Funerary Art, Folk Art and the Art of Living

Trip Start Jul 22, 2011
Trip End Aug 12, 2011

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Where I stayed
Grand Noble Hotel, Xi'an
What I did
Terracotta Warriors
Hongdao Art Museum

Flag of China  , Shaanxi,
Thursday, July 28, 2011


In the Kimball Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, we saw one of the real terracotta warriors and horses on loan from Xi'an. At the time, I was fascinated by the size and detail of them and I didn’t think we would ever get to China.  Skip forward about 12 years, and here we are standing in front of Pit 1 at the actual excavations in Xi’an with at least a thousand warriors and horses facing us among still unexcavated sections in this large football size covered building.  Very few people are in this main viewing area at this time so we can just walk up to the railing, visually take it all in and capture photos.  It wasn’t until this moment that I connected the statues with the historical context and the sense of place.  Life is so enriched when we have a context.  Wow. 

When we had approached the building of Pit 1, Olivia our guide outlined the plan - we would go to Pit 1 to get an overview, go to see a movie, and then return for a walk around the entire pit.  We followed her suggestion and gave up our viewing experience with few people to see the movie in another building.  The movie really was quite interesting, dramatizing some of the time period and how the warriors were constructed.   To exit from the movie, we are routed through a gift shop.  There are terracotta warriors of all sizes that we are told are made with the same type clay as the originals.  We see the original farmer who discovered the excavations signing souvenir photo books.  By the time we get back to Pit 1, the tour groups have arrived and the place is swamped!  We are back into our gentle pushing and shoving to get close to the railings as we walk around the pit!

This experience brought to my awareness how many times I put a plan in my mind and then I’m no longer open to opportunities that present themselves.  The thing about plans is that they should be just that, not fixed in stone but a guide that can be adjusted and changed.  Sometimes a plan is a starting point and it’s best to let things flow from there.  And it was a reminder that when we are with a private guide versus a tour group, we really can do anything that we want and it’s best to stay open.  In this case, it would have been a better viewing experience to stay in Pit 1 when we first arrived to do the full walk around and then head over to see the movie and then see the remainder of the exhibition buildings.

As we exited the Terracotta Warrior site the walk is through an outdoor shopping mall.  We joke that we’ve now seen the Great Wall, experienced the Internet Wall (the state electronic firewall for instance blocks Facebook), and now the requisite shopping mall.  We talk with Olivia, our guide, about how we are not into acquiring things with our money, that we focus on travel and experiences.   I comment that the predominant color for Xi’an seems to be the earth tones of the terracotta statues or the stones of the wall.  This is in contrast with Beijing where the color seems to be red and its association with the Red China political power.  Harvey freely associates and says "Learning from the past, living in the present, hoping for the future".  He doesn’t remember where he read this but it does give one pause to think about choices we make and how we live our lives.

After lunch, we head towards the Hongdao Art Museum that is not on our itinerary but Olivia thinks we will enjoy.  Was she right!  This museum consists of three sections:  Chinese folk arts containing farmer paintings, paper cuttings and facial masks; an exhibition on Chinese painting history; a cultural exchange hall where local artists exhibit and sell their work.  Olivia introduced us to a guide that had a twinkle in her eye and clearly enjoyed presenting information about the art.  My eyes feasted on the vibrant colors and each artist’s interpretation of scenes and people in the folk art section.  The detail of the paper cutting illustrated superb skill.  I could not believe that I was looking at a rice paper brush painting that was 2200 years old.   This was all great, but there is even more.  In the cultural exchange hall, our guide gave us a calligraphy lesson.   What fun!    One of the examples that she showed was a flower – the artist had chosen the brush and color to capture the spirit and used a more refined black ink brush for some detail to capture the essence.  I want to find out more about this style when I’m home.  Maybe I can do it on my computer in Corel Painter. 

We were having so much fun, that time just passed and Olivia, seeing this, chose not to urge us on so we could get to our next stop.  And we had been reminded in the morning, to just go with the flow, so we are in the moment enjoying ourselves not mindful of time at all.  I know we weren’t at one of the top tourist sites in Xi’an, but this was perfect for our interests.  This morning and afternoon we have seen incredible craftsmanship, skill and creativity at the Terracotta Warriors and the exhibition at the Hongdao Art Museum.  It is one think to look at art and it’s another thing to engage in the creative process itself and participate in creating something.  Sometimes it’s good to be an observer and sometimes it’s fun to be a participant.  Certainly as a participant, we gained more appreciation for the skill in the paintings we had seen.  And it is so much fun to create something from nothing!  This also applies to observing sports on the television and participating in our own individual exercise program.  Consider this our comments on the Art of Living!

Olivia takes us through the side entrance of the Shaanxi History Museum, which is the #2 museum in China, and we quickly whisk through the exhibits before it closes.  We had already heard this history from Olivia and at the National Museum of China in Beijing we saw similar objects.  We had maybe 45 minutes there and Olivia took us to key objects.  It was more than enough time for us.

Before leaving us at our hotel, Olivia walks with us on the small side street near the hotel to help us find fruit for dinner.  A grey smog pervades the air but the streets are clean.  People sit on their building’s front steps, talking and watching people walk by.  We bring some fruit back to the room for a light dinner and arrange with room service to wash it for us.  We didn’t want to take a chance with the water from the sink that we were told not to drink.  Funny, it cost almost as much to get the fruit washed as it did to purchase it!  Oh well, it was safer for our stomachs so it’s worth it.

We have now had 6 full days in cities. Time has passed quickly and there are so many impressions to absorb.  The people have been really nice, but the crowds are too much for us.  We are so ready to start our next phase of the journey, to a national park.    Tomorrow, off to Jiuzhaigou!

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