Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Powered by another delectable breakfast of Isogenics protein bar and Coke Zero, we were off to catch a public bus for an hour-long bus ride to the site of the terracotta warriors.
Despite the bus’ state of decrepitude, the early hour and the warm sun streaming through the windows had our group back fast asleep in minutes.

The site itself is massive – huge parking lots of buses and cars full of people. The terracotta warriors are one of the biggest attractions in China and millions come every year to marvel at the sight. We walked to the entrance gates and met our guide. Our guide who’d been with us throughout our trip was not allowed to serve in this area, as local guides protect their own economy. She was very knowledgeable and pleasant, though a perhaps a bit rushed. She dismissed my coffee-hopeful excitement at spotting a cafĂ© at the entrance, but mentioned there was a coffee-serving teahouse on the grounds we could possible stop at later on.

I have seen countless photographs and TV documentaries on the warriors, but nothing prepared me for the jaw-dropping sight when we entered the dome. Two football fields in size, Pit #1 houses approximately 6000 life-sized warriors, horses and chariots. Countess row upon row of armoured soldiers stand at perfect attention in the pit below. I was dumbstruck.

Pit#1 The Terracotta Army

Upon closer view, you could discern that each and every soldier was uniquely distinct in hairstyle, facial expression and size. It was uncanny and more than a little disturbing, especially with the chilled air and near-complete silence despite the hundreds of onlookers (the awe of the place silences EVERYONE).
It felt a lot like those sci-fi movies where the overly smug military brass and nerdy scientist types are watching the “dead” alien floating in the tank---- and all of a sudden it attacks!!! 
Plus, let’s not forget this is a gigantic gravesite, so the heeby-jeeby-don’t-wanna –be-here alone after dark vibe is pretty strong…

Side view near original wooden entrance, Terracotta Army

The Terracotta Army was created for the mausoleum of the first Chinese Emperor Qin She Huang @ 300BC. This emperor united the previous separate and warring state, built the Great Wall, set a uniform currency, written language, and standard weights and measures. He decided early (age 14) to get ready for the afterlife and had 74000 labourers working on the project for 30 years until his untimely death. Each warrior was crafted individually and took a couple weeks to complete from formation, to firing to painting and placement. They had all been  brightly painted but within 2 weeks of exposure to air, lost their colour completely. The site was discovered in 1974 by some local farmers digging a well. They unearthed part of a head, and realizing its importance, reported it to authorities.

Army was unearthed as rubble, and painstakingly restored

Archaeologists have now pinpointed 60 pits within a 56km radius, all part of Qin She Huang’s gravesite. They estimate there may be 60, 00 warriors, horses and chariots buried in the complex. Exponentially larger and more extensive than anything the Egyptian pharaohs ever did.

We viewed close up pictures of the warriors before they lost their colour, and you could see that even the fingernails and handprints were unique. The horses’ teeth were separately made- the detail and volume was staggering to comprehend.

All the warriors stood poised with weapons- but the weapons had either rotted away or been looted in a raid by another faction shortly after the emperor’s death. There were infantry, cavalry and archers.
The unique detail is staggering

Pit #2 housed an army headquarters and stables- only pottery officers and horses here. Pit #3 housed some of the archers and 2 exquisitely intricate bronze chariots.
We marvelled at the technology required to manufacture such quality and on such a scale almost 3000 years ago. According to our guide, the technology doesn’t exist today to fire clay at the temperatures that were used on the warriors, and the bronze work techniques used in the chariots is currently unknown and unmatched in modern times. Mind blowing.

After marvelling until our minds were numb, we retired to the teahouse for cappuccinos and admired the beautiful porcelain tea sets and cups for sale there. I had no room for (inevitably broken) tea sets in my back pack.

Gift shop jade statues- jade comes in many dfferent colours, though most commonly green

The group was quiet- the effect the sight of the terracotta army is just that stunning. We picked up a few souvenirs at the street hawkers, and enjoyed a meal at KFC before jumping our squalid public bus for a return trip home.

I need a  new winter coat... perhaps ocelot?

My mind was still reeling from what I’d seen, and the shrieking Chinese children’s cartoon and countless noisy cell-phone conversations was grating my nerves. Out of one eye a man was eating crabs and tossing the shells somewhere near the overflowing trashcan on in the aisle next to the step stools the ”illegal” overflow passengers were sitting on.
 One of my mottos for this trip was to enjoy the moment, but at that moment I felt better donning my iPod, cranking up Pink Floyd and putting another brick in the wall.

We had a couple hours respite before our planned outing to see the musical fountain and light show at the Great Goose Pagoda, so I took the opportunity for laundry and journaling.
We bussed down near the pagoda, and pooped into a great restaurant for supper, where I tried chrysanthemum tea for the first time- warm, light-tasting and refreshing!

Delicious meal of stir-fried chicken and peanuts with chrysanthemum tea

We crossed the busy thoroughfare to the pagoda, where there were probably 30 rows of fountains lined with trees adorned with Christmas lights. The effect was beautiful, especially with the pagoda in the background. The pagoda houses the earliest Buddhist relics brought to China from India.

In an instant, the music started and so did the fountain display- and we were al soaked! The fountain and light show went on for about a half hour and far does the one at the Bellagio in  Las  Vegas- the scale of  this event is 20X larger- the fountain site alone is the size of 2 football fields . It was incredible! I was so glad our guide recommended it- I hadn’t read about it in the trip literature or research.

Fountain and Light Show- Great Goose Pagoda, Xian

After the show, we decided as a group to test out the nearby Burger King (first we’d seen) for alignment with Western standards. According to David, the Whopper was WAY off- I wasn’t hungry but couldn’t resist buying the first salad I’d seen since arriving in China. I cradled it like the precious treasure it was back to our hotel- with plans to have it for supper on our next (UGGGGHHHH) overnight rain the next evening. At least the salad would be something to look forward to on that wretched commute.

I repacked my bags and bedded down- visions of flashing lights, water fountains and a pottery army in my head….or maybe they were just flashbacks. Regardless, I soon fell into a much needed sleep.

Yours truly, enjoying the vibe in Xian

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