China - Xi'an and the Terracotta Warriors
Last Updated: 13-May-03
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16 Oct Xi'an Our tour guide in Xi'an was Sherman, who had a very dry sense of humor and a tendency towards exaggeration. As an ex English professor, he also had a superb and subtle command of the language. He introduced the names of "One dollar warriors" and "hello people" for the touts at the sites. He also described the poor quality terracotta miniatures, which are also known as the "one-night warriors," due to their tendency to crumble. They are only dried instead of being kiln-fired, and are much heavier and brittle.
We started off the day at the Bam Pu Neolithic village. It is an archeological site of one of the earliest known civilizations in the region, dating back 6000 years. The village excavation has turned up many round buildings, moats or garbage dumps, lots of pottery, adult burial sites, and jars with child burials. The pottery is very symmetrical, and has several unique shapes, thought to facilitate filling with water. This was also our first glimpse of many of the extent to which the abundant local clay is put to use.
The most famous use for the clay is the army of terracotta warriors, built as a funeral/afterlife escort for the first emperor of the Qin (pronounced Chin) Dynasty. Four vaults have been explored, with up to 6000 warriors identified. Unfortunately, the Dynasty which succeeded his son destroyed almost everything, so the archeological work has primarily been to reassemble the smashed warriors and horses. The back of the largest vault is where this work is being done. The warriors were painted, but the color has proven to be very unstable, and fades within minutes of being unearthed. They have not yet worked out how to protect the mineral-based colors, so they have shown restraint in excavating more. (This sounds like a rather straight-forward (photo) chemistry problem, and may be due to the heavy coal smoke pollution in the area.) They have also unearthed a half-scale (since heaven is smaller, I guess) pair of bronze chariots with four superb horses each.
Recently, most of the archaeologists have been pulled off of the warriors to work on the Emperor's tomb, which lies a few kilometers away. Unlike the undocumented warriors, the tomb is well documented, and seems to be intact, protected from robbers by booby traps and deception. For anyone considering visiting Xi'an, I'd suggest waiting until this tomb is opened.
We also viewed a cheesy, but informative 360-degree movie on the history of the site, and then went to meet the farmer who discovered the warrior when digging a well. He and his two friends were paid 2000 yuan for their 1974 discovery. Once the magnitude was understood, the government offered to reward him more, and he requested a job at the site. So, Mr. Young is there, autographing books in the government store. Now in his 70s, he must have incredible writer's cramp.
Lunch was described as a typical country inn, but it was more like a typical country tourist trap. The food was actually pretty good, actually (and Sherman claimed to have made the dessert himself - sweet potatoes in a crispy sugar glaze. The lobby of the restaurant was stuffed with all of the usual trinkets, including one-night warriors.
That evening, we went for dinner and a show. We had an optional (read: extra cost) dumpling dinner, for which Xi'an is well known (or at least well marketed). Each of the 20 (!) dumplings has a different filling and shape, which often reflects the nature of the filling. Although good, there was waaaay too much. (We also discovered over the next several days that many people in the group did not respond well to the dinner, and had to increase their visits to the Happy House.) After dinner, we had excellent seats for the Tang Dynasty song and dance company, which stages a performance based on ancient music, dance, and instruments. The show was beautiful, and very well done. (I did recognize a fair amount of not-ancient classical music mixed in.) One number was the "duck song," performed on drums and symbols, comically played by a rubber-faced musician and his group.
17 Oct Xi'an - City Wall and Wild Goose Tower Chase
The group is sharing a cold, and several people have been having stomach problems. In particular, last night's dumpling dinner seems to have given several people problems with their…dumplings. Imodium is being passed around like party favors. I have had the cold for a few days (but it did not start with me), and I seem to be nearing the end of it.
Xi'an is the only Chinese city with an intact city wall, which circles its center. Of course, the city has grown far beyond the enclosure, and the high wall affords a nice view of the old center and the new city. Unfortunately, the coal smoke smog reduces visibility, such that the drum and bell towers at the center of the city are not even visible. Even from the South Gate, where we mounted the wall, it is not possible to see the West and East ends; the South wall just fades off into the haze. The wall and its towers are monotonic gray, covered with many years of coal soot. The top of the wall is wide and flat, and even sees an annual marathon. Over the years, and particularly during the Cultural Revolution, many people had taken stones and bricks from the wall, but there have been efforts to restore it. The city has even asked locals to make bricks according to specifications, and they are allowed to inscribe their names and dates on the replacement bricks. As we walk along, many of these bricks are visible lining the walkway. The city wall is also surrounded by a well-kept moat.
After the wall, it was time for the next factory tour, in this case a Lacquerware factory. They showed tschochkes, screens, and furniture, but instead I walked around the old converted residence and shot pictures of the only 9-dragon tile wall outside of the Forbidden City.
From there we visited the Big Wild Goose Tower, which is on the grounds of the Buddhist Temple which holds the first complete Buddhist documents brought to China from India by the monk Xuan Zang. Like most such buildings, it has been burned and reconstructed several times. Also like most such places, it seems areligious, merely a repository of (in this case, important) relics. Focus is on the impressive pagoda and the new museum, not on the empty temple. If the air were not so polluted, the view from the top of the pagoda might be impressive, but it seems that it would have merely been a big wild goose chase.
Lunch - I don't remember what or where, but I'm sure that the pictures will remind me...or not
The Xi'an airport is new, built for the increasing tourist hordes. As we waited for the flight, however, it was hot and crowded. The flight, on a new CA Boeing 777 was not full, and the live camera showing the takeoff and landing astounded many of the people. (Yawn) Our arrival in Beijing was met with hard rain and lightning. Since many of the people were not feeling well, including Lucy, few wanted to go to dinner. Unlike the arrival in Xi'an, it seemed that Lucy's mood was not so…egalitarian. Instead, she suggested that the three who wanted to go could be dropped off and retrieved while the rest of us were taken to the Landmark Towers hotel. As it turned out, the Beijing Hard Rock Café is in the Hotel, so a few people wandered over there for a burger and to make their eardrums bleed.
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What happened at the Wall, and why is it called the Forbidden City if there is a Starbucks?