Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Entry 300: The Terracotta Warrirors

Not that it means anything, but this is my three hundredth entry since I started this trip way back when. Don't let that fool you into thinking it's day three hundred though – some days got more than one.


251 – day two hundred and fifty one. Wow. How did I end up with three hundred entries in only two hundred and fifty one days?

RIGHT! All those wrap up entries I used to write where I broke down my week into best ofs, and people I met, and all that jazz. Yeah, that stopped pretty early on didn't it? it was never a good idea – and I'm glad that it has faded beyond my memory.

Well then – day two hundred and fifty one. That means yesterday was day two fifty (provided my calculations make any sense at all, and that I really did start my trip on September second.)

I'll have to check that out – surely that information is contained somewhere. Not on anything I have on me at the moment, mind you – and checking my early entries I didn't seem to make records of that then either. But, you know, in an email I'll have information about my Iceland flight, and that date will tell me what I need to know.

So, today, I rolled out of bed. Well, I didn't really roll out of bed. If I did, it would have hurt. A lot. I would have fallen down from the top bunk to the small area between the two bunks. I got out of bed via a little foot rest that pulls out of the wall and acts like a ladder. Once out of bed, I grabbed my gear and headed out to the platform to meet the people from my hostel ready to pick me up.

Now, what I could have done – should have done – was see the person holding a sign with my name on it, and go talk to them. But that wouldn't have worked out in my favour, so what I did was walk right by them and head to the ticket counter. Three failed starts later, and I was in a good line. Line one failed as – I don't know, it said ticket office? But they sent me down the line. Line two was for platform tickets, apparently. I do not know what that is. Line three, I got all the way to the front before a girl put up a line closed sign. But then – then – I was in a good line, and I was able to ask for a ticket to Shanghai for tomorrow afternoon.

Once more I was told there were no hard sleepers or seats, and that I would have to take a soft sleeper. I think I'm starting to see what's going on here (as I've met people who booked hard seats and sleepers after I did.) I think that they see white travellers and think – this guy can afford it, leaving space open for the Chinese travellers.

Now if that is what happens, I can hardly fault them. After all, what's forty dollars? It's a bloody video game when I get home, or two if they're Lego games (and my lord are those some sweet as – spelling is correct here – games.)

Still, with the train leaving the next day, and me aboard it, I can't complain all that much. I was worried I'd need to spend an extra day in the city, and that would mess up my hostel booking over in Shanghai.

With ticket now in hand, I headed back to the girls holding my name and let them lead me to a group of others waiting to take the free transfer to the hostel. [authors note: it strikes me that I have a ticket for a free beer in my pocket that I forgot all about... the beers are 10yuan (a buck sixty?) now that may not sound like a lot. But the hostel itself was only 20yuan for the night – so had I drank the beer that would have been half the price recouped. Man, this is why they say China is cheap to travel – it's practically free to sleep here. I'm sad about that unused beer.]

For what it's worth I wasn't the last to join the waiting group, so I didn't waste any time. In fact I used the time I was given wisely. Not that I knew that jumping from line to line waiting to book my ticket.

In the minibus I started talking to some folks, and learned that they booked their hard seat after I booked my soft sleeper on the train from Beijing to Xi'an. More evidence about the selling tactics.

I was thinking of how wonderful a shower, after so long on a train, would be. But as soon as I checked into the hostel, 9:15, I noticed a tour headed to the Terracotta Warriors that was to leave at 9:30. Terrible! I purchased a ticket, threw my stuff in my room, and headed back down just in time to jump on the minibus.

The tour ran just about forty dollars, and while I knew I could do it cheaper on my own, I wasn't sure if I'd be active enough to do it, or if I'd just be lazy. So, not taking chances – I came here to see these things after all – I headed out.

There were more stops than just the warriors and we would explore them all. Stop the first was the Bampo museum, which was a building built around an old settlement where holes and pits in the ground showed where the buildings once stood many many centuries past. There were also clay fragments, and pots which once contained the dead, buried within.

An old kiln dug out of the earth showed how the clay items were made and fired, and a final room held the remains of some of the one-time residents.

More than any of the things within the museum, I found the museum itself of interest. Here they did not bring the artifacts to a building to be shown off, but rather they built the building around the settlement. There would be no taking artifacts piece by piece, instead we were tourists allowed to walk around in, what is essentially, an ongoing archaeological dig.

From there we headed to a clay workshop where reproductions of the terracotta warriors were made, and fired, and painted. I learned long ago that these “factories” claiming to offer good prices offered anything but. Things which sold here for eighty yuan could be purchased for ten outside the museum. Well, they could probably have been purchased two for ten, or cheaper – but I settled on ten.

Still, out front there was a half warrior without its head that you were meant to kneel on and take a picture of. An advanced hole in cardboard, is what it was. And good fun too. Unfortunately I didn't take a picture of myself as the emperor. But to be fair, I thought it was a woman at first. No more on that.

Inside the selling room I was followed by the female employee like I have not been since I was sixteen. Just like those times when trench coat wearing me led Zellers employees through a maze of criss crossing aisles, I did the same with her. Step one to see if you're being followed, make four left turns in a row. Yup, I had her hooked. For the next five minutes I just crisscrossed around looking at nothing in particular. Just seeing if she'd stay behind me. Finally she approached, fearful of my potential thieving ways, I guess, and asked if I wanted to buy anything. I said no – I couldn't carry it. Without joking she said if I bought the life sized warriors (there are some in Pacific Mall in Markham, by the by, hidden away at the back of the food court near the magic couch) they would ship in home free. This warrior was just under ten thousand dollars.

After that I headed off walking some more, and still she followed. There were all number of other people here that could have been pocketing goods. Finally she came up to me saying, “the exit is over there.” Fine – alright. I'll let her relax. Out I went.

What made me the one most likely to rob the clay workshop? I mean honestly -

Then we went to a museum that recreates the first emperor of China's tomb. The real one was a mound that could be seen from the road. It is the largest tomb in the world apparently. And, it is said, that it can not be excavated for two reasons. None of which are for respect of the emperor, mind you. One is that there are Indiana Jones styled booby traps – cross bows waiting to fire. And the other is that the coffin rests in a pool of Mercury, said to represent the two powerful rivers in China.

I find both of these things hard to believe – but then this guy did have workers taken from all over the new China that he unified, and forced them to make thousands of individual warriors out of clay – so, really, anything is possible.

Still – robots could go in and check things out, strap a camera to them, modify a bomb disposal droid. Err... drone. And all will be well.

Here inside the 1970s sex party-esque room (Christmas cord lights, and flashing neons everywhere, I guess being the sun and stars?) we could see what it looks like. Which begs the question – who got in there to see if it's so dangerous? But never mind that.

Because now we were off to see the museum. Right after lunch. Which we all rebelled against, and did not have. So straight to see the Terracotta warriors. This was what we had all come to see. This was the reason that we were all in Xi'an. This is the reason everyone comes to Xi'an.

We toured from pit II, to III, to I. Pit one is the biggest, and better left until the end, else the others will be even more disappointing that they actually are. First in pit II we saw aisles where the warriors would be assumed to rest. However, fires caused the roofs over the warriors to collapse, and thus they were destroyed. Basically this room is over looking a few shattered warriors, and a number of covered halls. If you really want to break it down, you're looking at a room of clay speed bumps. This is all. Keep moving.

Pit III held some artifacts in cases, and that was the most impressive area. You could get up close and see the detail and strands of hair, and various armour styles that went into each piece. No two warriors look alike. Each is a different height, and weight. Their clothes are not the same as others. They are unique as two people. And it is here that you can see it. Still, in the pit itself is mostly broken fragments. On to pit I.

Walking in you will first notice that you can not see over the edge, as it is blocked by hundreds of people all trying to get a good look. And most of these people are Chinese, which means if you wait your turn you'll never get anywhere. They have no problem shoving in front of you. This means just one thing – elbows out!

Push your way to the edge by any means. That old woman you shoved aside, don't feel guilty, in just a few seconds she'll be throwing fists at your skull, and if you stand your ground to that, she'll respect you. It's the Chinese way. That's what I've gathered anyway. Heck, why not hork up some flem and spit at her feet just for good measure. Show her you know the ropes here. Start acting like a local.

Finally once you have your position at the front you will look forward at what is said to be the most spectacular thing in all of China. I've read that visiting China and not seeing them is like visiting Egypt and not seeing the pyramids. Not that this makes any sense. More logically it would be not seeing the Great Wall that would be analogous, but even that fails as there are so many different things in China, and as a country it is far too big – whereas most people going to Egypt simply go to Cairo, and that's that. Still – the point is, well I'll get to it.

So there you are looking down at the warriors. A good fifteen hundred or so of them. My first thought? Huh – is that all?

Look, I know I come off jaded some times. I took a lot of flack for not visiting the Louvre (it's just an art gallery – who cares) when i was in Paris. But it's not that things don't impress me. Impressive things impress me.

This? This was looking down on a bunch of store mannequins. Yes the mannequins in Xi'an are modeled after the warriors. You're high above, and they do not stretch on forever as television has led me to believe. I'm part of the problem – I took photos that framed it to make them seem endless. Thousands strong, a full army. But they are not. There are a few of them standing together, looking wholly unimpressive.

And then you must fight your way through more crowds to walk around to the back where a few more stand, and workers glue pieces together still creating more. But – that's it. It's not this never ending expanse nor is it something that will change your life and make you shrink back in awe – the way the Great Wall did for me.) It's just a bunch of white statues.

White – because the Chinese up them up without caring for the process, and within three days the brilliant colours of paint that covered and detailed each piece – lasting two thousands years undisturbed – faded to nothing.

i know I should be saying how great they are, and how everyone should see them. But that's just not the way they struck me. I talked to others, and they were equally unimpressed. This site had been so built up by everything that there was just no way that it could possibly deliver.

Now, let me tell you why it is impressive. Logically I know I should be wowed, but my heard cares not for logic.

Each warrior was made individually, sculpted to be unique. This is very impressive. And it required a force of workers stolen from their homes and forced to work on them for the rest of their lives (they were buried alive at the completion of the process so that none could reveal the location of this underground army. Not that it helped – it was found and burned not long after it was completed.) It took years to complete, and was ordered by China's first emperor (a not so nice guy who unified the six kingdoms through the most terrible of ways) and once more the museum was built around the site, rather than the artifacts being moved.

I couldn't help but think that Katherine would have enjoyed this – being interested in museums, and their architecture. And I did enjoy the buildings – but...

Were you allowed to walk amongst them, and see them from the first person perspective, rather than over head, they may have looked endless, their scale, scope, and awe may have come across. Surely we can't have people walk by such things, you think. But you are wrong. I could have thrown objects and smashed them. The danger exists for destruction here. All that would need to be done is to build glass/plastic halls that walk amongst the statues, much like at an aquarium.

Yes, that's a good analogy. Imagine an aquarium containing some of the most impressive fish in the world – but you are only allowed to watch from the top of the tank. Sure you'd see the fish – but would it really be the same as walking through the tunnels that put you amongst them? Would it be the same as watching from underwater level through large windows? It would not.

Terracotta warriors. Yes – they're impressive. Yes, I'm glad I saw them. But do you need to?


And that's the way it is.

The tour continued on for half of us – taking them to some hot springs. I'd seen hot springs and decided not to spend one hundred more to check them out. For forty minutes I waited in the car with two other travellers, and we chatted about our journeys. They told me that you could just walk up to the Shanghai Expo entrance and buy tickets to get in there. It has been decided, if that is fact, that I will go to the expo. My time was best spent in the car, I do believe.

Back at the hostel I spent an hour resting and chattin' with a guy in my room. From Van City as a youth, he now lives in England. We talked hockey, and I informed him as a Torontonian I can not wish good things upon the Canucks as they continue through the playoffs.

Then, as the sun fell, I headed back outside to wander past the bell tower, the drum tower, and the Muslim quarter. Once more, little children were encouraged to pee in the middle of the street.

The bright lights and the city once more brought me to a feeling that I was where I was supposed to be. After many nights out of a city centre it was wonderful to be back out at night, secure that I'll get safely home when I need to.

After spending some time wandering, reading, enjoying the warm night, and having a mother take a picture of me with her baby (this doesn't even phase me anymore) I headed back with all intents to grab a drink at the bar with the guy I'd met earlier – but at 9pm, resting on my bed, that was it. I was out. Time for sleep.

It had been a good, well used, twelve hour day.

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