Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors

Eager to get out of Beijing, we hopped a high-speed train over to Xi’an in the Shaanxi Province. The walled part of the old city has a nice little shopping district called the Muslim Quarter where you can sample all kinds of halal street food and shop for handicrafts.

[ptcPhoto filename=”XianFans.jpg” title=”Fans” caption=”Chinese fans in the Muslim Quarter.” position=”center”]

[ptcPhoto filename=”XianFood.jpg” title=”Street Food” caption=”Street food in the making.” position=”center”]

But the real reason to visit Xi’an is the Terracotta Army. It’s located about an hour outside of town, making it an easy day trip. Upon arriving we headed to pit one straightaway. Of the four pits that you can enter, it is by far the most remarkable. We were taken aback by the sight of 6,000 Warriors all lined up in formation.

[ptcPhoto filename=”TerracottaWarriors-4.jpg” title=”Pit One” caption=”After thousands of years in the dark, the Warriors now greet millions of visitors every year.” position=”center”]

The Terracotta Warriors were built in the third century BCE by laborers and craftsmen directed by China’s first Emperor, Qin Shi Huang. The army was meant to protect Qin in his afterlife, so the soldiers were built with horses and sophisticated weapons.

[ptcPhoto filename=”XianSam1.jpg” title=”Weapons” caption=”At one time they all would have had weapons in their hands.” position=”center”]

They were covered in sixteen feet of dirt until 1974 when they were rediscovered by farmers digging a well in rural Shaanxi. One of the farmers wrote a book about the experience and now hangs out in the gift shop as a local celebrity. You can meet him and take his photo if you make a purchase.

[ptcPhoto filename=”XianFarmer.jpg” title=”Farmer” caption=”We didn’t, and had to settle for this photo of his photo.” position=”center”]

Around the back of the excavation site you can see Warriors in various stages of restoration. Archaeologists are still uncovering more and more remnants and piecing them together in what must be the world’s most complicated jigsaw puzzle.

[ptcPhoto filename=”TerracottaWarriors-9.jpg” title=”Head” caption=”These guys need a lot of glue.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”TerracottaWarriors-7.jpg” title=”Headless” caption=”They used to be painted in bright pigments that made them look even more realistic.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”TerracottaWarriors-8.jpg” title=”Title” caption=”Their height signified rank – the tallest were generals.” position=”center”]

To learn more, check out the Shaanxi History Museum located inside the city. It’s a free museum but we ended up spending something like two hours standing outside in the heat waiting to get in. They only let two groups enter daily rather than cycling people through, making the whole experience rather painful. Once you’re inside, though, you can see the Kneeling Archer – the only Warrior that was found in one piece.

[ptcPhoto filename=”TerracottaWarriors-1.jpg” title=”Archer” caption=”His short stature may have saved him from being crushed when the pit caved in.” position=”center”]

If you decide to brave the crowds I’d recommend going to the museum first. Once you’ve seen the pits you won’t be that impressed with what’s on display here. But you can definitely get much closer to the Warriors here than at the main excavation site and get a sense of how detailed they are.

[ptcPhoto filename=”TerracottaWarriors-2.jpg” title=”Close up” caption=”Each soldier is different from the next.” position=”center”]

It should be noted that some conspiracy theorists believe the Warriors are an elaborate hoax set up by the Chinese government to lure in tourists. It is true that they were discovered right when China was first opening its doors to Western visitors.

[ptcPhoto filename=”TerracottaWarriors-11.jpg” title=”Line” caption=”The Emperor’s tomb is nearby, but has yet to be opened.” position=”center”]

Skeptics are also quick to point out that no other terracotta works have survived in such good condition for two thousand years and that piecing them back together into what we see today would be an impossibility. Furthermore, legend has it that in order to keep the army a secret, Emperor Qin had all 700,000 builders put to death. But no mass grave sites have been found anywhere in the vicinity.

[ptcPhoto filename=”TerracottaWarriors-3.jpg” title=”Hoax?” caption=”A massive schvindel?” position=”center”]

We like to believe they’re authentic, though. If so, they paint an extraordinary picture not only of an Emperor’s extreme sense of self-importance, but also of ancient arts, belief systems, and ingenuity.

Snapshot Sunday: Grazing in a Karst Landscape

[ptcPhoto filename=”Karst640.jpg” title=”Yangshuo” caption=”Grazing in a karst landscape – Yangshuo, Guangxi – China” position=”center”]

The countryside around the city of Yangshuo in China’s Guangxi Province is famous for its karst landscape of limestone hills. This cow took a moment to acknowledge us as we cycled through farmers’ fields along the Li River and took in the countless majestic peaks.

Click here to view a larger, detailed image.

Photos from the Wall

We were on a bus seventy kilometers outside of Beijing when we caught our first glimpse of the Great Wall of China, firmly perched on a tall ridge in the distance. We were visiting the wall at Mutianyu, a bit more rugged and less popular than Badaling, where most tourists go. We hopped on the gondola at the base of the hill and were swept up to the top in no time.

[ptcPhoto filename=”GreatWall6.jpg” title=”Loong” caption=”It’s still the longest human-made structure on earth.” position=”center”]

The first thing that strikes you is how big the wall really is – it’s 25 feet tall and seems to go on forever. The section at Mutianyu stretches for 2.5 kilometers through dense forest. It doesn’t sound far, but with the steep hills and 22 watchtowers it takes three or four hours to see everything.

[ptcPhoto filename=”GreatWall7.jpg” title=”Hills” caption=”Stretching up through the hills.” position=”center”]

This portion of the wall was reconstructed over an earlier wall dating back to the sixth century. The solid granite fortifications that make up what you see today were added 300 years ago to keep out the nomadic tribes to the north. Contrary to popular belief, the Great Wall wasn’t built all at once in a continuous line.

[ptcPhoto filename=”SamWall1.jpg” title=”Mongols” caption=”In fact, Ghengis Khan just walked around it and conquered China.” position=”center”]

The section at Mutianyu remains largely intact, unlike some sections that were dismantled for use in other building projects. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s, people were actually encouraged to take bricks from the wall for use in their farms and homes.

[ptcPhoto filename=”SamWall4.jpg” title=”Dadonghai” caption=”So many lives were lost during construction that people called it the ‘longest cemetery on earth’.” position=”center”]

On the day we visited it was practically free of visitors. So we got to take a lot of silly photos like these.

[ptcPhoto filename=”SamWall2.jpg” title=”Wall Jump” caption=”After a dozen tries, we finally got it!” position=”center”]

[ptcPhoto filename=”SamWall3.jpg” title=”Wall Evil” caption=”Because why not.” position=”center”]

It was SO hot that day that we were really thankful for the little stands selling Tsingtao beer.

[ptcPhoto filename=”SamWall5.jpg” title=”Wall Beer” caption=”As an aside, we STILL can’t pronounce ‘Tsingtao’ properly.” position=”center”]

We also liked Mutianyu because in addition to the gondola ride up you can take a toboggan ride down. In this heat, the less effort the better!

[ptcPhoto filename=”SamWall6.jpg” title=”Toboggan” caption=”The toboggan ride back down.” position=”center”]

At the bottom there’s a string of stalls selling souvenirs, paintings, and “ObaMao” t-shirts.

[ptcPhoto filename=”ObamaWall.jpg” title=”Obama” caption=”Well this makes me uncomfortable.” position=”center”]

And after returning to Beijing we celebrated the Great Wall by finding Great beers.

[ptcPhoto filename=”BeijingBeer.jpg” title=”Cheers” caption=”The perfect ending to a very hot day.” position=”center”]

Gān bēi!

Month Nine

Cool cover image, right? Those are the Longsheng Rice Terraces near Guilin, China – also known as the “Dragon’s Backbone”.

It’s been a fun-filled six weeks since our last trip update. Ishigaki, a tropical island off the south coast of Japan, was very relaxing and a great place to celebrate our one year anniversary. Unfortunately typhoons in the area cost us our scuba diving opportunity (the main reason we had gone there), but it was still a wonderful place to spend a couple weeks.

On our way back to China we made the most of an evening layover in Seoul and had a tasty BBQ dinner (and too much soju – that stuff is dangerous!). Once we got back we went to see the Himalayas from the Chinese side and traveled across the Tibetan Plateau.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Plateau.jpg” title=”Plateau” caption=”The Tibet-Sichuan Highway was VERY bumpy, and freezing cold!” position=”center”]

Another neat sight was the Baishutai Limestone Terraces. They’re in the middle of nowhere, but the tiny villages in the area are unlike anything else we’ve seen.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Baishutai.jpg” title=”Baishutai” caption=”A rarity in China: We were the only people there.” position=”center”]

We also found that Southwestern China is home to many of the “World’s Biggest” things, including the world’s largest Buddha, prayer wheel, Mao statue, and, of course, giant pandas!

[ptcPhoto filename=”LegoPanda.jpg” title=”Pandas” caption=”We promise that panda isn’t dead.” position=”center”]

In an effort to experience real Chinese culture Eric underwent some painful spa treatments in Chengdu. He was paired with a particularly aggressive masseuse who missed the memo on “soothing massage” and left him with a limp and a bruised face. Then he volunteered for an invasive ear cleaning from a man wielding some sort of medieval torture device. Thankfully he walked away relatively unscathed (and without any signs of infection).

[ptcPhoto filename=”EarCleaning.jpg” title=”Don’t move…” caption=”What was he thinking?” position=”center”]

As for Sam, she’s been working diligently on writing website posts with the hope that one day we’ll actually be up to date (or at least within a month of the things we’re talking about). We’ve also been spending a lot of time trying to figure out our upcoming travel schedule. Let’s just say we’re getting further and further away from our original plan…

We’re off to Hong Kong soon and have lots of surprises in store. Stay tuned!

Snapshot Sunday: The World’s Largest Buddha?

[ptcPhoto filename=”LeshanBuddha640.jpg” title=”Buddha” caption=”The Grand Buddha in Leshan, Sichuan – China” position=”center”]

At 71 meters (233 feet) tall, many contend that Leshan’s Grand Maitreya Buddha is the world’s largest. He was built in the eighth century to control the confluence of two rivers that were taking many ships and lives. And it worked – after his construction the river became much more manageable.

A miracle? Not so much. The massive amount of rock removed from the river for construction changed the currents and made passage easier.

Click here to view a larger, detailed image.