Xi'an - Home of the Terracotta Warriors

Trip Start Feb 15, 2008
Trip End May 31, 2008

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Flag of China  , Shaanxi,
Thursday, May 15, 2008

Xian became a must see for tourists after the discovery of Emperor Quin's Terracotta Army by a farmer who was digging a well in 1974. The farmer was paid 14 by the government as a reward for the find and at the time he thought it was a lot of money. He later worked out that he'd been short changed for his important find and now makes his living by sitting in the museum's souvenir shop signing books. The museum which houses the display is located about an hour's drive from the city.

We charted a bus for the day and also picked up a local guide named Mike who spoke perfect English and knew everything there is to know about China's history and geography. Emperor Quin who unified China and completed the Great Wall in 221 AD, decided that he needed an army of approximately 7000 made out of terracotta to help him in his next life.

The warriors are distributed across three massive pits and the whole site covers an area of over 22,000 square km. When uncovered, the warriors were found almost completely destroyed due to the collapse of the timber roofs which had been covered with soil to disguise them. I was surprised to learn that the warriors were originally painted, though exposure to the elements has resulted in the colours fading. The display also features a bronze chariot with mini horses to carry the emperor's soul and another bronze chariot, complete with weapons, which was to precede and provide security.

Once inside the complex expect to be swamped by souvenir vendors who are mainly selling mini terracotta warrior figure sets. Prices for these little boxed sets will start at 120 though the actual going rate is 10 so make sure you don't get ripped off; if buying two sets you can get the second one for 5. You can also pick up a full sized warrior for your garden which you can have shipped home.

The city of Xian has expanded in response to the tourist influx and is now home to about 3 million people, 7 million including the outer areas. Other things worth checking out while in Xian include the bell and drum towers which date back to around 1380 and are approximately 35 metres high. They were once used to help the people know what time it was with the bell sounding during the day and the drum used at night; though it'd be a bit pointless now since you wouldn't hear it over the traffic noise. That evening we took a walk into the city's Muslim Quarter which is best visited at night to enjoy the lights which decorate the streets and the night markets where you can get a great deal on handicrafts made from local jade stone or other items.

Xian is surrounded by a 13 metre high city wall and that morning three of us hired bicycles and rode around the wall's 14km rectangular circuit. The trip takes about an hour at a moderate pace and the position offers some great views out across the city.

Another place which is certainly worth a visit is the Wild Goose Pagoda. This place is a Buddhist Monastery which was built in 652 during the Tang Dynasty and originally had five stories. One of the pagoda's many functions was to hold sutras and figurines of the Buddha that were brought to China from India by the Buddhist translator and traveller Xuanzang. The centre features gardens, statues and buildings which are pleasant to wander around.

Certainly a bizarre if not cruel sight is the custom of putting a cat in a cage and hanging it from a tree for 49 days after someone passes away. This is supposed to help someone's soul pass over to the next life. I mentioned that this practice may be a little disturbing for the poor cat though I was reassured that the cat receives food and water and is set free at the end of the 49 days... probably to end up being nabbed by one of the local restaurants and served up as some kind of chicken dish. In fact in China, unlike Latin America, you just don't see stray animals wandering the streets. It’s a popular joke that the Chinese eat dogs and cats, but this is not a joke, they do! We asked our guide, Jenson, about this and he explained that there are so many people in China that they are very hungry. He told us that both dog and cat are delicious and that many Chinese will even resort to eating their own beloved pets if hungry.

We made our way that afternoon to the airport to catch our internal flight to Gui Ling. On reaching Gui Ling we were met by another bus we had charted which transported us to the beautiful tourist town of Yangshuo.
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