Xi’An’s claim to fame is the Terracotta Warriors, thought the city itself has historical meaning as well. It is an ancient city that is surrounded by a 9 mile long wall. It also has a moat. The moat is currently being renovated and will eventually be filled with water.
The Warriors aren important archeological find that was discovered by farmer Yang in 1974. He was digging a well and found shards of pottery. Like any good Chinese Communist, he notified the local officials. They were very appreciative and paid him a whopping 30 Yuan (about $5) for the find. They also “relocated” him off of his land and started the excavation of the site which continues today.
The Warriors guard the Emperor’s Tomb. The tomb itself has not been excavated since it has a mechanism that will shoot poison arrows at anyone entering. Until technology finds a way to enter without killing the archeologists, the tomb remains as it was when the emperor was interred there. It is a massive tomb – many acres large – and contained in a man-made hillside.
Before visiting the site, we would make several stops along the way. The first stop was by far my favorite – a visit to Qing Qing Park (Qing means happiness, so double happiness). This park was originally the setting for the Imperial Palace. These days it serves as a recreational facility for the many elderly citizens in Xi’An. Since virtually everyone in China lives in a high-rise apartment, parks are very important to its citizens. Seniors go to the park daily from 6:30 to 10:00 am for a variety of recreational opportunities. We saw (and participated in) tai chi, led by an 80-something tai chi master. We saw groups of elderly playing hackysack. We joined in with a group of fan dancers. Gate 1 provided us each with a fan so we could fit in with the group.
As we continued our stroll through the park we passed by a musical groups playing Chinese horns (I don’t know what they are actually called). The musical notations were interesting.
One of the more unique experiences was the groups of choral singers, accompanied by bands. Our guide told us that they were singing songs praising Chairman Mao. Some of them were singing “la la la” so I guess not everyone knew the words! I must say that it was impressive to hear that many united voices. We were herded to the front of the group which was a bit awkward. In honor of our visit, they switched to an American song – Jingle Bells. Too funny! They then sang a Mongolian folk song and we moved along towards the local “happy room”. Just like the Vietnamese, Chinese call toilets happy rooms. This one wasn’t too happy – no western toilets at all. Outside the happy room was some exercise equipment that was being used by many of the elderly citizens. Most amazing to me was the group of strong gymnasts performing feats of great strength and flexibility. I wish we had more time to watch them.
Instead, we were herded back to the entrance to the park. Several men were writing poems on the ground in calligraphy. They use water, so their work eventually evaporates. Another dance group was outside the park gate, getting ready to perform. Retirement age in China is 55 for women and 60 for men. This is the generation that existed before the failed “one couple, one child” policy, so there are many, many seniors here. There are so many that the government is going to raise the retirement age by 5 years because here are too many elderly to support. Of course, the amount of social security they receive is very small; not enough to survive on which is why most elderly live with their children and grandchildren.
I could’ve easily skipped our next stop completely. We were visiting a Terracotta Museum – aka shopping opportunity. We were shown how the warriors were made – molded out of clay, dried, and eventually baked in a kiln. We even could have had a bust or complete warrior made that looked exactly like us! I do think it would be amusing to carry one of these through airport security. Imagine the looks you would get!
This particular gift shop sold an incredible array of tourist goods. You could get an umbrella here for a mere $7. However, the same umbrella would cost $1 to $2 elsewhere. All of their goods seemed overpriced. I think it would have been cheaper to buy most of them in the US. Goods advertised (and priced) as 100% silk had the look and feel of polyester. And, to add insult to injury, after wasting a bunch of time in the gift shop, we then had to go upstairs to the lacquer furniture factory. A few of us went ahead of the rest of the group and skipped the tour of the “factory”; we were able to find a table to sit at and drink tea until everyone caught up to us. A few people in the tour told us they thought that these shopping stops were required by the Chinese government. In a way, I hope so because if I paid money to the tour company for a tour of China and instead, they wasted hours of my time on shopping stops, I would be quite upset. I do understand that there are people in every group that enjoy shopping but when you are forced to go along, that is a problem.
We had lunch in a nice hotel. We were told it would be in an elegant Oriental hotel. Wasn’t I surprised when we drove up to the place and it was literally called, “Elegant Oriental Hotel”! We were treated to the Chinese version of western food for lunch. Some had spaghetti – the choices were ground beef or tomato sauce. I wasn’t sure if the first choice was plain noodles with ground beef (don’t laugh – I have had some really odd interpretations of western food cooked by Asian cooks!), so went with the other option – chicken with rice. The meal was delicious. It turns out the spaghetti was with bolognese sauce so that would have been a good choice as well. The best part of the elegant hotel was the elegant toilets (happy rooms here).
Finally, it was time to go to see the Terracotta Warriors. The Terracotta Warriors and Emperor’s tomb were created by 720,000 workers over 38 years. It is the largest mausoleum in the world. The tomb itself is very deep so there has been no grave robbing (I am sure the poison arrows have helped a bit in that regard as well). The army of warriors is actually 1 mile east of the actual tomb. Each warrior weighs from 220 to 660 lbs. and is 5 to 6 feet tall. They are not all the same – the facial features vary. Perhaps the artists that created them put their own faces on the warriors! There are also horses and chariots. The spears the warriors carried were made of wood and so have disintegrated with age.
It was obvious when we pulled up that we would be joined by thousands of our closest friends – this is a very popular tourist attraction. Most of the visitors were Chinese, but we did find a few other non-Chinese tour groups.
After getting our tickets and going through a security check, we rode on golf carts to the actual site. Wheelchairs were available if you wanted someone to push you. After hopping off of the carts we met up in front of Pit #1.
If you have been pictures of the warriors, this is the pit you have seen. The pit itself is enormous. The roof of the building covering the warriors collapsed on top of them, shattering most of them. So, the 2000 or so in pit #1 are the ones that have been painstakingly recreated. Originally the warriors were colorfully painted but as soon as the clay was exposed to oxygen, it faded. This is another reason the emperor’s tomb has not been excavated. It is hoped that with new technology that the painting will be able to be preserved when the objects contained within are removed and exposed to air. Of course, you cannot actually go into the pits to view the warriors but there is a viewing area around the entire pit. On a side note, it was a relatively warm day when we visited (in the 80’s) and it was very, very warm inside the pit. It was also very crowded and difficult to get to the railing to actually see the warriors in certain areas of the pit. You have to be assertive and elbow your way forward or you won’t see anything other than people’s heads! I would hate to visit in the summer when the temperature exceeds 100 degrees; it would be flat-out miserable.
We were given 45 minutes to view the warriors and then met up again with our guide before being given another 45 minutes to view the next two pits. We were told that pit #2 contained 1,000 cavalry. From what we saw in pit #2, it contained the shards of 1,000 cavalry that had not yet been reconstructed. We did not walk around the entire perimeter but those that did said that the entire site was that way.
Pit #3 contained the chariots. Chariot #1 had been broken into 1500 pieces before being rebuilt. We were shown pictures of the chariots before entering; they looked spectacular. We made an attempt to view them but there were so many people in the building (this one was fairly small). All were pushing and shoving. It was such a miserable experience that we gave up. If you are the least bit claustrophobic, this is not going to be your cup of tea. By this time in the day, we were hot and tired and not in the mood. What I really wish is that we had been taken to see the warriors earlier in the day, before lunch and had made the shopping stop (fake Terracotta Warriors/Lacquer Furniture) AFTER lunch. I guess this is one of my issues with doing a group tour; the schedule does not always make sense to me. We would’ve enjoyed several sites much more if they hadn’t been scheduled late in the day when it was hot and we were tired. Bah Humbug!
We had signed up for an optional Tang Dynasty Dinner with dance performance tonight but decided we were too tired to enjoy it. To make it worse, we had an early morning flight the next day and so would have to get up at the crack of dawn after getting in late. Another poor scheduling issue, in my mind. So, the people going to the dinner theater were dropped off at the venue and then the rest of us were taken back to the hotel. We found a Burger King nearby and indulged in some good old American junk food.