Friday, June 29, 2012


In our last full weekend in China Aya and I went to Xi'an. A few months ago, as it was sinking in that we were leaving, we sat down to decide what things we most wanted to do before leaving since we don't have any plans to come back to China in the future. Top of the list, get more foot massages, but second was going to Xi'an. Both of us wanted to go see the Terracotta Warriors. As a history teacher is was something I couldn't pass up. We booked our tickets and hotel and took a flight to Xi'an. Travel in China can be interesting. Before boarding we were standing in line when the 3 year old girl in front of us squatted down and peed on the floor. This is not unusual for China since most kids have split pants designed just for this. The parents then did nothing about the puddle of pee on the floor, also not surprising. Lucky for Aya and I we saw it happen and so avoided the puddle when the line started to move. Unfortunately a number of people behind us did not see it and rolled their luggage through and stepped in the pee. Once on the plane we settled in a few rows from the back rear the bathrooms. There are a few things I look for when I choose seating. First, I want a seat near the back of the plane. Odds are slim that a plane will crash, but your chance of survival is even slimmer if you are at the front of the plane. Safety first. Second I go for an aisle seat. I don't care to look out the window that much and I don't like having to crawl over people to go to the bathroom. I would rather have them crawl over me. Introverted tendencies second. Third, try to get a seat near an exit. Safety here again. So anyways, we sit down and are surrounded by a number of men who reek of tobacco but are otherwise nicely dressed. They are carrying small square suitcases with combination locks built into them. Thats all they have. It seem pretty odd. Mid-way through the flight one guy gets out some official looking documents that say, "flight plan" in the header. I'm guessing they either work for the airline or work for the government who is checking on the airline. Either way what happens next is interesting. I start to smell smoke. Not electrical wiring smoke, but tobacco smoke. Now, every flight everywhere starts with announcements about not smoking, fastening your seat belt, blah blah blah. I don't know when the last time was that you could smoke on a plane, but it was a while ago. I don't see the offender, so they must be in the bathroom a couple rows behind me. A few minutes later out comes one of the airline guys and now he really reeks like smoke. Apparently the rules don't apply if you aren't a paying costumer. So... Xi'an. It was hot and dry. My eyes were burning slightly the whole time, but it was also pleasant. The weather, not the burning. We did walk around the city a lot and see thing like the Bell Tower and the city wall and they were all cool, but of course the warriors are the stars of the show. We ended up booking a tour with a local youth hostel. In the morning we boarded a bus and headed out to the site arriving at about 10. There are three pits at the site each in varying degrees of unearthedness (not a word, but seems like it should be). Each pit in essences was the same, but each building was slightly different. We got to be pretty up close, but never within touching distance. The closest we could get was to a few they had in glass cases. The one picture is especially neat because it retained some of the paint on it even though the pigments usually crumble away when the statues are exposed. That one is also special because it was the first statue found by the farmer who was digging his well. Later on we went to an exhibition hall where the farmer had set up a table where he would sign books and you could take photos with him. In a way I thought it was kind of uncouth to charge for photos (thought smart and lucrative), but I guess I returned the rudeness by saying no thanks to the photo opportunity. The statues were pretty cool to look at and in one of the pit areas you could see the warriors that were being reconstructed. Two things struck me as odd. First is the picture of the figures without heads. This is interesting because they people for whom they were built weren't dead yet when the tomb was sealed and so they don't have faces or heads. The other was a thought that I kept thinking the whole time I was there. Why isn't the project finished? Surely after almost 40 years since the first discovery they could be done. Why aren't they? Couldn't they just hire tons of workers? I'm sure there are thousands of scholars around the world who would give up a summer or even years to come to Xi'an and remove dirt from fragments. I had heard that they were waiting for a technique that would reserve the paint since when exposed to air the colors deteriorate quickly. In any case, they were very cool. After the tour of the warriors we headed to the tomb of the Qing emperor, the one who ordered the building of the warriors. He believed that by drinking mercury he would live longer. It almost certainly shortened his life. It is interesting to think of how far humanity has come. The hill being held by Aya is his resting place and is supposedly surrounded by a mercury moat. The moat has leaked over time and the whole mountain is now highly toxic, but again I am left wondering why it hasn't been opened after such a long time. Surely the pros of opening the tomb and seeing what is inside would far outstrip the dangers of excavating a toxic site. Couldn't they just use chemical gear? After seeing the hill/tomb we headed back to town and the rest of the trip was pretty unremarkable. I drank some beer, we slept at the hotel, the flight back was fine, etc. Next up, Nanjing with David!Let the summer travel begin!