Friday, July 20, 2018

Good Girls Meet Terracotta Army

Judy says: Our first full day in Xi'an continued with a bus ride to the Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum Site Museum.

Chinese fire drill. Photo by Debi Lander.
We arrived to discover, are you ready, a genuine Chinese fire drill taking place. (Does anyone out there remember the American teenage version?)

Photo by Debi Lander.
There seemed to be no reason other than practice and preparedness, so we continued on as soon as it was over. The complex is enormous - we took shuttles from the entrance gate to the museum area - and soon discovered why.
The shuttle station.
Debi continues: In 1974, two peasant farmers digging a well in their field discovered one of the top ten archeological sites of all time. The remarkable story has fascinated me for over 40 years, and Judy and I recently went to Xi’an, China to see the Army of Terracotta Warriors for ourselves.

The Terracotta Army is a collection of life-sized clay sculptures depicting the soldiers of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. No two look alike and researches believe the contingent to be 8,000 strong with accompanying horses and chariots. The army was buried with the emperor in 210 BC, to protect him in his afterlife. Recent studies using ground-penetrating radar suggest the army is just part of an extraordinary necropolis, approximately 38 square miles, of which only a small portion has been uncovered. 

Arriving at the Museum 
The tombs lie about an hour’s drive from Xi’an, in Shaanxi Province, China’s central region. Many hotels and tour groups arrange visits to the UNESCO World Heritage site. 

After arriving, we first explored the Mausoleum Museum. Its treasures include two intricate bronze chariots’, each with four horses and charioteer found near the terracotta soldiers’ underground pits. The bronzes are half life-sized and clearly detail the clothing, mechanics, and horsemanship of the ancient world. 

The second bronze chariot in the museum
The museum also gives visitors a 360-degree close-up view of various ranking terracotta soldiers and their bronze weapons. The higher in rank, the larger the sculpture. 

Judy adds: I could have spent a day studying each one and reading every label and placard except... the crush of people was as claustrophobic as it was frustrating. Curse of the remarkable, I guess.

Kneeling Archer in the museum
Debi continues: We were anxious and fidgety as we’d come thousands of miles to view the army of soldiers. “Not so fast,” said our guide. He headed us toward Pit 3, site of ongoing excavations and saved the best for last- the immense Pit 1.

He was right! Staring into Pit 3, I looked down into deep earthen rows containing broken fragments. Unfortunately, time, water and land shifts caused the sculptures to topple and break. The complexity of brushing away layers of dirt, carefully extracting pieces, and finally reconstructing the soldiers is painfully slow. International teams of researchers have come to assist. 

Ongoing excavation work in Pit 3

Can you imagine the difficulty of putting the pieces together? 

Pit 2, although small, displays all the types of terracotta warriors found so far, including infantries, cavalries, chariot warriors, and archers. They are arranged in formations with their horses. The chariots or wagons were wood and therefore disintegrated. 

The warriors in formation in Pit 2

Judy adds: Pit 2  brings home the immensity of this find. Can you imagine the first archaeologists who saw this as they go from excitement, exhilaration and awe over the find to dismay over the job ahead? Not to mention the curators who are currently working on the intricate and enormous project,  wondering when it will be finished. Which brings us to the craftsmen who created and assembled the army in the first place.

Debi continues: Pit 1 simply takes your breath away. The size of the Quonset hut-like building itself overwhelms; the behemoth enclosure could fit two of the largest jumbo jets. The warriors stand tall, each five to six feet tall weighing between 300-400 pounds. Legs and feet form a solid base, but the rest of each figure is hollow. Torsos, arms, hands, and heads were molded separately then attached. Final details added later. Apparently, each warrior has its artist's name etched into its foot to make sure the work met standards. 

The overwhelming site of the Terracotta Army in Pit 1

Squadrons of soldiers, divided by solid partitions, stand ready to march or mount their nearby horses, also made of clay. The assemblage feels both creepy and awe-inspiringly magnificent. The realistic faces, especially their eyes, project piercing looks. Glance away, and the army might start advancing at any moment.

A closer look into Pit 1.

Originally each figure was painted, but once as the terracotta fragments are exposed to oxygen, the paint begins to decompose and flake off. For this reason, future work has stalled. I can imagine the colorful army would have stopped anyone in their tracks. 


Intrigued by this massive project, we learned that over 700,000 people were enslaved for the 36-38 years it took to build the Emperor’s self-indulgent tomb. Even worse, upon his death, the grave was covered over, and the workers killed to keep anyone from revealing the location. Some, including numerous concubines, were buried alive. All was left undisturbed for centuries while the warriors silently kept guard for the Emperor in his afterlife. 

Judy adds: No doubt, Emperor Qin Shi Huang was a cruel, ruthless ruler, which is one reason  his dynasty was a short one. But he left behind a unified country that today bears his name and the term "emperor" which other rulers adopted for the next 2,000 years. Add to that a system of laws, abolishing feudalism, creating a standardized alphabet, tax system and currency,  road widths, wheel sizes, axle lengths and all other kinds of measurements.

He began work destroying walls that separated the country, replacing them with connecting walls to create a Great Wall for better protection country-wide, along with a national road system. He ordered construction of the 34-kilometer-long Lingqu  canal to facilitate delivery of supplies to the army, transportation and trade A major engineering feat, it linked the Xiang, which flows into the Yangtze, with the Li Jiang, which flows into the Pearl, aiding expansion into the south and west. Weapons of defeated armies were melted down to be made into works of art. Altogether, not a bad legacy.

Look closely to see how the soldiers were pieced together and see traces of their original paint. 
Tips:  We arrived in the late afternoon, crowds were way down, but we didn’t get a chance to see the video in the welcome center nor visit the gift shop.  Allow a half day at minimum.

Judy says: Better yet, stay in the area overnight to fully enjoy the Army and the Tang dynasty winter palace and the spectacular theatrical experience we will tell you about next week!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Expo, Walking atop Walls and Dumplings

In the morning, a bit bleary-eyed but ready to explore, we head to the Xi'an Silk Road International Tourism Expo. Along the way we pass another group meeting, the World Toilet Work Conference. We'd like to have stopped in and mentioned our request for more Western style toilets, but that's a story for another day.

Arriving at the Expo Hall

Like a repeat of yesterday's extravaganza, we are welcomed  with preferential seating and the press. The opening ceremony was a combination of short remarks, dance, drums and dance. The expo itself is a riot of color and world destinations, all vying for the attention of visitors.

Xi'an Silk Road International Expo
Naturally, the Good Girls had a little fun and joined the Red Army!

After a brief walk-through, we switch gears for a walk on the city's wall. Xi'an was the capitol of China, home of the first emperor and all who followed him for more than 1,400 years.

The ancient wall on a smoggy day.

The wall was built of adobe during the Tang Dynasty (618-906) and rebuilt of brick in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Now it stands an imposing 40 feet high, 40-46 feet wide at the top, 50 to 60 feet at the bottom and stretches for 8.5 miles surrounded by a moat and park.

A lovely park on the exterior of the wall and the modern city behind. 

Intricate wooden architecture with beautiful painted details on a temple.

The wall is long and appears to go on forever. 
To residents these walls are a park unto themselves.

Brides and grooms accompanied by an entourage of photographers, hair and makeup stylists, set up photo shoots there.

Families rent bikes and ride around the top.

Couples amble around and groups like ours explore its ancient rooms and contemporary vistas.

Debi headed for the top tower; I wandered below and was soon intrigued by an odd statue.
The Pi Xin.
The beast, I learned, is a Pi Xin, an imaginary creature beloved by merchants because he takes food - i.e. money - in, but never excretes, or as our guide put it, "all in, no out."

Along the ramparts, illustrations with informative text in Chinese and English explain life within, from armaments and their use to uniforms and strategies.

Which way? 
Lunch also was filled with discoveries. We were taken to Defachang, known as the No. 1 dumpling banquet house since 1939.  Photos of the famous, Anna Chenault to the Clintons, who have dined in one of the upstairs private banquet rooms line the halls.

We were led to ours and settled in to what was to become a marathon demonstration of the versatility of Chinese dumplings. Cooking method? Steamed, baked, boiled, fried, sauteed. Shapes ranged from stegosaurus backs or swans to cylinders or tiny stuffed drawstring purses. Colors? Creamy, yellow, orange, browns, blacks and most shades in between. Fillings? You name it, savory, sweet, spicy, mild. We lost track, but each was delicious.

A tasty Duck Dumpling!

In all, more than 200 different varieties can be prepared by the folders, fillers and chefs at Defachang. We blimped out at perhaps 19 or 20. In retrospect, the mind boggles.

Little did we know our day had barely begun.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Good Girls head West to go East to China

Invited to spend 15 days exploring Shaanxi Province in China, Debi and Judy traveled from Florida to Los Angeles and then onto Xiamen, China via Xiamen Airlines. Bleary-eyed but eager, we flew on to Xi'an, the center and capital of Shaanxi Province.

Too late for the scheduled lunch, our group of 12 writers/photographers were taken to the Forest of Stone Stele (Beilin) Museum, where the director was waiting to give us a tour and a gang of Chinese paparazzi were waiting to photograph and video our every move.

Strange feeling for all members of our now formal delegation as we are invariably on the "taking" side of the camera.

Normally it is a serene environment with its stately, primarily Tang dynasty carved books and essays and sculptures of  stone surrounded by meticulously designed and maintained landscaping.

Daxia dynasty horse, circa 424.
All too soon we were politely herded into the meeting room for a formal meeting with our host, Mr. Gao Zhangyin, Director of the Shaanxi Provincial Tourism Development Commission.

We were each presented with beautiful Lian Pu wooden painted masks, a Shaanxi regional specialty. One look at the exquisite presentation box and our hearts broke: no way would the whole thing fit in our luggage for the trip home. 

Think the Good Girls were feeling grubby after 35 hours of non-stop travel? 

From there our bus headed for the Crown Plaza Xi'an hotel where we are guests at the kick-off banquet for the Xi'an Silk Road International Tourism Expo, which opens the next morning and yes, we will be honored guests there, too. Champagne and living "terracotta warriors" greeted us in elegant surroundings.

Imagine sitting at a beautifully set, prominent table in a ballroom filled with tastefully dressed, bathed people when at this point, we were 40-plus hours into our first day - 
 The presentation of Silk Road history in vignettes kept us interested and awake.

Photos by Debi Lander.

 - and knowing it would be a good four hours more before hitting our hotel.

Now THAT'S grubby.

Disclosure: While we were hosted and had our itinerary set by Shaanxi Provincial Tourism Development, the Good Girls paid our own way to and from China.