Xian – Ancient Capital of China

After 3 days in Pingyao, we took another overnight train to Xian. Originally the concept of traveling by train was that we would see more of the country from the ground than by air, but because we are taking overnight trains, we are not seeing much of China from the trains. First, it’s dark and second we are sleeping. The advantage of traveling by train is that we aren’t wasting the days with traveling. We go to bed in one city and wake up in the next city. That works pretty well when we can sleep and aren’t too tired for the next day’s sightseeing.

We didn’t sleep that well on the train to Xian, so fortunately when we arrived in Xian, we were taken to our hotel, the Mercure Xian on Renmin Square, to check in and rest. The hotel was modern and nice and well located within the ancient city walls.

In the afternoon, we went to see the Terracotta Warriors. Like many Americans I remember first seeing the Terracotta Army in the National Geographic following their discovery by peasants drilling a well in 1974. Their discovery lead ultimately to the discovery of thousands of terracotta soldiers and horses in battle formation, protecting the nearby tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the emperor who first unified China in 220 B.C. and established the Qin Dynasty. The warriors date to the late 3rd century B.C. Today on the site there are three buildings built over three excavation pits.

The first pit seen below is the largest, larger than a football field.

In this closer view of some of the soldiers please note that every soldier’s face are different. The artisans who created this army didn’t just stamp them identically from a mold. Our guide also noted the features on the faces identify the soldiers as coming from different regions of China. Finally, their clothing and hairstyles denote their various military ranks.

From Wikipedia: “The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots and horses. Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits nearby Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum. Other terracotta non-military figures were also found in other pits and they include officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians.” For more information go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terracotta_Army

The second and third excavation pits are smaller than pit 1. A few of the warriors are on display in glass cases for visitors to see up close including this kneeling warrior:

In the same complex with the three excavation pit buildings is a museum. The star attraction in the museum is a display two bronze chariots. Here’s a photo of one of the chariots and a team of horses:

After viewing the bronze chariots, we walked by the museum gift shop and saw this man – one of the farmers who first discovered the Terracotta Army. He was signing books containing some very beautiful pictures of the Terracotta Army.

After our visit to the Terracotta Warriors, we visited the city wall of Xian. Xian’s city wall has been restored and is in very good condition.

Xian’s wall is much larger and wider than Pingyao. Bicycle rentals are available and we saw many people riding bikes on the wall. Holly and I planned to return the following day to ride bikes on the wall, but we ran out of time. Here we are on the Xian’s city wall:

Our second day in Xian, we went first to the Muslim Quarter of Xian. Xian has a large Muslim population and a mosque not far from the center of the old city. The mosque is surrounded by streets and alleys that are lined with vendors selling both food and products. The woman below is cooking octopus-on-a-stick that she grills on her griddle.

The Muslims in China have adapted Islam to Chinese culture. That adaptation was really clear in the mosque itself. The buildings and grounds of the mosque did not look that different from the many Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian temples we have visited in China. Obviously there are no statues, and there are inscriptions from the Koran, some in Chinese and some in Arabic. Instead of the final courtyard leading to a temple with a Buddha, the final building is a prayer room. Here is Holly in front of the prayer room (although not required, Holly chose to wear a head scarf out of respect to the Muslims in the mosque):

We came back to the Muslim quarter the next day to do some shopping. I had first seen quail eggs on a stick when we were in Qingdao but didn’t give them a try. To rectify that oversight, I purchased for 5 Yuan (about 83 cents), a stick of quail eggs. The verdict: it’s just like eating fried chicken eggs on a stick, only smaller – each egg is bite-size.

After our visit to the Muslim quarter we headed to another tomb, the Tomb of Emperor Jingdi (named Liu Qi). Museum’s website: http://www.hylae.com/en/main.asp

This Han-dynasty emperor ruled from 188 to 141 B.C. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emperor_Jing_of_Han The excavated site holds not only warriors but also eunuchs and servants – both men and women, and domesticated animals – pigs, horses, sheep, goats, water buffalo, etc. Everything the Emperor would need in the afterlife. The pit shows less preoccupation with war and a greater emphasis on domestic issues. The warriors in this tomb are not life size as at the Tomb of Qin Shi Huang. They look to me like “Ken” dolls (only much bigger) who have had their arms pulled off. Originally these soldiers had wooden movable arms and silk clothing, both long since rotted away, leaving only the torso, head and legs.

The excavation pit is covered by a museum. As you descend into the pit there are glass floors and we literally walked over the artifacts.

Overtime, these sites were flooded with water and silt which surrounded and buried the statues. Most tourists visit the Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang, but not as many visit this site. Emperor Jingdi’s artifacts are very different and well worth a visit if you are visiting Xian. It’s a little further away and according to the guide books difficult to get to by public transportation (we had a car and a driver, so it was easy for us.)

Our guide, Susan (her English name), recommended we go to a dinner show with traditional music and dance. Susan and a driver picked us up at our hotel and we were joined by Erwin from Orange County, California, another client of Susan’s who was traveling by himself. The dinner was basically Dim Sum followed by a very colorful and enjoyable show.

Our third day in Xian, was a “free” day. No scheduled activities, so we decided to walk back to the Muslim Quarter from our hotel. At the center of a very busy intersection was this woman directing traffic. I still can’t get used to the traffic in China. In China, unlike the U.S.A., pedestrians definitely DO NOT have the right of way, even when you have a green light or a “walk” sign. Crosswalks appear to be meaningless.

On our way to the Muslim Quarter we walked by Xian’s bell tower.

We decided to have quick lunch, so we went to KFC. KFC seems to be more popular and ubiquitous in China than McDonalds. A couple of times I’ve had a deep-fried chicken sandwich, that the Chinese called a hamburger. It appears “hamburger” is the English translation for any fried meat sandwich, chicken, beef, or whatever. I’m sure there must be Chinese words that differentiate the type of meat in the sandwich.

After shopping in the Muslim quarter, we decided that rather than walk back to our hotel we would take a taxi. We walked out to the main street to hail a cab (we were thinking automobile) but the taxi below stopped to pick us up. I had been wanting to ride in one of these three-wheeled motorcycle style taxis and here was our chance. Drivers in China’s cities must have nerves of steel. Nerves of steel are also helpful for passengers in these tricycle taxis. Our driver darts in and out of traffic with abandon. We of course have no seat belts or other means of protection in the event of accident. One real advantage is that these taxis can travel in side lanes apparently intended for bicycles and motorcycles but not automobiles, so our driver delivered us at our hotel in very short order.

Xian is a much bigger city than Pingyao. Due to the Terracotta Warriors, Xian is also one of those destinations that almost all tourists are required to have on their itinerary. Nevertheless, we really enjoyed our time in Xian and I’m glad we went there.

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