Today, our only [almost] full day in Xi’An, was pretty busy. We got up early, grabbed breakfast, and then set out to see Xi’An’s most important sites. We were driven around by Stephen, a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend (yes, this is literally how we are connected). He first drove us to the Terracotta Soldiers where we got to see the “8th Wonder of the World”.
We spent about a half hour trying to find our way in; when we finally found the entrance, we were about as excited as they must have been to find the thing in the first place. The theater was “having a decoration” so we looked around the museum first. It was nice, and gave us a little foreshadowing of the magnificence to come. They had a lot of warriors on display, so we could see the detail up close – seeing just a couple, plus the knowledge that every soldier (all 6000 of them) have different faces, is almost mind-blowing.
There was also a special exhibit of some bronze horses and chariots that they found not far away. They were particularly impressive, and I really enjoyed the exhibit on the materials and manufacturing used. I learned the words for copper and bronze, and found out that the Chinese were chrome-plating thousands of years ago! I only started welding two years ago, and I’m really not good at it . . . haha.
We toured the pits in reverse order of when they were discovered – 3, 2, 1 – saving the biggest and most impressive for last. Pit 3 has a lot of officers and is thought to be the command room. It was there, as luck would have it, that Dad spotted a Chinese officer and (through me) struck up a conversation. He was at least as pleased as Dad was to meet a fellow officer, and even more so when they discovered they were both majors in the artillery (although he was anti-aircraft artillery and Dad is field artillery).
Pit 2, as Dad said, “needs some work” – it’s mostly unexcavated. Still, it’s almost as impressive as seeing the stuff they’ve dug up, just thinking of the undiscovered possibilities beneath.
Pit 1 is basically a huge aircraft hanger, more than two football fields long. When you enter, you’re immediately confronted with regiments of clay soldiers, facing you down in rows. That pit isn’t fully excavated yet either, but they’ve already found 2,000 and expect a total of more than 6,000.
To be honest, as an engineering student, I was almost as impressed by the buildings housing the excavation pits as I was with their contents. Thinking of the surveying and design work that must have preceded building, and the care they must have taken during construction of such huge covers over such precious contents, was incredible to me. I actually found it really exciting; maybe the engineer in me is still there somewhere.
After the morning’s sightseeing, our new friend Steven took us to lunch. It was the first time we’d eaten rice and with chopsticks in basically forever, and I hadn’t had eggplant in a staggeringly long time – at least three days. The food was delicious – an eggplant-and-green-bean dish, this tasty vegetable I recently discovered, some stuff with egg, and a lamb steak – and the room was warm and sunlit, just the way we like it.
The afternoon’s destination was the Tomb of Emperor Jingdi. Lonely Planet calls it Xi’An’s underrated highlight, the city’s must-see besides the Terracotta Warriors. This guy was also buried with a ton of terracotta figures, but they’re not warriors – they’re servants, eunuchs, and domesticated animals. Basically, this tomb is to daily life what the Terracotta Warriors are to the military.
The human figurines originally had wooden arms and silk clothes, but those are gone now so they look a little like mutilated dolls.
The animals were quite impressive – surprisingly lifelike horses, cows, pigs, sheep, goats, dogs, and chickens. In the museum (which is totally underground, by the way) you can walk over the excavation pits and look at them through glass floors. Dad was really weirded out about walking on glass, but I thought it was a cool perspective.
At the end of the museum there was a short film introducing the history of the mausoleum’s occupants. We paid the extra 10 kuai to get in, even though they didn’t do a great job of marketing it – it wasn’t until we got in that we realized it was 4D, just like the show at Hulishan!
Another funny story about the theater: I bought my parents tickets about 10 minutes before the show started, but when it came time to go in, Dad couldn’t find his. This is a frequent problem we have (especially him), but usually the ticket-takers are forgiving – or at least remember selling tickets to the strange foreigners – and let us go in anyway. This woman, though, was having none of it. As Dad frantically went through his pockets, she even remarked to me in Chinese, “I just saw you give it to him!” Then she told him, through me, to take his time because we still had “5 minutes until the show starts”. Luckily, he found it, but we were really amused by her adamancy.
As we left the underground museum, we saw a huge gate that had been restored nearby. We went out there for a photo op and then I saw the huge power plants in the distance. It was an interesting juxtaposition of old and new, so I took a picture.
While not quite as ironic as the legendary Goose Lady picture of 2007 (showing one woman’s wind turbine in the shadow of a coal-burning power plant), it strongly reminded me of that picture, which has been used in SENEA powerpoint presentations too numerous to count.
The car rides in between were nice; our driver was friendly and the car was warm. Also, for maybe the first time since I came to China, he turned on the radio to music, which I enjoyed immensely. Between that and the radio (slash somebody’s iTunes) at the hostel, I heard Fireflies by Owl City, Party in the USA by Miley Cyrus, and Bad Romance by Lady Gaga, on the radio for the first time! (I have the songs on my computer, but hearing them unexpectedly is totally different.) From emails and chatting with friends, I gather that these are quite popular and often heard in the US, so for a few minutes there I felt like I wasn’t missing out on life in America. It was special.
I was worried about fitting both destinations in one day, but we got back to the hotel with time to spare. We picked up our laundry there (after extricating it from somebody else’s load) and took a break before braving the train station. First we crossed the street to grab some Chinese fast food for dinner, and on the way were treated to this beautiful scene – one of the gates in the city wall, all lit up for the New Year, with the huge moon hanging over the whole scene.
Our train to Beijing left Xi’An at 8:30, and we got to the station about an hour ahead of time. Dad’s search for a quiet corner was even more hopeless than the last time, so we settled for shoving to the front, intimidating a couple out of their seats, and chilling there. (Just kidding. Kind of.) We filed on to the train with the several hundred other passengers in an orderly fashion (definitely kidding here). As Dad complained about carrying the suitcases down and up the stairs of the underground tunnel, I joked that he could just set it down and let it be carried by the crowd (I was kidding, but it may have worked).
When we successfully got on the train, we discovered that trains in and out of the capital are a little bit nicer than others. Even in our hard-sleeper berths, we almost had doors, and we had overhead storage in our compartment! This is good, because there were 6 of us crammed in there and, as we discovered as we prepared to get off the train in Beijing, two other people had stashed suitcases in our room!
Our bunk mates weren’t that exciting – a couple headed to Beijing to see their son and a badminton player who pretty much just slept – but the car was full of interesting characters. There was a guy who studied in England and now works for a petrochemical company in Houston, a little kid who liked to walk around and make fun of Dad’s Chinese, etc. Most notably, there was a young man who sat outside our compartment and started talking with Dad. I stepped in to translate and found out that he was a graduate student at the Xi’An military academy! Most Chinese know about West Point, but he was even more interested in Dad’s school. We talked for awhile, learned the ranks of the Chinese army, and promised to exchange patches.
They shut off the lights at 10:10 or so, without warning, at which point we decided it might be a good idea to sleep.