Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[travel] Xi'an day 5, the day that was and the terracotta army

Yesterday started once more with the usual eccentric Asian breakfast, and some bloggie goodness. After breakfast I needed to change some money, before we headed out for the jade factory then to the big item on the day's agenda the terracotta army.

Boy was changing money a treat. I went to the bank next door to our hotel with the guide. Took a number, stood in line for a while, discovered they didn't accept traveler's checks, so I gave them $100 in mixed small bills. They run all the bills here through a counterfeit detector, even the ones. I had a lot of ones. Many of them were grubby. This took a while. The teller was very patient, and no one got huffy, and it eventually became funny.

Once that was straightened out, we went out to saddle up for a visit to a jade gallery. The hotel is next to the old city wall (the old, old city wall, actually), which is pretty cool.

Old city wall

There's a newer old city wall, from the medieval days of Chang'an as the capital of China, which they have rebuilt and maintained as a linear park enclosing downtown. I will post photos of it later. This one is rammed earth, and I'm not sure if it was ever faced with brick or stone, but it just oozes a sense of ancient presence, even vine-covered amid traffic.

We took the van over to the jade gallery, where we got another discussion of the types and history of jade. Also got to see a work room with jade artisans.


After that, we were into the showroom, with some very fine jade pieces indeed. Lots of other stuff, including some fairly weird Western statuary. Small gifts were bought by all for various parties, because they had some neat little bits of jade statuary very cheap.

In order to leave the jade showroom, we had to pass through an antique furniture showroom (oh, to have that kind of budget) then one full of clothing and fabric. and Mother of the Child did more shopping there.

Finally, we were out and off toward the terracotta army. We made a lunch stop along the way, at a tourist restaurant which served a prix fixe menu and had an enormous gift shop through which you had to pass to enter and leave the dining room. (Are you sensing a theme here?) Lunch was okay, not fabulous, though we definitely had some new dishes. Potatoes in sugar water, for example like silver thread bananas but without the bananas.

On the way out, more shopping ensued. Mother of the Child bought some Qing dynasty sunglasses, which I rocked for the camera.

Styling it Qing

Then out to the almost countryside where they have the museum.

The history of this is fascinating. Wikipedia covers it pretty well here, but basically, in the second century BC the emperor Qin Shihua Ling had a funerary army made to be buried with him. Every soldier in the army has a distinct face, apparently done from life, and there are many body types and poses. It has to be one of the largest art projects in the world. A year after he died, the buried armies were smashed and burned in a peasant uprising, then the location was lost until 1974 when they were rediscovered by a farmer digging a well. Out of the thousands of figures, only one survives intact.

This story has so many resonances for Westerners. The king under the mountain ‐ Arthur, Barbarossa. The golem of Prague, writ across an entire army. Buried treasure and lost hoards and the romance of ancient crowns.

The reality is even more impressive and romantic. The Chinese have done a fantastic job of preserving and presenting the site, with different sections of the digs in different states.

The historical details are amazing. There are 2,300 year old brick walls down in the pits which are the oldest brickwork in China. The warriors stand on the original tile floor. The jigsaw puzzle aspect of re-assembling them will consume generations of graduate students. Some of the warriors still have their original paint. They've done anthropological studies on the faces and determind that most of the army were Mongols, who tend to be larger physically than Han Chinese. You can see sly faces, lazy faces, tired faces.

These are real people, looking at you across 2,300 years of time. When Flickr permits, I am going to post a photo essay. Meanwhile, here's a shot from the pits.

Terracotta warrior

Of course, we couldn't get out without souvenirs. They were doing these three dimensional your-face-on-a-warrior things. and I each got one. We were photographed in headgear of the warrior style:

The Child poses

Then a lucite block was made with each of our faces, over a warrior body. When I can figure out how to photograph that, I will.

There were some other odd things. The hall with the bronze chariots had a puppet from the 2008 Olympic Opening Ceremonies.


Talk about golems!

I'll do a lot more with this when I can upload full photosets.

After we left the terracotta army, we drove back to town. Chinese traffic can be exciting. At one point, our side of the divided highway was running in two directions.


Note the police car on the right. Also, is it just me, or is it weird to have Buick minivans serving as police cars?

A discussion of the pomegranate orchards of Shaanxi province revealed some deficiencies in my botany research for Green. Our guide was much amused at the image of the book cover. Oh well.

After that, we had a break at the hotel. We were picked up again at 6:30 to go to the Tang Dynasty Dinner Theater. Another fixed menu meal, in a traditional style with chicken, mushroom soup, prawns, beef, and dim sum. This was accompanied by traditional Chinese music. After dinner they staged a series of dances and musical performances in the court style.


The theatre was one of the swankiest places I've ever been. Even the bathrooms were five star. Food was ok, and while Tang recitals will never be a personal favorite, it was quite interesting.

Off to breakfast shortly, then the flight to Chengdu. Not sure of the schedule once we get there, but pandas are involved. More to come soon.

Originally published at jlake.com.

Tags: books, child, china, green, personal, photos, travel

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