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Warriors, Dancers and Cyclists

24 Hours in Xi'an

overcast 16 °C

Our flight out of JG was delayed, which left us with more than five hours to kill at the airport on Thursday with only noisy Chinese tourists for entertainment, a few muffins and pieces of banana bread ‘liberated’ from the breakfast buffet for lunch, and too many smelly Chinese toilets to count. We caught up on some blog entries and played UNO while bus-load after bus-load of Chinese engaged in hand-to-hand combat to get to the front of the check-in or security lines. The terribly smart armed Chinese soldiers patrolling the airport have long since given up trying to induce any kind of order, so it must be a relief for them when they see some western folk! When it was finally time for us to proceed through security, we did of course have to execute our now-perfected three-person body-block to defend our position at the front of the line from the natives.

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We did invite these observers to play UNO with us, but they seemed happier watching!

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We arrived in Xi’an at about six o’clock, which left us with less than 24 hours before Martin would leave us on the first leg of his journey back to the UK. Only 24 hours and five things on our Xi’an ‘to-do’ list: visit the Terracotta Warriors (of course!), cycle around the city wall, eat an 18 course dumpling lunch, visit the Giant Goose Pagoda, and take in a ‘culture’ show highly recommended by my trusty Frommer’s. We’ve become quite expert at identifying logistical requirements when we arrive in each new location, and as soon as we had checked in we set about enabling our ‘to-do’s’. We first secured tickets for the dinner/culture show that would start almost imminently, and then engaged a driver to move us from place to place on Friday.

Logistics arranged, we arrived at the Tang Dynasty Theatre Restaurant and enjoyed some tea before being taken to our table in the huge, cabaret style theatre. The Theatre was apparently built by a Hong Kong entrepreneur who realized that masses of western tourists travel significant distances to Xi'an to see the Warriors, but have little else to do in the smog-intense city. And even though the show was primarily targeted at western tourists (and - for the first time since we arrived China - we were surrounded by them!), I have to say that it was extremely well done. The food (chicken in 'special' sauce, mushroom consomme, crispy fresh king prawns etc) was really rather good, and the entertainment was lavish and of a high quality. While few Chinese paid for dinner among the western groups, there were perhaps almost a hundred or so sitting at the back of the theatre enjoying the show with a drink and snack.

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In an attempt to avoid the crowds, we headed out early on Friday, arriving at the Terracotta Warriors (about an hour’s drive out of Xi’an) shortly after opening at 8am. To get the most out of the experience, we hired a tour guide for 100 yuan (about US$13), and headed for the first of three pits. The Warriors are more than 2000 years old, but were discovered quite recently; by a farmer, in fact, who stumbled across them while digging a well in 1974. As an aside, the farmer is doing well, and was signing autographs in the gift shop was anyone who would pay the required fee.

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The Warriors did not fail to impress.

When the Warriors were discovered, they were nearly all in various states of disrepair. Five feet underground, the wooden ceiling above the Warriors had collapsed. Some say the chambers were deliberately sabotaged, and the wooden ceilings were burnt. Either way, the ceilings had collapsed, breaking the 6,000 terracotta artworks.

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According to our guide, only one kneeling archer has so far been found intact due the fact that he was shorter than the standing Warriors. The fact that there are any standing Warriors at all is testament to thousands and thousands of painstaking hours of restoration: literally a massive 2000 year old jigsaw.

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Aside from being the only intact Warrior to date, the kneeling archer is also notable because of the color on his back. Originally, all the Warriors were painted in vivid colors. However, the paint fades very quickly when exposed to natural light and, for this reason, many of the pits have been deliberately left untouched – or even refilled - until the appropriate technologies can be developed to ensure that the magnificent blues, yellows and reds can be conserved. The Terracotta Warriors are a World Heritage Site, so no doubt that effort is international (the Germans were named as key partners). In the meantime, restoration continues on the Warriors already uncovered.

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At the back of Pit 1, there is an entire area dedicated to ongoing restorations. These are some of the recent graduates.

Anyway, the Warriors were built by Emperor Qin Shi Huang during his 37 year reign (247-210 BC) to protect him during the afterlife. The first pit – now only partially excavated – contains eleven columns each more than 500 feet long. Each column’s width accommodates four soldiers, and the whole display is laid out in the battle formation of the time. Soldiers are distinguishable from Officers according to their hairstyle and, though we didn’t check it out, we’re told that every face is different as it was prepared individually. This was possible as the heads are separate from the hollow bodies; an air vent was essential so that the bodies didn’t explode in the kiln! Once complete, the head plugs into the neck socket. Even though the bodies may have been more ‘standardised’, the detail is staggering: from the armour worn by each Warrior, to the hairstyles and even the weapons. This wasn’t a mock up of an army. This was the real deal, just with oversized Terracotta soldiers. I guess it might have been cruel to entomb more than 6,000 real Warriors to protect the Emperor, although you could argue that it was equally cruel to have more than 720,000 workers toil for more than 30 years to build the replica!

After the Warriors, we headed back to Xi'an. We had planned to have some Dumplings for lunch, but had enjoyed enough dumplings at the Show last night, so we all agreed to remove that from the to-do list. That left the Pagoda and the City Wall.

Perhaps it was because we could scarcely see the Pagoda through smog so thick our breathing was laboured, or maybe the masses of Chinese tourists, but we weren't too impressed by the actual Pagoda itself (even if it was started in 652!). At least now we can say we visited the set of the infamous TV series 'Monkey'! Actually, I preferred the brightly painted buldings that surrounded the pagoda.

We were soon off to the City Wall to rent some bikes to ride the 9 mile loop. Our guide book suggested two hours, but we only had one and a half hours to complete the ride (and get back to the hotel in time for Martin's transfer to the airport), so we set off at a furious pace. The Wall is rectangular in layout, with four Gates. Atop the Wall, we were surprised to find a very wide - maybe 50 feet or so - stone path. We rented the bikes - for about US$2.50 each - and set about bumping our way around the very uneven stone path. The chain kept falling off my bike, and the bike stand was happier down than up, but we had a lot of fun on our bone-breakers, and greatly enjoyed the ride.

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Unfortunately, shortly before we reached the half-way point, we came across a section of wall undergoing maintenance which meant it was impossible to ride all the way round. We bumped our way back, and then found a taxi to get us back to the hotel.

A little later, it was time to say 'farewell' to Martin so he could fly to Beijing where he will pick up his return flight to the UK. Martin is a superb travel companion who added much to our China experience (including British biccies, an improved itinerary, and a wicked sense of humour). We miss you already, Martin!

Posted by jacquiedro 18:23 Archived in China Tagged round_the_world

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