carved into a loess wall.  In the Xi’an area we saw many places where holes had been carved into walls of loess.  John noted that as people have become more wealthy they have added a more conventional structure in front of the hole in the loess and now live in both the loess house and the structure in front.  We saw a number of such structures along the bluffs of the river as we came into town.  I should note that in central Illinois loess soils are common but they are not very deep and no one lives in soil houses.

Xi’an is known for its massive city wall from the past.  Soon our bus passed through the wall and stopped in a courtyard.  We were at the north gate.  We got to explore this area and visit the shops in what were probably barracks centuries before.  We got to the top of the wall and look down on the city, now extending off in all directions.  Surrounding the walls on the outside is a moat, still filled with water. 

  View from atop the Wall looking along the moat on the outside.  This area is well landscaped and well maintained.


  Later we passed by the wall at night and saw that they have lights strung along the top of the wall outlining the pattern – I was impressed.      



Continue to the next page in the sequence

Return to the beginning of Carter's China travels

Dr. James R. Carter, Geography-Geology Department,  Illinois State University,  jrcarter@ilstu.edu