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Sunday, November 6, 2016

Xi'an, days one and two

We basically just went to Xi'an for the Terra-Cotta Warriors, and they did not disappoint! Nor did the rest of the visit: we had a new guide, Rocky, who was both very pro-communist party and very hurt by them. It was very interesting to talk to him (conversationally. As a guide he was no good at all: memorized script, inflexible, could answer exactly zero questions, and at one point we ditched him). He had grown up in Xi'an but, he admitted, moved away because there was never enough food. His perspective was interesting, and Xi'an was set in a pretty, rural farm area. It's full of history, with more being discovered (or unearthed) every day.
Of course, any good National Geographic subscriber knows about the Terra-Cotta Warriors, ten thousand clay figures set up to guard Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di's tomb. But seeing them in person was almost overwhelming.
It's hard to even comprehend the scope of the site. This is pit #1. There are three active pits.

The museum is actually an active archeological site, with more figures being unearthed and repaired constantly, and it's basically just a bunker built over the dirt. It's a UNESCO heritage site, so it is being carefully preserved. Like everywhere you went, no big deal, bring your gigantic full water bottle in. It's not like you might launch it right into the pit, shattering and drowning priceless artifacts or anything.
The color is still visible on this archer.

He's missing his bow: the statues included real weapons, but they
either rotted if wood or were looted by peasants during later revolts. 

I'm afraid that my photos do this site injustice. It's massive, with three separate pits, and several soldiers in glass so you can get a closer look. One is preserved in nitrogen, which has protected the color: when the warriors were unearthed, they were brightly painted, but exposure to oxygen caused to the color to immediately fade.
Area still under excavation

Repaired and drying warriors behind us

In some areas, workers busily fit broken pieces together or excavate new sections. I wish I could have talked to the workers - the process and history is so interesting to me! I've realized that art plus history always gets my attention, and the Terra-Cotta Warriors fit the bill. These guys were a huge highlight of the trip.

The Xi'an wall

Yay, Communism! Building hideous housing since 1949!

Inside the wall: a temple

It rained, so we bought these snazzy ponchos

Also in Xi'an we biked the top of the city wall. We were happy it was preserved, although after Rocky told us that the Chinese government has built the highway under the city wall to preserve it, we thought he meant a tunnel and were chagrined to see gigantic arches cut into the ancient walls. The Ming dynasty walls have been repaired over the years, and now you can bike around the city, looking in on the old city inside the walls and the new city outside. We enjoyed the historical plaques about the walls that described methods and tools of warfare used to attack or defend the walls: this was one of the very few places that had written information about a site (in any language).
I'm full because I had a beer as big as my torso with lunch. One of the bright sides of a language barrier! 

Later, we visited the Muslim quarter, a loud and bustling area full of street food, trinkets, and people. Pomegranates are a major crop in Xi'an, and we bought freshly-squeezed pomegranate juice. We were too full from another gigantic guide-purchased lunch to eat anything, but street vendors offered skewers of meet sliced right off carcasses dangling in front of the stalls. The next day, we mostly just went to the Xi'an museum, which has many artifacts with labels in both Chinese and English. This was a miserable experience. The museum was packed, and I mean packed, to the point that you could barely move. The crowds were aggressive and almost belligerent, and we couldn't get anywhere near the displays. The museum obviously sold more tickets than the museum could hold! All of our guides everywhere encouraged us to push and shove our way to the front, because that was normal in China, but that's just one of those cultural differences we weren't comfortable with. So we edged through the museum and came out with just one massive bruise from an umbrella jabbing and counted ourselves lucky.

By the way, running in Xi'an was the best: around the outside of the wall but inside the moat was a walking and running path. It was pretty and peaceful, except the people in Xi'an were the most pushy, shove-y people I've ever met. I was laughing while it was raining: people would prefer to battle it out with their umbrellas rather than move one inch to the side and give up ground. Despite the shoving and elbow-jabbing, I enjoyed these runs immensely!

We left Xi'an the afternoon of our second day there. And that is when I had the worst airport experience of my life, so I will take a break from these photo-laden posts to do a post on China travel. It was pretty dramatic.


  1. Xi'an sounds really interesting. The terra-cotta warriors look like such an interesting display. I have to admit to my complete ignorance about this part of the world, though. I know so little about China's history and culture. The pushing and shoving sounds awful. I hate hate hate crowds so I would not do well in that environment. It's too bad that they sell too many tickets.

    I love a good travel story (but I hate dealing with bad travel experiences). So I am looking forward to reading about your experience but will be glad I didn't have to experience it personally!

  2. Xi'an was my favorite place to run in all of China I think!