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Published: June 10th 2017
Geo: 34.27, 108.9
This morning our group visited a laquer factory and shop. I had taken one credit card with me, just in case I found a bracelet or something small that caught my attention and cried out to be bought. But upon entering, our eyes feasted on fine Chinese furniture, furniture from the Qing and Ming dynasties. At this point in our lives, I am trying to release many of our material things (not terribly successfully as of yet), and we certainly do not need more furniture, but oh, there was one chest from the Qing dynasty, made of cherrywood, with inlaid carvings from local jade. The carvings were of flowers and birds, so beautifully created, inlaid not only on the front and top surfaces, but also on the sides. This was an exceedingly beautiful piece! The original price was $4000 (do individual pieces of furniture cost that much?), but, because we were with the group, there would be a 40% discount, bringing the cost down to $2700. Salespeople in China are pleasantly persistent; one saleswoman asked if I wanted her to speak with her boss about bringing the price down even more. So she did. When she returned, the cost had been lowered to $2100, but how could anyone justify buying such an expensive piece of furniture when they don't even know where in the future they will live? Ah, she said, "You have good taste. It calls to your spirit." And it did. But even though I coveted this beautiful piece, in the end I knew I'd never buy it. I did take a photograph of it though; this will comfort me when I think about that chest in the future.
From there it took about an hour to reach the park with the Terra Cotta Warriors. What I first saw was unexpected as the army was well below the walkway where visitors initially arrive, so you are looking down at the figures, nowhere near eye level. There are three pits (so far) that have been excavated, the first pit being the most extensive, opened to the public in 1980. This army of over 6000 warriors was discovered accidentally by a farmer in 1974 while he was digging a well. This surprise is considered by many to be the Eighth Wonder of the World; it is a wonder indeed. In the first pit are the most warriors. The building is enormous; it looks like a huge airplane hangar. Each individual soldier --and horse-- had been crafted to look like whoever they were; each face is different, each expression, each body shape, each height varies according to the uniqueness of each being. These were real men, real horses, all created and buried to preserve them for the emperor's protection in the next world, not, as I had thought, a ruse to save all their lives when the emperor died; it was their practice at that time to kill the whole army when the emperor died. When the figures were discovered they were in shards, pieces that had to be painstakingly put back together, like Lego pieces, as our guide described the process. As prodigious a project as this is, work continues on to restore the army to its original glory. The warriors stand in long lines, waiting for battle. Some are headless, some bodies lie scattered on the ground, but all look eerily lifelike. One person in our group stated that this was probably the most photographed army in the world, but being there and seeing it in person is a magnificent experience.
This evening we attended a cultural performance, dances from the Tang dynasty. First we enjoyed the best dinner I have had so far on this trip: dumplings with all sorts of fillings; mine, of course, had all different vegetable fillings. So delicious! The seating reminded me of Stern Grove in San Francisco; we used to go there Sunday afternoons when the San Francisco Ballet was performing, eating our picnic sitting on the grass behind the dining tables set up in front of us. Tonight we sat at the tables. What a treat! At 8PM the performance began; the audience was called to attention with the lovely, transcendent sound of large gongs. (How I love Asia!) Ten or twelve dances were performed. My seat was dead center, immediately in front of the stage, so some of us were close enough to see the intricacy of their costumes, their makeup, and even some of the young women's tatoos, covered up but still visible. I have always loved dance (and dancing); these dancers were the perfection of fluidity, grace in motion. The music was not at all like the Chinese Opera; it was lovely and lyrical, an auditory feast. Totally sated with fine foods, satisfying and delightful cultural historic performances and incredible works of art, plus newfound friends, this day and this evening showed us some of the joys in life, living in Xi'an.
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