Terracotta Warriors, walls and villages - Xi'an
Trip Start Jan 17, 2010
40Trip End Jul 17, 2010
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That afternoon we ascended Xi'an's magnificent city walls, built in the Ming dynasty (that's around 1300 for the unenlightened!), and fully restored. That we hired a tandem bicycle and rode the 14km round the entire perimeter might offer an indication as to the sheer scale (their width is as impressive as their height, as wide as a dual carriageway) of the walls. It gave us a different perspective on the city, and elevated us above the fumes and incessant traffic for a welcome few hours. I think we made for a strange sight for the locals as we whizzed over the cobbled ramparts, gathering speed for various ramps and slopes - at one point requiring a warning cry to part a dithering group of tourists, who quickly dispersed at the sight of our maniacal pedaling and dodgy brakes. We finished the circuit in record time I think.
We had set aside Monday for the Terracotta Army, and duly arrived at the train station to take the bus (confusing I know). Two hours later our vehicle - full of excited tourists, us included - took its place amongst the massed ranks of tour buses in the parking lot. As we began the stroll towards the ticket booth a small boy looked up at me in wonder, making an 'aaaaoooooohhhhhh' noise. In a sign of things to come, a minute later he was running along beside us with his fellow siblings and a camera in tow, pleading for a photograph. As the temperature reached about 39 degrees in the midday sun we made our first foray into the waiting feast of archeological wonders.
There are three excavation 'pits' at the site, and we viewed them in reverse order, starting with the least impressive, in the spirit of saving the best 'til last
After declining to pose for a picture for the umpteenth time that day, we made our way excitedly into the huge structure containing pit 1. Incidentally, all through our journeys in Asia I had assumed that all the staring eyes, attempts to take our picture and occasional laughter had been directed towards Kanan. I don't know why. It's taken until now for me to realise that actually it's me who is the main object of fascination. I have become a giant walking tourism sight for the locals, the chance to oggle me a bonus activity on their organised tour. I'm just about coming to terms with this, but it's a little disconcerting and finding it tricky to construe it as a compliment! I'm starting to empathise with Gulliver.
Anyway, what to say about the Terracotta Army? Two thousand years old, in parts perfectly preserved and wonderfully detailed carvings of horses and men - each of the thousands of warriors is a different individual: some tall, some short, different faces, different poses, different hair
However challenging we (particularly me) have found the sheer numbers and cultural differences (spitting, unbelievable volume levels, pushing, incessant smoking and law flouting) of the Chinese collectively, over the last few days we've met some wonderfully generous spirited people who have shifted our thinking and challenged our preonceptions. Due to a major traffic incident we weren't able to make it to climb Mount Hua, and sat on the motorway, utterly stuck for 2 hours with no prospect of turning back (as our fellow passengers were all spending the night on the mountain). A kindly lady on the bus took it upon herself to knock on the windows of car drivers in the jam, trying (successfully) to negotiate a lift back to the city for us. Once back in the city, and having failed in our attempt to soak up the days rays in a the pool of a posh hotel by sneaking in, we found ourselves sitting in a Xi'an park. We were invited to join a group (who initially I had noted cautiously as down-and-outs) who shared their watermelon and peaches with us. Determined to overcome the not inconsiderable language barrier they invited a couple of English-speaking college students to join the fray. The crowd soon swelled as fascinated locals gave shared their opinions on everything from whether China would/should support North Korea in a war with the USA (a resounding yes), to why the Chinese try to stay as pale as possible and westerners yearn for a golden tan. We spent a lovely, enlightening four hours or so in the sun
Yesterday we got back to Xi'an having spent the night in Dangjiacun, a perfectly preserved, still fully functioning and lived in, Ming Dysnasty (14th Century, we now know our Mings and Dangs from our Mongs) village. It's been a glaring gap on the checklist of our trip - that we hadn't spent the night in a homestay with the locals, in the main part I think due to fears about offending them with our vegetarianism. However we decided to brave it and hopped on the bus for 3 hours to Hancheng, the neighbouring town. My own bus experience wasn't great, but as we sat apart (only one seat into which my legs would squeeze) Kanan fared rather better. She met Zhao Jun, a college student of English in Xi'an, on her way home to Hancheng for the summer. Within minutes she had offered to take us to the village and invited Kanan - and her rather miserable looking husband, I had just walked down the bus to ask someone to refrain from smoking at the time - for lunch. So the bus pulled in to Hancheng, we walked with Jun to her house, where, after several minutes of communicating my apologies for the smell of my feet，family members started to appear through the door, excitedly rushing home from work to greet us
The village itself was fantastic, and the whole experience one of the highlights of our trip to date. As if in a time-warp, a simple, rural life continues there as old men crouch on street corners smoking pipes, rudimentary farms punctuate the village’s 700 year old streets, and wrinkled, leather-skinned old women tend their ancient family homes, the rooms of which overlook a common courtyard, one of which houses our simple bed for the night. More simple still were the toilet arrangements (see photo), for which a concrete squat and, due to the lack of any plumbing or drainage in the village, a shovel, some gravel and a bit of elbow grease had to suffice. Likewise a lone tap stood in the centre of the courtyard to serve as the washing facility. All part of a terrific experience.
Having warmed immensely to the people of China, tonight we’re on the move again and set to head for the bright lights of Beijing, and the wonders of the Forbidden City and Great Wall. We’re traveling by a Z-class train, faster, more hi-tech and luxurious, apparently, than their Japanese equivalents – significantly cheaper too. Until Beijing then, and the final week of our trip!!!
Jo and Kaa, Xi’an