Sunday, September 23, 2012

2012 Asian Adventure - Clay And Duck.

Day 11

For the first time since the Yangtze cruise we actually got out of a city.  Our first stop of the day was a big one:  The Terracotta Army.

The terracotta army, life-size, detailed soldiers, archers, and chariots made from terracotta, was built as a memorial (like the pyramids of Egypt) to the founder of the Qin dynasty (Qin is pronounced Chin and is where China got its western name), the first imperial dynasty of China.  The soldiers, located in underground vaults, were built to protect and serve the emperor in the afterlife.  The construction of the mausoleum and terracotta army took almost forty years to build and almost 700,000 workers.  There are an estimated 8,000 life sized figures in the complex.  Not long after the fall of the dynasty, a later dynastic leader sent mobs to break into the vaults and destroy and burn everything they could find.  After their destruction, they were lost to the world until 1974, over 2,100 years.

The Terracotta Soldiers
In 1974 a group of farmers were digging a well when they pulled up several terracotta body parts.  The villagers thought the parts were cursed and the farmers who found them were forced to leave their village.  Several years later some of the discoveries were sent to a professor who recognized the significance of the find and the Chinese government began excavation.  In the 2,000s, during a visit to China, ex-President Clinton asked to meet the farmer who discovered the soldiers.  The Chinese were frazzled as they did not know where they were.  They eventually found one of the farmers and, after teaching him how to write some basic words (he was illiterate) was introduced to the President.  President Clinton asked for his autograph and the farmer, not knowing how to write his name, simply drew three circles (representing past, present, and future - a very Buddhist idea).  Soon after this, the organization that was excavating the site hired the farmer, Mr. Yang.  He now has a desk at the gift store where he autographs books and photographs.

We toured the museum and three excavated pits.  The soldiers, now all in pieces, are slowly being excavated and reconstructed.  It is interesting to see the jumbled pieces and the complete soldiers side by side.  I learn shortly before leaving on this trip that the original soldiers were all painted.  Unfortunately the paint crumbled to dust when the pieces were exposed to air.  They are doing a great job restoring the soldiers but still have a long way to go.

Pit One - The largest of the excavations open to the public.
While we were walking around Chinese high school students were cornering members of our group to ask them survey questions about the facilities, how they could be improved, what we didn't like, and stuff like that.  I managed to avoid them but the Wife was hit up a couple times though one student did give her a post card as a gift for answering her questions.

After lunch we stopped at a tea house where we were given a tea tasting and a demonstration of the "Tea Culture" (sometimes referred to as the Chinese Tea Ceremony).  I opted for a cup of hot chocolate instead (I usually don't like hot chocolate but that cup tasted rich and delicious).  The ceremony for making the tea is very elaborate.  I sat back and watched as other in our group tasted different teas.

Different types of tea.
After the tea room we headed back to the gift shop for one final walk through. The most common souvenir is a set of miniature terracotta soldiers.  As we walked around the excavation hawkers would jump out of the bushes (literally at times) trying to sell you cheap sets.  It turns out there is a factory nearby that manufactures replicas for the museum gift shop using clay from the same area as the terracotta soldiers.  The hawkers are selling the factory rejects.  One thing we noticed is that most of these cheap sets smelled like dung.  We joked it was yak dung.

We decided to spend a little extra and buy a set in the museum gift shop.  After we'd bought the set a member of our group asked if we'd had them signed by the farmer.  When we said no he said don't be one of those people who appear on Antiques Roadshow and discover your set is worth $500 but if they had been signed they would be $10,000!!!  We went over, payed the small signing fee, and got the base of each figure signed by Mr. Yang.  The Wife then proceeded to carry the terracotta soldiers in her carry on through the rest of China, Nepal, Bhutan, and India - we got some strange looks from the x-ray machine operators.

After the terracotta army we went to the obligatory stop at a shop - this one being a furniture store.  The furniture was very beautiful and very over priced and nothing was bought.  This China trip had more shopping than any of our other General Tour's trips.  In Peru we had only a one hour stop at a market.  In Jordan we had a one hour stop at a store where handicapped women made crafts to sell.  In China I lost count of the number of hours we spent stopping at "official" shopping stops.  I guess this is one way to keep tour costs down - get outside sponsors.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the wall that surrounds old Xi'an.  It's pretty impressive but we knew we would soon see the great wall and the Xi'an wall was good but not that great.  We did see a ceremonial changing of the guard with soldiers in period armor and uniforms.

Back to the hotel and up the elevator passed the nonexistent fourth floor - the number '4' is unlucky in China.  Interesting how a secular society is so full of superstition.  That night we had another burger which I augmented with a trio of chocolate (mousse, macaroon, and ice cream).

Day 12

Day seven started with flight number seven.  We flew into Beijing and slowly made our way through some terrible traffic to our hotel.  It was the fourth of July and we joked with our guide that we wanted american flags, hot dogs, and fireworks to shoot off in Tienanmen Square the next day (Actually we really didn't know which day was the fourth - the date line really screwed with us).  Malinda just looked at us and ignored our requests.  I was never sure if Malinda really understood our American sense of humor.

When we were out of the bus, Malinda would hold up a stuffed panda on a stick for us to follow.  In Xi'an we kidnapped the panda and left her a ransom note.  Malinda read the note and totally ignored it.  For a while we thought she might think we were making fun of her but she claimed to understand our humor.  I still wonder if she really did.

After a rest at the hotel - and some underwear laundering for me - we went to see the Chinese acrobats.  I didn't really take any pictures (it was too dark to really get any good pictures) but take my word for it, it was amazing.  So was the ice cream bar I had there.

From the acrobat show we went to a restaurant across from our hotel where we had our welcome to China meal.  "Wha?!?" you say?   Normally this China trip starts in Beijing and ends in Shanghai.  For the first time they reversed the order of the tour.  So, instead of a welcome dinner on our first stop in China, we were having a welcome dinner in our last stop of the China tour.  The meal was one of the best Chinese meals I've had with the highlight being Peking Duck.

Beijing after dark.
Many of our meals were included with our tour.  In China these meals included tea or coffee ... or any hot water based drink.  Sodas and ice water were not free and had to be paid for separately.  We all understood paying for soda but we were a bit confused about the water.  During our meal someone at our table had an idea: we ordered hot water on the rock.  The waiters talked it over a bit and decided that hot water on ice would be included with the meal for no extra charge.  Bizarre.

On the way back to the hotel a few of us visited the Wal-Mart next door from the hotel.  It didn't have quite the same feel as the one at home.  I didn't buy anything.

Later that night there was a knock on the door.  When we opened it there was a roll of toilet paper with, I kid you not, sausages on forks stuck in the roll making it look like an exploding fireworks.  Nothing like wienies and toilet paper to celebrate the fourth of July!  Our friends from San Diego were awesome and quite creative with what they found at the Wal-Mart.

The last twelve days had been really full and we still had two more full days left in Beijing.

Pictures from days eleven and twelve (07/03 - 07/04/2012) can be found in my 2012-06 China Google Photos album.

Our 2012 Asian Adventure continues ...

2 comments:

  1. I find it remarkably comforting that you always find ice cream no matter where you go. And yay for signed mini-soldiers! Whoopee!

    ReplyDelete