Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sep 11 – Terracotta Warriors

The next day we were picked up at the hotel around 9:00 am for a trip to the Shaanxi History Museum of Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Terracotta Warriors and Horses. It was a rainy day, better suited for this activity than anything else, so we were not too upset with the rain.

Of course we first had to stop at a private “museum”. We looked around but did not buy anything. You could buy your own warrior and have it shipped home. Any size, from miniature to full size, was available.



Then it was on to the real warriors. Normally a tour bus has to park in a lot about 1/4 mile from the actual exhibit and everybody has to walk. However Mr. Fung know the guards so he was able to drive us right up to the front, even past the ticket gate, to within 100 yards of the door. It was a bonus considering the weather and it made us feel special, not having to walk in the rain. There is a lot to be said about have such a small tour group and special attention.


Melanie walks us through the various pits explaining the holes where farmers had dug as burial holes, the site where a well was started that unearthed pieces of some terracotta warriors, etc. She explained the significance of the knots of hair, (single ones for charioteers, double for a official) and a hat for the general). The colours of the original firings have been lost due to the lack of technology to sustain the original condition of the pieces. After 3 months of exposure to light and air, the colour fades to plain dirt or the colour of terracotta; hence the name. So much is still hidden and broken into chunks that cannot be reassembled.


Every warrior is unique, supposedly based on real people.




This is what they look like when they are first dug up. None were intact. They had all been smashed by rioters long in the past.


This is the section where they are painstakingly rebuilding the pieces.


This emperor was quite wealthy, having conquered kingdom all 6 kingdoms and uniting them into one vast region under his rule. Almost as soon as he had achieved this milestone he started to prepare a large treasure for his afterlife. He had a large underground palace, guarded by many archers, infantry, and chariots. His legacy was not appreciated by the slaves he employed to create the documentation of his life, his wealth, his army, hierarchy of troops and conquests of his wars.

The vanguard, fight line warriors, fiercest of the fighters, wore no protection other than their weapons. The wanted to be light and fast, as they to into the opposing army ranks to rip to shreds the other warriors and instill terror and disorient them. The armour of the of the next wave of soldiers, was leather. The archers had shields. The armour of the swordsmen and those who fought hand to hand, one on one, was constructed of coin sized pieces of stone linked together to protect the body. It is ingenious what man can do to sustain the species, conquer and dominate the world around them.

The museum consisted of 3 buildings, each of which was humongous, to cover the sites of each burial pit. The archaeologists have no idea of the extent of the entire tomb and its related entities. The work on each warrior is slow and laborious, as the early warriors were extensively damaged and had to be reassembled like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle when one does not have a picture of the whole for dismantling. The compression of the clay soil surrounding the figures increases the difficulty of resurrecting each unique character. No two faces are alike. The heads were fired separately and then inserted at the neck of the body of the warrior. The weapons each figure held had long since deteriorated, further adding to the confusion in reconfiguring the entities.




One of the generals got his own display case.


There were no factories churning out thousands of hands molded into shapes holding bows and arrows, spears, swords, chariot reins, etc., The work was crafted for each warrior as they were singular entities. What were they holding, what was their stance, (standing, sitting, crouching, kneeling, etc). There were row upon row of figures in formation ready to receive their orders. It would certainly take a computer program to discern the nuances of each expression to validate whether all faces are truly unique.

By noon, we were ready to eat again, despite having large breakfasts at 7:00 in the morning. We lunched at the museum, as there is nothing else around for miles and there is still much to see and one cannot exit and re-enter the museum without incurring additional costs. Besides, it is still raining and it is a long walk just to leave the facility and we need our strength to walk around inside.

Once again we are seated outside the main dining room because all the small tables for two are in this location. Large tour groups are noisy and lumped together in a large room where the buffet is situated. The meal was not special, nor were the dishes particular to the region, as far as I could discern. We had appetizers placed on the table and the hot dishes and rice came. I should have snapped pictures but it was not a memorable meal. Granted there was finally a slight variation of dishes, i.e. no western cabbage, however, the food was mediocre and edible.

The problem is that we are accustomed to pay more for our meals during our vacations, even if we are not permitted choices. Food is a part of our agenda, and so far everything has been disappointing and a huge discrepancy between our accommodations and the dining experience.

Around 2:00 pm, we have had enough of walking around the vast premises, we are not avid shoppers interested in picking out life size or miniature pieces of anything to take home. There were so many tour buses of people filing through the museum; it was like over 6,000 tourists coming to see 6,000 warriors. As we marched through the corridors, we looked like soldiers marching through the mountain pass linking one building to another; being herded around. The number of sightseers is staggering. Bus load upon bus loads of people swarming around with guides speaking all different languages, gravitating to key locations for an explanation of how the tomb is unfolding.

Melanie told us that when Emperor Qin died unexpected on an inspection tour for a remote region, the physician had to keep his death a secret until the body could be returned to the capital, Xian. The smell of the decaying corpse could be detected so a cart of fish had to follow the body as it was transported.

When some of the workers heard that the Emperor was dead, they broke into parts of the tomb and started to loot, pillage and wreck havoc on the terracotta figures. They were venting their pent up anger and seeking revenge for the dismal condition under which they had to labour, toil and sweat. Some of these former soldiers were captives converted to artisans and labourers used to create the army for the afterlife.

It was exhausting walking through the vast structures view the history of one emperor, one immensely powerful and wealthy king of many. In every dynasty there are always the malcontents so it is not difficult see why subjects would raid the tombs. There are greedy people everywhere who may have no quarrel but for the desire for wealth, seek out opportunities to prosper, no matter what the taboos or ensuing bad karma or wrath of the ancestors. It is a pity because in this society, much respect and reverence is given to our ancestors and many would not disturb the grave of our relatives, let alone disregard the preservation of history.

Back at the hotel by 4:00 pm, we opt for a short rest before dinner plans are undertaken. Melanie and driver are waiting for us at 5:30 to drive to the theatre for the Tang Dynasty Show and dinner. There is some change in the schedule and it does not bode well for us. First of all, according to the plan, we were to see the show and then head next door to the restaurant for dinner. Although I was concerned that dinner would be much later and the uncertainty of the timing was a concern for me. However, we were told that dinner was to be served in the theatre now. Apparently, there is usually only one show and due to the large tour group a second show was added around 9:00 pm.

I thought that this was going to work in our favour, as our table was not right up front so I might not be able to see over the heads of the long table of tourists seated in front of me. Since they never materialized, I was in luck. The show was a bit hoky, the costumes updated to a modern version of yoga wear adapted to give the impression of the Tang period, but the bare midriffs were totally wrong. No matter, it was glitzy and pretty.



It was a bit distracting that a lot of the pixels in the display screen behind the dancers had failed.



Part way through the performance, not even between acts or segments, food started to arrive at our table in the dark. For the first time since our arrival in China, the food was actually plated up to be visually appealing and here it was, served in the dark. I was hungry so I dug into the food immediately and it was delicious. I did not care as much about the timing. I should have refused like Stuart but I did not want a cold meal. We should have insisted together. I was not in a mood to refuse food, as my blood sugar was overruling my sense of right and wrong.


I could not concentrate on both the performance and the food. I was not relaxed because I was concerned about the noise that the cutlery would make while the music was flowing during the singing and dancing. It was wrong, very wrong for us to be the only patrons eating. The smell of our food was affecting the other members of the audience. Our table was too small to hold all the dishes that were arriving faster than we could consume them.

Stuart was very angry about the arrangement and he refused to accept his meal. The poor waitress was distressed, as the dishes were getting cold, less palatable and the guest was infuriated. Melanie could see that we were not pleased so she suggested to the manager that we are given complimentary glasses of wine. This did not placate Stuart. When the lights come on, the rest of his meal was served but we did not enjoy it as much as we could have.

Stuart had many words to say to the manager who came to apologize, granted half heartedly, as she was more concerned about the arrival of the next large tour group. I did not like the way we were pressured into finishing our dinner with staff waiting for us to depart. All the clanging and rushing around in preparation for the next performance did not help us to relax or absorb the delicate flavours of the wonderful meal. One of our dishes had a pretty little fresh, not fake, orchid with sculpted carrots shaped like flowers decorating the dish. I was impressed and this was the level of expectation we never achieved with any other previous meals.

Some of the food might have tasted better had they gone to the trouble of infusing a bit of colour with a sliver of carrot or whatever in a mound of pale green cabbage for example. The set menus were pre-ordered and practically the same for all the restaurants in Beijing. There was always the standard vegetables, western (not Chinese) cabbage sautéed with oil and nothing else. It looked dull, plain and unappetizing, especially after the third meal. The Chinese cucumber with chunks of carrot and slivers of chicken appeared frequently at lunch and again at dinner the same day. It was tiring to see the same dishes meal after successive meal. This might or might not be a local custom but enough is enough.

The meal served at the dinner show was truly delicious and everything I was expecting from the tour and in the level of quality equivalent to our accommodations, 5 stars. The problem was the timing of the meal. We should have adjourned to the restaurant next door to eat in a leisurely pace and embrace the beauty of the presentation. I shall most certainly be relaying this point to Steve at the Travel Agency. Stuart was beside himself and if I had time, I would have fired off a message to Steve but I had already called with a distressing, urgent request about tipping and the disgust with the food in Beijing and I did not have enough energy or time to compose a note prefaced with pleasantries before launching into a tirade about this latest complaint.

We go back to our room and knowing that we do not have much more time here, we venture out to walk around the hotel. It still looks like a busy city setting with street vendors selling foodstuff out of metal pots, near stalls packed to the gills with all manner of goods. We walked along on street and side by side there were a number of medical practitioners, a hearing aid place, a cubby hole with sink faucets, another place with wheels of all sizes, from little casters for office chairs to larger rollers for suitcases, moving dollies, etc. I wonder how one locates the goods and service one wants when there are no yellow pages or directories to research the location of someone supplying your needs and wants.

We strolled along street stores and found some that were open. I was not able to find some white walking shoes in Beijing in the upscale Parkson Department Store that carried all the designer and name brand items, like Ecco, Nike, but the prices are comparable to what I would pay at home. I am looking for a bargain. Some of these stores are just wall to wall shoe boxes with a shelf of samples punctuating the four wall store. I found something white with a zipper that looked something like golf shoes, only without cleats that came in my size so for 65 Yuan, I bought it.

I had decided that I need close toe shoes to tour many of the feature attractions. I had brought my black sneakers but Stuart thinks they don’t look right. I had to agree, white looks so much snappier and classic. We got back to the hotel which was a little step down from the InterContinental but still quite upscale. I can barely stay awake much longer so we call it a night.

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