Xi’an

Yesterday we went sightseeing in the area. We were met at the hotel by the brother of the groom. We never really caught his name and ended up referring to him as “bro” between ourselves. He didn’t really speak any English and we don’t really speak much Chinese (and he didn’t seem to understand even our reliable Chinese phrases – must be a regional accent thing because there really is no “Chinese language” just an assortment of very specific and very local spoken languages that may or may not be mutually intelligible). We did manage to establish enough of a channel of communication that we didn’t give up on the entreprise entirely – mostly remaining quiet but intermittently attempting to talk about the plans for the day, the weather, what and where to eat the next meal, etc.
We met Bro very early in order to get ahead of the Xi’an traffic. It turned out to be a cold, wet and snowy morning. The highways were smooth and efficient and mostly empty and we arrived at the site of the Army of the Terracotta warriors 30 minutes before opening – just in time to take in breakfast at a local diner (egg fried rice, noodles). Then we went to see the terra cotta (http://archaeology.about.com/od/china/a/terracotta.htm).
I would really love to tell you a lot about the Mausoleum of Shi Huangdi and the amazing underground cache of a 5,000 + figure life-sized terra cotta army (each one unique and complete in detail) but I am still processing how amazing it all was. Imagine a full-sized city populated by clay statues and hidden underground for 2200 years, discovered by peasants in the 1970s and continuously excavated since that time. The “museum is actually structures built over 3 working archeological digs. In some of the areas, they have dug down far enough to see the bowed wooden roof of the underground chamber. In other areas you can see all the way down to the floor tile and observe the warriors and their horses standing as they were placed so long ago. Many of the weapons were still sharp when they were unearthed – bronze with chrome plating (invented in Germany in the 1930s, the US in the 1950s, but in use in China since at least 200 B.C.E.).  As I said, there is no way to describe it but I maintain that Shi Huangdi’s Mausoleum should definitely be added to the list of “wonders of the world.”
After the Mausoleum we headed into Xi’an proper. After a bit of trouble with traffic (that is, our guide had us walking across 8 lanes of traffic on an extremely busy street – no light, no crosswalk, nothing). Xi’an’s city wall (1370) is also quite amazing. If the weather had been more hospitable we would have rented bikes to ride along the top of the structure. As it was, we headed up for a quick look around and then came down to warm up in the car.
Then we saw another famous site, the Wild Goose Pagoda. At that point we headed off for lunch. Although we were eating lunch in Xi’an, it took us ages to get through the city traffic and by the time we got to the restaurant that Bro had been driving to, it was closed. We went somewhere else – a ver fancy establishment where we had a private room and ate a delicious meal of local food.
Then it was off to the airport. At one point we passed through a toll booth. Bro took the ticket and when he put it down in the car, he dropped it in a slot on the dash. It was lost. He pulled over to the side, putting on the hazards to avoid getting rear-ended by the many cars coming through the tollbooths. When it became clear there was no retrieving the ticket, he decided to cut across about 12 lanes of highway traffic (with cars beeping at us right and left) in order to pull a u-turn, facing the wrong direction on the left side. Then he got out of the car to walk up to the kiosk to get another card.
They wouldn’t give him a card. He came back and we drove the rest of the way to the airport. At the highway exit Bro engaged in protracted negotiations with the toll booth attendant regarding his missing ticket. Ultimately, they let him pay the correct fee.
Although we enjoyed the day we had had enough of the cold and the traffic by the time we got to the airport. We arrived early enough to hop a flight that 2 hours early (30 minutes after our arrival). Our exhausted children conked out on the airplane and never revived. In Guangzhou we appreciated the warm temperature and advanced development of Guangdong province, one of the first parts of China where free-market industry and economy began developing with “reform and opening.” We lugged our exhausted children to baggage claim, the taxi line, and ultimately into the apartment. They slept, fully clothed, until morning.

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