For the May holiday, we decided to make the trek to Xian to take in the sights of the ancient capital of China. I happened to mention in my classes before we left that Xian was our holiday destination and one of my students, Andy, mentioned that he would be visiting the city as well with his family for several days. He convinced us to stay in the Bell Tower Hotel, owned by a friend of a friend for a bargain rate. It was located right in the center of the old city close to many major attractions. My son, Phil, was visiting as well and we managed to get two rooms for very little money for our stay in Xian.
Andy and his dad met us at the airport when we arrived on Monday night and drove us to our hotel. They were using the GPS in their vehicle to navigate around the city but soon found out that it did not always know which roads were inaccessible or closed to traffic for one reason or another. After a few false starts, we managed to find our way back to the hotel. We all met soon after in the
lobby and were treated to an incredible dinner at a nearby restaurant. And so began our three days of feasting!! I have estimated that over the three days we were in the city, we probably ate at least sixty different dishes, each more delcious than the first. Our generous "host family" had been given a van and driver by the same friend for the entire time they were in the city. It didn't get much better!! We had transportation and built in translators for the entire time we were in Xian. Each day we traveled around and wined and dined with Andy, his parents, and his grandparents.
If you want to see history in a big way, this is the place to visit. Our first stop on Tuesday was the yet unexcavated mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. It is on the way to the Museum of Terra Cotta Warriors. There is not a lot to see at this location but is interesting to visit for the story of the emperor and a good lead up to the warrior museum. Actually, the Museum of Terracotta Warriors, which covers a huge expanse and is well-known around the world forms only
a tiny fraction of the tomb.
Qin Shi Huangdi (259 BC - 210 BC), the first emperor of China, ascended the throne at the age of 13, when construction of his tomb began. On completion of his many conquests, he ordered 720,000 conscript laborers to hurry up on building his royal tomb. It was finished just-in-time in 210 BC for his use. His son, the second Qin Emperor,saw to his entombment.
Our next stop was the Terra Cotta Warriors. It is easy to see why this site is touted as the major archaelogical discovery of the 20th century. Every warrior and horse is different and all were originally painted in bright colors. As soon as they were unearthed, the colors faded away. For that reason, among others, the majority of the warriors have been left buried but there are still over 1000 on display. The farmer that made the discovery while digging a well in his field is at the museum to shake hands or sign copies of a coffee table book about the warriors. If the well had been dug a meter further away, the discovery would probably not have occurred. For tons of information on this
site, you can visit Terra Cotta Warriors
We returned to Xian to visit the Shaanxi History Museum. Shaanxi Province is the birthplace of the ancient Chinese civilization. Xian City was the capital city in thirteen dynasties which in total lasted over 1100 years. Consequently, the ancient history of Shaanxi is to some degree the ancient history of China. This large museum is a showcase of this long history and it is something else to see relics dating back to 3000BC. As an ex-potter, I especially enjoyed viewing the ancient ceramics that were on display. After spending a couple of hours here, we were historied out for the day! You can find more info on this museum at Shaanxi History Museum
The next day was another full one as we began by cycling the 14 kilometers around the top of the 1000 year old city wall. It was hot, humid and we ended up taking a few short rest breaks along the way but we managed to complete the journey within the 100 minute time limit so we didn't have to pay extra for the rentals! This is certainly something everybody should do if they visit the city. It pretty much gives you
an overview of the whole place while getting a little exercise at the same time! We were met at the Wild Goose Pagoda by the uncle of Andy's friend. He worked at the pagoda, was quite the scholar and knew the history of the place inside and out. With the help of Andy translating, he told us the story of the monk who traveled from China to India and back as we walked the length of a huge mural that depicted the history. It's a long story but that was the reason for being for the whole complex. Big Wild Goose Pagoda
Our last stop was the Forest of Stone Steles Museum.
This is a collection of many stone tablets covered in ancient calligraphy. It is basically a stone library of the ancient history of China. Also, many present day students of calligraphy study these tablets for information on the original writing and characters. Rubbings of any of the tablets can be purchased at the museum. If they are not already available, they will be done on the spot very quickly.
Since we moved to China, I have been helping out as a volunteer on the Travel China Guide
website. It is based in Xian so I contacted
the two women in charge of the site, Melinda and Serena, and we met for dinner on Wednesday night. We have been communicating by email for quite awhile so it was fun to meet in person. Melinda sends me articles on a regular basis that I edit for English errors, etc. It was our final great eating experience in the city and the next day we were back to Wuhan to show Phil around our home stomping grounds. We were in Xian for only three nights but one could easily spend a lot longer in order to see all the sights in and around the city.
Last night, yet another party that Phil got to be part of before he left for Canada today. I had been promising him a fireworks show before he left so at 9:30 last night, my friend, Tom, and I left the party for a bit and set off to find a box of explosives. The place we wanted to go was shut but we weren't going to give up that easily. We were on a mission and knew that there had to be something nearby that was open for business, even at that
Terra Cotta 3
The location of the original well that resulted in the discovery.
hour. We found a young woman about to close up her snack shop a few minutes from our first stop. She led us down the street and pointed out a spot that was still open and had boxes of fireworks stacked up in the corner of the shop. In front of a small group of curious locals, I negotiated a price for the largest box, 100 yuan for a box of 100. These things are great...we headed back to the party, gathered up the crew and walked back to the scooter alley outside our complex where we proceeded to set off the show. Very easy...open the box, light the one fuse that is showing, stand back and let the thing take care of itself. It is a self-contained, incredible display that works its way through the entire box.
Anyway, that is about it for now. Back to work tomorrow for the final few weeks before summer holiday. I am in the process of trying to upload a few videos of our Xian trip but so far not having much luck. Check back to look at them in the next few days...hopefully I will eventually be successful at getting them
on the site.
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