Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Terracotta Warriors of Xian

[11/3/09. Posted by JP for GC.]

Friends: Visiting the Army of Terracotta Warriors on the outskirts of Xian was an all-day affair and well worth it. It was a two-hour bike ride out, slightly uphill and with slight complications going astray as usual, but just an hour-and-a-half ride back. I spent three hours at the site. The only time I was off my feet all day was for an introductory forty-minute movie narrating the utterly boggling story of their history and discovery. The film included footage of visits to the site by Queen Elizabeth and Ronald Reagan and other world leaders.

The farmer who found them in 1974 was also in the film. He was drilling a well that summer, as it was exceptionally dry, and unearthed some fragments of a sculpture. It led to one of the greatest archaeological finds ever. There were three mausoleum pits in the immediate vicinity interred sixteen feet below ground level containing over 8,000 sculptures of life-sized horses and warriors. The largest of the three pits was longer than two football fields with over 6,000 of the sculpted soldiers, each with distinct, unique features.

They were an army meant to protect the mausoleum of emperor Qin Shihuang half a mile away. It is believed that he began work on the project when he became emperor at the age of thirteen over 2,200 years ago. It took decades to construct. Some of the workers must have been criminals, as many instruments of torture were found at the stonemason's workshop.

The three pits of warriors are within a short lob of each other. Magnificent stone buildings have recently been erected over each of them, protecting them from the elements, but also making it almost too dark for photos. There is also a first-rate museum in another monumental building giving even more background information on the period. The entire complex is another exceptional example of what the Chinese are and were capable of. They do not hide their pride. Over 40,000 bronze weapons were buried in the pits. Some of them were chrome-plated to prevent erosion. An exhibit says the process wasn't rediscovered until 1937 by the Germans and the Americans in 1950.

After the army of warriors was completed, a wooden ceiling was placed over them and then covered with dirt. Laying eyes on the excavated rows and rows of life-like soldiers, each with individual features, some gentle and some harsh, some serene and some serious, is a staggering experience. Its almost beyond fathoming to consider all the effort that went into every aspect of the project and  the audacity of it. It makes the Taj Mahal and all other mausoleums seem pathetically puny by comparison.

There has been enough research done on everything unearthed to determine there were seven generals among the the 8,000 soldiers. In pit number two, about half the size of the largest, there were 172 archers, 116 cavalrymen with horses and assorted infantry men and war chariots. The figures are all sandy-colored now, but originally they were painted to look real enough to be inhaling and exhaling. The excavation continues. Over 600 archaeological sites have been discovered in an area of 56 kilometers.

There were crowds of tourists, including my first glimpse of Westerners since I left Hong Kong almost a month ago. The first I saw was a young woman who refused the flier a young woman was passing out promoting a nearby Subway sandwich shop. She snarled at her, "Subway is horrible." It was one of two American franchises on the site. The other was Kentucky Friend Chicken. They were almost lost though among the scores of souvenir stands and shops and restaurants. Subway is just gaining a foothold in China. There are KFCs everywhere, over a thousand, with a new one opening every three days. Sales people at the shops called out "hello" as I passed. Some thrust books in English at me. There were also quite a few officially garbed guides offering their services, though once I declined one, the others let me be.

I arrived back in Xian just before dark, somewhat delayed by the rush hour traffic. I met up with Julie-Ann at the performance theater where she works as a sales manager. She focuses her attention on local Japanese and Korean companies trying to convince them to bring clients to their dinner-and-dance shows.

Its not the most satisfying job for someone with a degree in film who would rather be working in that field, but she is doing well. She has matured magnificently from the young, slightly gawky student I first knew, into a most assured and polished young woman while retaining her youthful glee and zest. It has been a joy being with her. She once commented that she hoped one day she could make me proud of her. That she has.

We had a marvelous dinner last night at a hotpot restaurant so large we got lost trying to leave it. It was so popular we had to wait twenty minutes to be seated. Each table had a recession in the middle with a burner for a large tureen of soup that is kept at a low boil. One chooses a base soup and then various raw ingredients to put in it.

A small army of young women in matching green tops and all wearing head sets were continually on the go, making sure everyone was kept well supplied with whatever they needed. Moments after Julie ordered our soup it appeared before us even as the waitress was still taking our order of various raw potatoes and mushrooms and vegetables and dumplings and noodles to cook up in our tureen. There was also a bar with an array of sauces for us to combine as our imagination saw fit. Many of the people seated around us wore red aprons to protect their clothes as they slurped.

We ate and ate. It was the most stuffed I have been in a long time. We ordered way too much, so we returned with three bags of raw ingredients for tonight's dinner. Julie-Ann's Thai neighbor, who is in charge of food and beverages at her theater, cooked them up for an equally satisfying dinner this evening. These travels keep getting better and better.

Later, George

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