Silk Road, terra cotta warriors
14.09.2015 - 14.09.2015
Two nights in Xi'an, main goal, to see the terra cotta warriors, an amazing archaeological find in 1974. Thousands of six foot tall terra cotta soldiers with intricate detail, each unique, as well as chariots and life size terracotta horses were buried near Emperor Qin Shihuang's tomb over 2000 years ago. 700,000 workers laboured nearly 40 years and were then buried alive in the tomb, a thankless job! Archaeological work is still underway, scientists are figuring out how to preserve the original colour which up until recently faded away once exposed to oxygen.
Xi'an was China's most important city until the ninth century, and is still the capital of Shaanxi Province. It is located at the southern-most point of the historic Silk Road.
We arrived in Xi'an at 530 am by train from Chengdu. We had a 'soft sleeper' and two other passengers shared the space. We only used the lower bunk as neither of us felt spry enough to climb into the upper. I did not sleep a wink.
It was a long trip, we left Chengdu about 130 pm - and chugged along in a north easterly direction for 16 hours. It was not a high speed train, stopped frequently, not restful at all. The distance was only 742 km - a really poky train.
In Xi'an our first taxi driver dropped us off in the wrong district and we had to catch a second cab to get to the Ancient City Hostel and we were given our room right away - it is now 630 am. Private bath, two twin beds, pretty basic but clean enough. There was a restaurant/bar on the premises and an elevator.
My Couchsurfing contact, Jeff, met us at the hostel at 4. This was now our fourth encounter with a Couchsurfer in China and although I had brought along little gifts I had not actually given anything away yet. We had eaten all the chocolate, we had nothing else to give!! Therefore, I was determined to give him the red golf shirt with the Calgary Flames logo on it that was taking up space in my suitcase. Since it had not been made in China I considered it an appropriate gift. He was not familiar with hockey but was gracious in accepting a souvenir from Canada. We visited awhile in the hotel bar and then walked around the Muslim section.
In ancient times the bell tower signaled the time at the start of the day and the drum tower served this purpose in the evening. The bell was rung every day at dawn for four hundred years.
The Bell Tower marks the centre of the ancient city of Xi'an and is the largest and best preserved bell tower in China.
Not to brag but I actually gave Jeff his English name. When we met I asked him to repeat his name so we could try to say it correctly. "I don't have an English name" he told me and asked what I could suggest. His Chinese name started with a J sound so we started rattling off names - first Jim, "that's very common," was his response. "my son's name is Jeff" I told him. Then we suggested Jared, Justin, etc but he liked Jeff so he became my Chinese son. He taught ping pong and gourd flute at a local college. "Perhaps you could help me find a gourd flute,' I mentioned as we walked around the Muslim shopping district. Long story short the next evening we met again and he gave me a gourd flute - beautiful, painted, drones and in a case. He sells them online.
We had supper in a busy restaurant, we ate the local dish of flat bread and mutton soup/stew.
We broke the bread as instructed and when the bowl was full of little breadcrumbs staff took it away and returned with a steaming hot bowl of meat, noodles, bread, with a slimy texture - it was super tasty. Within 12 hours I was having stomach issues but we all ate it so must have been something else.
Jeff advised us to forego the terra cotta warrior tour offered by the hostel, it was easy and cheap to take a bus.
Terra Cotta Army
There was a long line up for the terra cotta warrior bus but we were on our way in less than an hour driving from the ancient capital city of Xi'an past the old city wall, through the modern part, eight million people live in Xi'an, into the country. It is about 35 km, and along the way we pass many produce stands and see corn drying on the side of the road.
There is a large compound with lots of street stalls around the Museum of Qin Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses - good enough place to buy souvenirs, they will bargain too.
The Terra Cotta Warriors: Pit 1 is the essential point of interest as this is where the excavated warriors that have been put back together and cleaned up are located. It really is impressive, the huge clay army was buried near the emperor, Qin Shi Huang to protect him in the afterlife
Qin Shihuang was the first emperor of a united China - he started the great wall, standardized the money and writing system and built a lot of infrastructure. He was paranoid about being assassinated.
The basic religion he followed was Legalism, absolute power to the emperor. Qin banned most religion, killed most scholars and burned a lot of books. He wanted history to start with his rule.
Legalism emphasizes the need for order above all things. Force was required and during the Qin dynasty it is thought the population was decreased by half. By fear of death the population was molded to obey the emperor. In China Legalism was kind of a harsh brother to Confucianism. Both philosophies embraced strong central rule, Confucianism is more benevolent. During Qin's rule all but the original version of Confucius' writings were destroyed and it is thought that in a skirmish in the years following Qin's death the library holding the originals was burned to the ground.
Qin built the largest single tomb in the history of the world. The huge terra cotta army would enable him to rule forever in the afterlife.
Qin Shi Huang is buried deep under a hill surrounded by a moat of mercury. To date, science has not come up with a safe way to excavate. Pretty clever for two thousand years ago.
In the evening our friend from yesterday delivered his gifts, the gourd flute and calligraphy of our names prepared by his father who is a calligraphy master. We are overwhelmed and don't know the protocol - what to do? Too bad he only drinks water, we could buy him a drink in the bar. As he sat with us explaining the calligraphy and what it said, what the stamps meant, etc a young man, Nick, at the next table got involved in our conversation. He was from Kansas and spoke very good Mandarin. So he sat with us also and there was a mixed bag of Chinese and English.
When our second Couch Surfing contact, Kai, arrived, It really looked like we were happening people, lots of friends. Introductions all around, Jeff left and Nick hung in for awhile. Kai was a very dynamic individual, a CSI cop, a body builder, kind of an American slant to his proficient English, he had hosted so many Canadians and Americans he knew quite a bit about our ways and our differences. In China it is common for parents of one child to put the child through college, buy their first apartment and babysit their grandchildren. Then it is common for the child to look after his parents in their old age. Well, folks, if you put your kids through college, bought their first home, and provided free child care, it should be payback time.
It isn't every single good looking guy who spends two and a half hours on a Saturday night with a couple of old ladies so our admiration for Kai is boundless.
Our last day in Xi'an was Oct 11 - another fine sunny day, we decided to go to the Shaanxi History Museum near the Wild Goose Pagoda before taking the train to Pingyao.
It was Sunday, part of the National Holiday period, the lineup for tickets was enormous. After we waited at least one hour in line they closed the ticket office for twenty minutes. Since the tickets were free, (you have to show your passport, then you get a ticket), we decided to stick it out. We really saw very little of this huge museum, a few terra cotta warrior models, some pots. I like these three legged pots mainly because of the design of the Shanghai Museum:
I recommend Ancient City Hostel. It is right next door to a Police Station. It serves reasonable meals and drinks, the bar area is pleasant, our room was pretty bare bones, but quiet, and the location is excellent, walking distance to the Muslim section, the bell and drum towers plus they offer tours. The staff is pleasant, help arrange for taxis, and there is a lift. For one or two nights, if you don't mind a hard bed, and most beds in China are hard, then stay here.
We are taking the high speed train to Pingyao. It is 525 km but with the train travelling at over 200 km per hour it won't take long - we have first class soft seats, should be fun.