Friday, December 17, 2004

More Xi'an

Day 2-
I don't remember exactly why, but we didn't arrange an organized tour. I guess the concierge at our hotel convinced us it wasn't really needed. In any case, he called a taxi up to the door and explained where we were going and that we wanted him to stay with us all day. US$20 and he gets to sleep in the car for a couple hours. As we drive off, he picks up his cellphone and starting chatting away, then hands the phone to me (riding shotgun). Ok, a little wierd. "Hello?"
"Hello sir, would you like an English-speaking tourguide? I am a professional tourguide, but it is my day off so I like to pick up work on the side." Crafty. Another $20 (for the whole day) well-spent. I hand the phone back to the driver who immediately veers off into a neighborhood. While we're waiting for the guide to come down we see that there is a dance lesson going on in the park on the corner. At first we thought it was Tai Chi but as we watched it became more like the ballroom dancing we saw in Beijing. In a public park- will wonders never cease?

The Terracotta Warriors
This is the reason to come to Xi'an. Towards the end of the first Qin Emperor's reign he decided that, in addition to the standard complement of gold, jewels, and other goodies, he wanted to be buried with his army. The army, not terribly enthused about this idea, set about making an army out of clay for him to bury instead. Thousands upon thousands of life-size clay figures were molded and fired in massive kilns, production-line style. There are a couple dozen different body styles, with varying degrees of armor and decoration, but they say every face is unique. You can imagine what it must have cost to do all of this, in approximately the year 210 B.C.E. The figures were set in trenches that had timber posts around the edges supporting a timber roof that was then buried. (In other words, the dirt was not packed around them.) The actual burial chamber of Qin Shi Huang himself has still not been found.

Unfortunately, the villagers, in approximately 206 B.C.E. (yes, only 4 years later) ransacked the place and knocked over ever single figure, smashing them. There they lay until 1974, when a couple of modern day villagers were digging a well and came across bits of fired clay. All in all, about 7,000 soldiers, horses, and associated items have been uncovered. When the army was made and buried, they were painted in life-like detail with vibrant colors. As the army was unearthed the colors will still intact, but faded within a year or two. Thus, in another stroke of surprising genius, the Chinese government has halted further excavation until they figure out how to preserve the colors! There are estimated to be another couple thousand figures waiting for us to catch up to 2200 year old painting technology.

The size and scale of the excavation here is staggering. The main pit is covered by a dome that could easily enclose a football field. There are a couple of smaller pits that contained generals and a golden chariot, as well as floor-level displays of some particularly extraordinary figures. The site is about an hour outside of Xi'an and the government is quickly trying to build up the area (including the giant statue of Qin Shi Huang and landscaping) for the influx of visitors sure to come in 2008.

Lunch was back in town at a little place that Houston's TV celebrity health-inspector/consumer advocate Marvin Zindler would have shut down without even entering. Delicious food and a 2 month-old kitten under the table pulling at my shoestrings. I hope to God I correctly ordered the pork.

The Shaanxi History Museum
Shaanxi is the province of which Xi'an is the capital, so this museum focuses on the history of this particular region, from neolithic to modern eras. The collection is very impressive and far too expansive for me to detail. Heck, you're already IN Xi'an, go to the damn musuem. As we approached the museum there were, I don't know, 100 10-year-olds and a couple of teachers practicing some sort of play. You can see in the picture that there are a couple of kids reciting dialog while the remainder have arranged themselves in the form of a temple building. They knew we were watching, so several of them couldn't resisit sneaking a wave and a smile. Very cute.

Back to the hotel for a break before dinner. Dinner was dinner and a show at Tang Dynasty dinner theater. Typical hokey production and rubber chicken, but you're a tourist, so you gotta do it anyway. (FYI- The Tang dynasty was the cultural high-water mark in Xi'an's history, roughly 600-900 C.E.)

Day 3-
Flying back to the east coast (of China) today, but still need to see a few more things.

The Great Goose Pagoda
A rather typical Buddhist temple with a huge pagoda in the middle. Xi'an's flat terrain means you can see for miles and miles from the top. Xi'an's haze means you can really only see for mile. Still, it's a serene and beautiful park. It's at this point that I'm beginning to see the appeal of Buddhism. The twisted tree that I took a picture of was out of the way, completely unmarked and ignored by most visitors. Outside the temple grounds to the north was a 3" deep reflecting pool which you can see in one of the photos. As you can see in the zoomed photo, the watery attraction serves in temporal contrast to the temple's spiritual purpose.

Apart from inconveniently placed ticket counters at the airport (i.e. go stand in this line, then go stand in that line) it was at lunch that we witnessed another of China's bureaucratic wonders. The majority of the People's Buses are electric, with overhead cables running up and down every street. We found a buffet (Chinese food) and sat near the windows people watching. We witnessed a very minor traffic accident involving an electric bus and a regular car. Less than a fender-bender, I don't think any paint was even scraped. But nothing was to be touched or moved until the People's Bureaucracy got involved. Electric buses piled up behind the accident, since they couldn't go around, and this is where it sucks to have to ride the bus: Everyone on the approaching bus would have to get out, while the ticket-taker went around to the back of the bus to disconnect it from the overhead powerlines. Then everyone who had been on the bus had to get behind it and PUSH it around the bus involved in the accident. Once it had been PUSHED clear around the accident could everyone file back on and the ticket-taker reconnect it to the powerlines. If it had been me? Nope, this is my stop. I'll walk from here.

Owing, I suppose, to Xi'an's relative proximity to the middle east, there is a large muslim population in Xi'an. We didn't make it into the Great Mosque, but the streets surrounding it are a haggler's paradise. Anything and everything is for sale here, from trash to treasure in about 1000:1 proportion. There are restaurants interspersed that have outdoor grills right on the street tempting people to come in. The sights and smells are AWESOME here. My parents bought a porcelain figurine, similar to one for sale at the hotel gift shop except far more detailed, for 1/3rd the price of the gift shop. I bought a set of old bamboo and bone mah-jongg tiles in a nice leather case.

Ok, out of time in Xi'an...back to the People's Airport for a flight to Shanghai.

[Next: Hey sailor!]


At 2:52 AM, Blogger se7en said...

dude you rock! but i am so dead tired i couldnt finish reading it!

ill finish in the morn and do better comment lol

At 3:41 AM, Blogger Badaunt said...

I wanna go back to China... WAAAAA!

When you said that in the restuaurant you "sat near the windows people watching," I had to laugh. Isn't that the wrong way around? Weren't you the ones on display?

The one nice restaurant I went to in Xiamen, with the lost Englishwoman, we chose because of its bright lights and relative lack of flies. We sat in the window, the only customers, and collected a large audience outside as we ate. They watched and waved and pointed and chatted and laughed and didn't seem to get bored at all for the several hours we were there. We also collected the entire extended family of the restaurant owners (plus a few neighbours, I suspect) on the inside, who invited themselves one by one to our (very large) table and joined us. It was a wonderful party, and the most expensive meal I had the whole time I was there. I think we fed an entire neighbourhood. At the very least we got them all roaring drunk.

At 10:35 AM, Blogger se7en said...

You got a talent! ever consider writing travel brochures?

You make me wanna jump on the next plane outta here! lol

At 11:29 AM, Blogger mellancollyeyes said...

Very PC with the C.E. and B.C.E....impressive.

And I love mah-jongg!

Hurry up and write the next installment, damnit.

At 12:55 PM, Blogger tinyhands said...

Theic- I too get attached to the places I visit. I come home longing to chuck it all and move to where I just visited. So far I still long to return to and live in Dublin, Paris, Ixtapa, Kyoto, and Shanghai. If I could just live in a hotel and visit temples, parks, and museums all day I'd be the happiest man alive. You know, I don't recall ever really being the center of attention except with young adults and children. The incident with the bus was witnessed from a 2nd story window, well above the fracas. I looked up Xiamen in my book, it looks very nice, but expensive food? We ate like Kings (and one Queen) for pennies, and they were still probably overcharging us. Hong Kong was the most expensive dining, but then it's the most western of the cities with more 5-star restaurants.

Lucky 7- You buy, I fly. I hope it's coming across how easy this trip has been so far. If you have any desire to see China (or Japan for that matter) I say jump on that plane. All I learned before arrival was "hello" "please" and "thank you" in the local languages (and used them liberally). There's a LOT of English over there, and the people I met don't detest you butchering their language should you attempt it, unlike the French for example.

Adrianne- Next ETA is 2359 CST, written JIT, not ASAP. Comments TBD are TBA. No RSVP necessary. Apologies for the SNAFU. TIA. XXOOXX.

At 7:07 PM, Blogger Allie#3ga said...

some people go to graceland. some to china.

so not fair.

but thanks for sharing your adventures - really really cool.


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