Sunday, September 8, 2013

Welcome to Xi'an, Please Don't Disturb the Emperor

Due to the high tourist season in China, I was not able to get a train from Guilin to Xi'an so, I was flying. After a few 25-30 hour train trips, I was excited to have a short flight. I met a family that forced their 12 year old son to practice speaking English. The poor boy was embarrassed and shy but he did a good job. Then, he found another girl that spoke excellent English and she and her family took me under their wing. I got to see all of their vacation photos and was given a list of places to visit on my next trip to China. When the airline announced (only in Chinese) that the flight had moved to another gate, they pulled me along. When we arrived in Xi'an, they grabbed my arm and took me to the airport shuttle bus and insisted on making certain I made it to my hostel safely. They refused to let me pay for the trip. Another wonderful family that wanted to make certain I was safe and enjoyed my stay in their country. They dropped me off at my hostel and waved goodbye as they drove away. Another moment of kindness from strangers. I need to remember to pay it forward when I return to the USA. Would we do this in the USA for a foreigner? I hope so.

My hostel, Han Tang House, was exactly what I needed. The staff was friendly and helpful and it was a great place to meet other travelers. I chatted with a few travelers as I checked in. I was offered a welcome beer but turned it down. Surprise! I know, must be a first! I was exhausted and ready for bed. It was 1 AM and I only had a few days before moving on.  The next morning, I met a few more travelers at breakfast and we shared our plans for the day. I wanted to bike the city wall before it was too hot. They laughed and said they were awakened by growling stomachs. They were eating and returning to bed. They would all bike the wall later. I walked to the south gate and navigated myself through the busy traffic and up to the top of the wall where I found what I was looking rental. The Xi'an city wall is one of the best preserved city walls in China at 7kn (8 miles) in length and 40 ft. high. I leisurely cycled the wall while I listened to the Chinese music playing on a loudspeaker. I realized I was smart to do this early in the day, it was 36C already! Some of my friends went in the afternoon when it was 43C and gave up half way. They said I should have insisted that they join me. Ha ha! I don't make anyone do anything. I spent the rest of the day leisurely exploring the city.

The next day, I had signed up for the tour to the famous Terracotta Warriors. Surprise! Yes, another tour. I did not have the energy to figure out the public buses in the heat. As I sat around the tables talking to tourists, I listened to one tell that the bus was not numbered and he spent hours trying to get to the sight. I looked around the table and everyone was going on the tour through the hostel. Why not? It was actually really good! Our guide was informative and efficient. She told us we were going somewhere and we went. No wandering around and no shopping. She opened her umbrella and told us to follow it or you will be left behind. Once people figured out she was not going to wait on you, everyone got together and moved. I wish more tours were like hers. At each stop, she explained the history and answered questions. Then she gave us a time to meet back at a location.  

I was intrigued by the life and history of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. What was the man like that was responsible for the Terracotta Warriors and the Great Wall? These are the 2 main attractions in China and they were both built under the reign of the same man. Our guide explained the Emperor's legacy beyond the famous sights. His major contributions were unifying China, developing a national road system and ordaining consistent laws, standardizing weights and measures, currency and written language. All of this was accomplished on the backs of slave labor and at the expensive of numerous lives. He was responsible for the burning of books and burying alive many Confucius scholars in an attempt to unify all thoughts and political opinions in China. These actions resulted in the loss of Chinese history and knowledge. Anyone was put to death that owned the books or was caught discussing the ideologies in these books. It is suspected Qin Shi Huang died due to the mercury pills he was ingesting. It is ironic that he thought these would allow him to be immortal.

The site of his tomb is 1.5 km from the Terracotta warriors. The small, forested hill (see photo above) has not been excavated. Supposedly, the tomb contains a wealth of wonders, including man-made streams to resemble the Yellow and Yangtze rivers flowing with mercury to mimic water and pearls inset in the ceiling to resemble the evening sky. Scientists have conducted tests of the area and found the mercury levels are 100 times higher than normal. Nobody knows for certain what is in the tomb. All of the workmen and the artists that built the tomb and warriors were killed. Experts also suggest 3000 concubines were buried alive to escort the Emperor into the afterworld. All of this will remain a mystery until technology exists which will allow excavation without damaging the artifacts.

In 1974, farmers were digging for a well and unearthed the buried vaults containing the terracotta warriors which are guarding the tomb of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang. This was the first pit that was discovered.
Pit #1- A panoramic shot to show the enormous size.

An estimated 7000 soldiers are lined up by rank and including infantry, calvary and chariots with horses facing east to protect him from a rival dynasty. The warriors are life-size with individual expressions resulting in no two looking the same. The hair, clothing and weaponry of each soldier describes their rank and position which the guide pointed out and explained.
Each of the statues was originally painted in vibrant colors. As excavation started, the lacquer started to curl in 15 seconds and the paint peeled off within 4 minutes after exposure. After years of excavation, scientists have developed a new technique that preserves the paint. We heard about it but did not get to see any colorful warriors. Our guide showed me a little blue paint on the back of the archer. I was surprised to learn the archaeologists have enough work with preserving the warriors to keep the staff busy for the next 20-30 years!! I will have to return in my retirement years to see what has changed.

Visiting the Tomb of Qin Shi Huang with the Terracotta Warriors was on my bucket list. I was ecstatic to see it. It was amazing and I realized Emperor Qin Shi Huang found eternal survival with a tomb that has survived 2,200 years. The inquisitive side of me wonders what is inside his burial tomb. For the time being, nobody will disturb the Emperor. He will continue to rest peacefully until technology figures out a way to safely enter his tomb and preserve the contents. I hope I live to see the Chinese unearth this well-preserved archeology site. If so, I will be packing a bag and ready to fly to Xi'an to explore the wonders of Qin dynasty. 

1 comment:

  1. Wow very nice blog of Xian tour. Thanks for sharing this beautiful post with us. Xian tour places are valuable gift given in the land of China. Hence the beauty of china is really very attractive and pleasant.