The Terracotta Warriors

An astounding archeological discovery, the terracotta army outside of Xi’an is another one of China’s most popular tourist destinations, and one that we didn’t want to miss while we were in the country. On our second day in Xi’an, we hopped on a bus and headed out to the site to spend a day with the warriors of clay.

There’s plenty of information out there about the army so I won’t write much here, not being an expert on the subject. I found this clip on YouTube; it’s not amazing but it will give you a pretty good overview if you want some background info:

Killer expectations

I was really excited to see the army and I think I probably didn’t manage my expectations properly (like I was able to do for the Great Wall), because it wasn’t the best day for me.

Seeing the army for yourself IS amazing – the implications and sheer size, the craftsmanship, the glimpse into another era of life in a culture long gone – it can’t help but be impressive. But I was in the wrong headspace and had a tough time to not get distracted and annoyed by the tourism side of it.

We happened to be there when a lot of Chinese tour groups were also visiting. Despite being mindful of my surroundings and trying to stay out of the way, I found myself being constantly bumped into by people who weren’t looking where they were going.

Tour group crowds! Argh!

There was a lot of this sort of thing at displays so viewing everything we wanted to took a lot of time and patience; it was tough (for me at least) to just get immersed in the history and experience.

Tourists also had a chance to have their photo taken with replica warriors…

We decided to not get a tour guide because we wanted to view things at our own pace and in our own way. We picked up an audio guide instead. The museum signage is not the clearest and we found the audio guide provided a lot of detailed facts about specific things we looked at – this is the sort of paint used on this piece or this is how high this item is – but not a lot of context and no story, which is what we had been hoping for. I’m not sure if a human guide would have been better, but I can safely advise skipping the audio guide if you are considering it.

Get over it!

I am confident though, that with the right attitude and a bit more background information, visiting the terracotta army can be a mind-blowing experience. Even though I was annoyed for a lot of the time we were there, I’m still 100% glad that we went, and, removing my own limiting emotions from the memories of it, I have to say that it is pretty darn amazing.

From the traditional beliefs about the afterlife, to the amount of work that went into constructing an army of that size, to how darn old it is, to the fact that it was discovered at all, the whole thing is fascinating and just about miraculous. What I loved the most though was taking in the unique faces of each statue. The details of each individual figure and the specific expressions on their faces were enthralling.

So, without further ado, here are the terracotta warriors. 🙂

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Xi’an: Food in the streets and one very special Mosque

Our time in Buenos Aires is rapidly drawing to a close. We’ve been busy with lovely things and practical things. Today is more of the same – yoga and lunch with some new friends from here then more shopping for supplies, research and packing are on the roster.

In terms of posts on this blog I’m getting close to the end of our time in China too, so I’ll press on with the catch up! 🙂 By the way, if you ever are confused by all my bouncing around time and space on this blog and want to check where we were when, Roman’s Everlater page is accurate and up-to-date plus the map is pretty nifty if you ask me. 🙂

So, back to China….

More than just the warriors

We left Pingyao for Xi’an. The lovely staff at the Yide Hotel made arrangements for us, booking the bus ticket, getting us to the bus stop along the highway (the cabbie even waited for us to make sure we got onto the right bus), and even writing out the address of our next destination in Chinese characters for our future cab driver’s reference. Note – if you’re traveling in China it’s not a bad idea to keep a look out for nice people who will do this sort of thing for you; most cab drivers we encountered don’t speak or read a lick of English. The bus ride was easy enough and we arrived at the bus station that evening.

Xi’an is the access point to the iconic Terracotta Warriors, and that of course is why we were there. But before we would come face to face with that silent army, we had a bit of time to poke around the city itself.

Xi’an was quite a change to quaint and quiet Pingyao. It too is a walled city with plenty of centuries old history. But that’s where the similarities end.

The city wall, all lit up at night

Xi’an is a bustling metropolis, and though the walls are old, majestic and mighty, they are surrounded by rivers of traffic, fast food joints, flashing LCD screens and plenty of other signs of modernity. The city within the walls – or what we saw of it – is mostly very modern, with plenty of shopping malls and things like McDonalds and Starbucks right next to the most touristy bit around the central Bell and Drum towers.

The drum tower

The Muslim quarter

The part that we found the most interesting was the quieter Muslim quarter. Unlike the Muslims in Xinjiang, the community in Xi’an is ethnically Chinese, which was interesting to see. From Lonely Planet: “The narrow lanes are full of butcher shops, sesame-oil factories, smaller mosques hidden behind enormous wooden doors, men in white skullcaps and women with their heads covered in coloured scarves. It’s a great place to wander…”

Lonely Planet’s got it exactly right; it was a fascinating place to poke around – although you might need to harden your stomach a bit. We happened to be there around a religious festival, and the butchers were hard at work that day preparing sheep for feasts. Kinda gross.

Lots of cooking in the street in the Muslim quarter. It’s not the best picture but I love this out door stove. The flame was shooting out of the exhaust pipe like crazy! 🙂

Hot stuff!

Poor sheep!

Anyone for feet?

Far more serene was the Great Mosque. An amazing building and one of the largest mosques in China and probably founded in the 8th century, it is an awesome blend of Islamic and traditional Chinese architecture. A minaret that looks like a pagoda, Chinese-style tiled roofs and elegant Arabic calligraphy – it was beautiful and an incredible place to visit.