Published: April 29th 2012April 26th 2012
The Front Line
Terracotta warriors, Xian
Well the Orient Express to Xian was a good trip now that its over. With only 4 berths in each cabin, I was drafted to the next door cabin with three people from Slovenia. They were nice quiet people. On the other side of Susan and the boys were several cabins full of mad Croatians who announced to one of my Slovenians early on that sleep on the train would be out of the question. Luckily they petered out fairly early, or maybe it just seemed that way after I took my hearing aids out.
Sleep was hard enough anyway in our non-air conditioned cabins, but I must've slept at some stage because when I woke up I looked out the window and it was just getting light enough to see a nuclear power station flash by. Also lots of green fields, trees in blossom and smallish farm villages, plus industrial plants of some sort. The air seemed clearer than Beijing too - up there the blossom trees and overall greyness looked almost like a hoar frost in Central Otago, except that temperatures are in the mid twenties.
Xian is where the Terracotta soldiers are and that was the
attraction for us. We were not disappointed. It is mindboggling to think that this is actually real. They are life sized terracotta soldiers and horses. They are all individually unique - no face is the same. This all happened 2200 years ago because the Emperor then wanted an army to protect him when he died. So for 38yrs, 770 thousand people created them, about 8000 in total have been found so far, under orders from the Emperor. They had no choice. Maybe thats why our guide says that the soldiers look sad, because maybe it was a sad existence back then.
They were located five metres under the surface. People knew they were there somewhere but it was not until 1979 that a farmer accidentally dug into one when digging a water bore. That guy is still alive now in his late 80s, and he works at the Terracotta museum which is located where his farm used to be. He was there when we visited and we got him to sign the souvenir book we'd just bought.
Xian itself is interesting too. The old city is quite european in character with an old city wall complete with moat
Xian Pit 1
6000 terracotta warriors here
forming a protective barrier, old stome buildings and tree-lined avenues. You can hire bikes and ride along the wall right around the old city - about 40km if you have the time.
The city itself is growing fast. There are already 8 million people living there, and dozens, in fact probably hundreds of high rise apartment buildings going up. I must say it gave me an uneasy gut feeling to see this. Certainly I was already aware of urbanisation in China. The young generation of Chinese from outlying areas no longer want to work the land. They are heading to the cities looking for work, in their droves it would seem. The cities are growing. But what worries me is that maybe the work they are finding in the cities is unskilled labour on building sites, building apartment blocks they are then expected to live in but can't afford. I'd already heard that in some cases the build quality was not fantastic. I hope its not a property bubble.
I didn't go to China to analyse things at all but they obviously have some interesting policies there. Like the one child policy. The social implications of this must
The Old City Wall
Well behaved at Xian
be interesting now and could be for the whole family structure later when you have generations of Chinese people with no uncles and aunties or cousins. Obviously I haven't thought it through, but it will be interesting to see how it goes.
Last night in China, so we booked into the Dumpling Banquet of the Royal Court of the Tang Dynasty at the Hotel, followed by another show - the Tang DynastyMusic and Dance Show. Very colourful, and the dumplings were superb.
We've had a good time experiencing a small bit of China. Things seem to function pretty well overall. People are respectful. Traffic initially seems chaotic with cars, bikes and pedestrians nearly always on the verge of colliding at nearly every street corner, but somehow they don't. Qeues move faster than in NZ and people don't ask every inane question possible when they get to the front, like they do here. The food is good. The people seem proud of and interested in their heritage, certainly judging from the numbers we saw everywhere we went.
Yet the place is also modern. Iphones are absolutely everywhere. Glass office towers in the cities. There are a lot more
cars and a lot less bikes on the road than there used to be when I was last in China 13 years ago. Plenty of luxury cars plus a few we don't see here like Shanghai Englon, Foton and american brands like Dodge and Buick. I just worry about what effects the pace of urbanisation might lead to, and the constant poor quality of the air in Beijing particularly.
But what a fascinating country. Now back to Hong Kong.