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Thursday, April 7, 2011

4/4 Xi'an. Day 2: Part 2

Today, we got up early to go to the Shaanxi Provincial History Museum, which has an amazing world-class collection of artifacts. However…..when we got there at about 8:00am, there was a line of about 1000 people. Umm, yeah...we couldn't get in, because they have to limit the number of visitors each day, plus we had other places to go. 

We got on a bus to go see the Terra Cotta Warriors, which is not actually in Xi'an, but in a smaller town called Lin Tong, which is about 40km away from Xi'an.

After a long ride, we got there and saw the three different pits of warriors and horses and what was left of chariots. They were in all conditions of shape. Many were broken, some were half broken, some looked brand freaking new. It is a sight that can but can't be captured on video. When I read that each warrior is molded on different people, I was like "oh, that's cool, what's next?", but when I got there and actually saw that each warrior was molded on a different person, I kind of flipped out. 

Every person had a different face, some with facial hair even. Different types of hair, armor, position, poses, even shoes were different depending on the person's rank. Some of the clothing that peeked out from under the person's armor in the back was sculpted differently. I was completely blown away. More than blown away - just imagine doing that for literally thousands of people. Thousands!!! I guess that's why the project was commissioned by Qinshi Huang when he was 13. 

This stuff isn't made out of stone, it's made out of Terra Cotta….glorified clay. And so much of it is intact after thousands of years. Places where water had dripped in or the roof had caved in years before discovery were obvious, because a face or a hand or an arm would look like it was growing out of the ground, because the rest of the warrior had  fallen apart and become one with the existing clay/rock. It's a priceless treasure for China to have.

The place is still being excavated in places, so there are spots with ladders, buckets, tools, and the general archaeology stuff. So much has been done, but there is so much left to do if there are plans to completely excavate it. 

After that, we planned to go to Hua Qing Chi, which means Clear Flower Lake (if my off the top translation is right), but when we got there, the ticket price was a bit expensive, so we didn't (plus, we had heard from the taxi driver that there wasn't much to see anyway). Our next step was going to be Hua Shan, but that was changed to Li Shan, but then we couldn't got to Li Shan because it was too late in the day to try to climb a mountain (it was about 3:30/4:00pm).

After not going to Hua Qing Chi, we took a bus back to Xi'an. The absolutely most crowded bus I've ever been on. It was easily over capacity by about 50 people. There were two rows of two seats and in the middle aisle, the extra people were crammed in in like sardines (yours truly included). They had even developed a special system of standing so they could fit more people - it was ridiculous. For about an hour I had to stand in one spot, without moving at all, hot as h*ll, and with a dead camera battery. I couldn't document one second of it.

As I was standing there in my spot, slightly amused and slightly angry, I noticed the looks on the faces of the other people on the bus (they were all Chinese). They were as calm as Hindu cows, as if it were completely normal as sitting at home watching TV. As I was standing there in the middle of the aisle, my stomach poking into the shoulder of some random guy sleeping in his seat, his head rolled over in sleep onto his shoulder (AKA my stomach).

It was in this moment - on an incredibly hot and crowded bus with a Chinese man sleeping on my stomach - that I was reminded that being in China or being Chinese isn't all about eating fantastic food and getting to see places thousands of years old in the world's oldest culture. There are always some spots that could use some polishing. 

As Dane Cook says about owning a monkey: "It's not all about bananas and dancing with toothbrushes". 

It's really difficult to explain how I felt in that moment - all I have is this really strong feeling, but I don't know how to explain it. Words can't always encompass what we we've seen and felt, as much as we wish they could. Just for a second - only a second, I felt like I had crossed the cultural bridge and took one step onto the Chinese side, but someone on the other side was waiting for me and said, "sorry, but you can't go any further - this area is off limits to you". 

This is a terrible analogy, but it's the closest I can come at the moment to how I felt. Although this trip to Xi'an has been really fun, it's also been incredibly educational in terms of vocabulary, patience, Chinese hotel service,  and cultural gaps. 

(Oh, and by the way, I disconnected the phone in my hotel room so that I wouldn't get any more 'service' calls)      :)

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