27 September 2016

Xi'an, China 2014

Xi'an was the terminus hub in China for the old Silk Road. Its overriding fame is for the legions of Terracotta Warriors excavated at the burial site of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. It is believed about 8,000 soldiers exist, most still unexcavated. Previously I had seen a travelling exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto.

Our hotel, Xi'an Grand Soluxe International for two nights, is within the large old walled part of the city; the location pleases us very much. First we visit the city wall, seventy-seven steps up (who's counting?). Beautiful view of the well-kept ancient wall, tree leaves are starting to bud. A small temple is situated near us. We stroll around as evening approaches, noting the careful restoration in some areas.

Our dinner venue is "Xi'an Ancient Capital Theatre" with vast seating for meal serving. Because we are having a Special Dumpling Dinner! What a highlight very ornately created, each kind has a poetic description such as "sailing boat-shaped steamed Jiaozi." The names and pictures are being flashed on a video screen as we eat but we are more absorbed in the scrumptious dumplings and their accompaniments. The plates keep arriving at our table, at least thirteen varieties.

The restaurant is packed. We are entertained with a "Tang Dynasty" performance of traditional music and dancing. Much easier to relax here than at the Peking Opera. Lovely dancers and notably a woman playing the zither, also an amazing guy making weird noises on the strangest horn.

Next morning we linger in a special park commemorating historical figures poets, philosophers – and a Buddhist temple, while waiting for the Shaanxi Museum to open. I love to see the groups of middle-aged/elderly people daily exercising; some do tai chi or martial arts practice or dance. Mao started this compulsory routine during the Cultural Revolution. A few practice writing Chinese characters with a long-handled mop and a bucket of water. On the edge of the park, army cadets are drilling. 2014 is the Year of the Horse.

The Museum is very rewarding, not crowded, plenty of time to see most exhibits. Always high security at museum entrances. Exquisite inlaid furniture. We see how they make clay replicas of the warriors to sell.

Onward to the obligatory jade "factory." Beautiful jewellery and intricate carvings of all sizes, almost like a priceless museum in itself. Our budgets are more suited to the pearl "factory" on a different day. Getting stuck for a while in a cargo elevator between floors makes for some uncomfortable moments! Outside, a warrior replica begs for attention.

At last, in the afternoon! To the Terracotta Warriors! It's a long walk back and forth to the site. Three pits are open to the public with appropriate exhibits, including a three-floor museum. One of the farmers who discovered the site, while digging a well back in 1974, is still living; he sits in the foyer autographing coffee-table books. The government built new housing for the displaced villagers and farmers (however, that didn't happen for some time).


Emperor Qin Shi Huang died in 201 BC. The burial site was built as an enormous sprawling monument with buildings and special landscaping, full of rare treasures so he could rule even after death. Many, many years to create. The uncovering of some 2,000 terracotta warriors is apparently the tip of the iceberg it's estimated there could be as many as 8,000 altogether. Each is an individually designed figure, originally painted in bright colours that rapidly flaked away upon exposure to the atmosphere. The emperor's actual inner tomb and many geographical features have not been excavated for health, safety, and technological reasons. Not only were mysterious booby traps planted against potential looters, but a great deal of deadly liquid mercury is present. Long-range planning for excavation and conservation is essential until more of the complex and its stunning artifacts can be revealed.
Lots of sightseers here, again few non-Asians. We have to keep moving around the pits. Each warrior is individually designed.
 A woman grabs me on our return trek and gobsmacks me by demanding in imperfect English, "How old are you?!" "Not a polite question," I smile, but she's persistent. I show her by extending my fingers. She happily trails us with her friends, excitedly speaking in their own language. Later I learn that age is greatly respected in general and it's a common question, asked admiringly. I still don't know if I was looking really ancient that day or if it was simple curiosity about a foreigner.

An awesome, exhausting day. The return trip into Xi'an is bad; traffic is almost at a standstill, long stops and stalls. Trucks line the shoulders of city expressways because regulations don't allow them on highways until a certain evening hour. We watch one woman get out of a car (as a passenger) and start walking. She had disappeared long before we reach an off-ramp a kilometre away. Unbelievably, we see a driver make a U-TURN in three-four lanes of one-way traffic and start inching back the wrong way. Road warrior!

A large tile wall at Xi'an Ancient Capital Thestre
  © 2016 Brenda Dougall Merriman

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