Sunday, July 10, 2016

Xi'an, China: Terracotta Warriors and the Muslim Quarter

From Beijing, Parker and I headed to the city of Xi'an - home to the famous Terracotta Warriors and one of China's four ancient capitals.  It's about 5 hours from Beijing by high-speed train, but who wants to waste half a day on a train, when you can just take a slow overnight 12-hour train instead and wake up the next morning already at your destination?? This girl (I am pointing at myself, FYI). Parker has no idea what he's in for.

What It's All About:
Xi'an is the capital of the Shaanxi province in the Northwest - it's one of the oldest cities in China, sits on one end of the infamous Silk Road trading route, and is the burial place of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor of China (and the one credited for uniting all of China) ~200 B.C. His mausoleum and burial place in Xi'an is the reason for the Terracotta Warriors that reside there now.

Xi'an's Drum Tower, which was used to signal time back in the day

The Terracotta Warriors are insane. They were built by Emperor Qin Shi Huang in preparation for his mausoleum from the moment he took rule, as it was believed they would animate in the afterlife and he would have an entire army to accompany him after he passed away.  It's believed there are over 8,000 warriors (possibly with more to be discovered), each with their own particular details, features and faces, and archaeologists think over 720k workers were involved with the construction of the warriors and the tombs over a period of three decades. To ensure maximum secrecy, the Emperor killed every worker who was involved in the building of his tomb, which is why the workers often carved their own faces into the warriors they were building.  In fact, the tombs remained unknown until 2,000 years after the Emperor's death, in 1974 - when a farmer discovered one of the underground pits when trying to dig a well.  

Terracotta Army!
The scale is seriously beyond belief

Today, the Terracotta Army is visible in 3 large vaults, and is the largest burial complex in the world (~20 square miles).  The scale is completely unbelievable, and excavations remain ongoing.

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Taking the overnight train from Beijing to Xi'an was an experience. First off, the railway station.

Railway stations in China are massive - but pretty legit, with tons of restaurants and such.

But then they're full of people like this man - barefoot, stretched out with their feet on the chairs, nomming noisily, etc.  We saw a man with his shirt off and getting his back scratched by another man. Both barefoot.  People also just spit on the floor wherever they please.  #China

  • And then for the trains themselves: There are 3 choices of sleepers in the overnight trains: hard, soft, and luxury. Hard sleepers involve 6 beds to a room (some poor soul has to sleep in the middle bunk between two people), soft sleepers have 4 beds, and luxury have 2 beds and private bathrooms. I thought I was doing us a fancy favor by booking a soft sleeper, but I think Parker thought differently.

Our soft sleeper room. Before sleeping, people from the top bunks hang out on the lower bunks - like, the lady and man we shared a room with didn't know each other, but it was fine that the lady sat on the man's bed next to him to hang out before bed. She was all sitting on his bed with her bare feet propped up and such. #China
Both were actually great people - which we were relieved by, seeing some of the choices of the other people in the other cabins (i.e. old pot-bellied shirtless men with questionable hygiene, etc.) - they both chatted to us, asked us lots of questions, told us about Xi'an, etc. And the man kept sharing his food with us. I really loved it.

Hanging out on the train!
Thank God I know Parker, thank God he had a bottom bunk, and thank God he didn't mind me lounging all over it before bed.

  • We arrived in Xi'an by 8:30 the next morning - I'd gotten a pretty comfortable night's sleep; Parker, on the other hand, had been eaten alive by some kind of insect. Oops. We were met at the train station by a lady from our hostel, and immediately ushered onto their tour out to see the Terracotta Army.  Forgive my lack of showering in these next couple photos.

Our first stop on the tour was to the actual tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang - that tiny green mountain in the back.  It remains un-excavated to this day, as there is debate on how best to do it and if we have the right technology.  Legend has it that the Emperor outfitted his tomb with crazy defenses and arrows and booby-traps (think Indiana Jones-style), along with rivers of liquid mercury, which was believed back them to promote immortality. Today, scientists have probed into the ground to test the soil, and samples have come back showing mercury levels at 100x higher than normal, lending some credence to these legends.

  • Our second stop was to Pit/Vault 2, which houses archers, chariots, mixed forces, and cavalry army figures.  

This diagram at the top shows how the Terracotta Army was organized (and how it remained undiscovered for so long) - into deep passageways surrounded by thick walls, then covered on top with a roof, then earth

Vault 2 was a hot mess. Excavations remain ongoing.

This is the kneeling archer, the first statue that was discovered. He was originally holding a crossbow.

This is a calvary officer. The weaponry found with the warriors were real bronze weapons of the time.

This is a high-ranking officer, which you can tell by his style of dress, what he's wearing, and his armor and decorative bows.

Insane tread detail on the bottom of a shoe

Look at this hairstyle. THEY WERE ALL DIFFERENT. I think the level of and differences in detail are what blew me away the most.

There is still SO MUCH to be excavated. Look how hot mess this pit is.

The signboards had information like this on them. They made me laugh. 'How amazing it is!'

Pieces of warriors everywhere

Next was Pit 3, which was the command center of the Terracotta Army - this pit is small, but filled with the most high-ranking officers and officials.  Many of these warriors don't have heads because they remain unfinished.

And then there was a photo opp with some fake Terracotta Warriors. YES PLEASE.

Parker and I are kneeling archers, obvs.

Last of all was Pit 1 - the largest and most impressive one of all (and the one that's gone through the most excavation work!) 

Looking over the over 2,000 warriors that are in Pit 1 - it's seriously amazing in a way I can't describe.

The Terracotta Warriors were originally brightly painted and colored as well - but they've lost the color due to poor excavation techniques and with time.

  • The Terracotta Warriors were amazing - it's seriously incredible to me what people can accomplish (you know, if they have unlimited power and use slaves and flagrantly commit shocking human rights violations/kill whoever they want). The scale of Emperor Qin Shi Huang's vision and mausoleum is beyond belief until you actually see it for yourself.  
  • After our tour, Parks and I regrouped at our hostel and then headed out for dinner in Xi'an's Muslim Quarter - a lively, bustling market full of food stalls, shopping, and entertainment.

On the way to the Muslim Quarter - the Bell Tower by day! Also, I love the expressions of the boys sucking on popsicles in the back.

Xi'an's Muslim Quarter

This man is stretching candy

Lamb. They really like lamb in the Muslim Quarter. They seriously had lamb skewers of everything. I think that is a bloody lamb bod 

You know who else likes lamb? Parker.


These men are half-heartedly pounding a type of crumbly candy, which we ate and did not enjoy.

And then I found a stand where a woman will paint your face onto a type of snack/candy.  Uhhhhh no-brainer.

Here is me and my snack doppleganger. I was trying to imitate the coy expression, but my snack doppleganger seems to be doing a better job.

So then I ate her.

Seriously, lamb skeletons hanging everywhere.

And spices. Parker likes spices.  The Muslim Quarter was great fun.


BELL TOWER (Chinese people looooove lighting things up with brightly colored lights at night. Approve.)

  • That evening, I'd heard about this light/fountain show at one of the famous pagodas (ok ok, I'd heard about a free light/fountain show at one of the famous pagodas) - so we hauled ourselves over to the Big Goose Pagoda to go watch it.


It was no Bellagio fountain show, but it was pretty nonetheless. Especially if you like being crammed between hundreds of sweaty Chinese bodies all holding up their cameras to film the entire thing.  No really, I did like it though.

Ahhhh, Big Goose Pagoda, you are pretty. 

  • The next day, we had grand plans to bike the Xi'an city walls (they are huuuuge and are only a fraction of the size they used to be! A great activity is apparently renting a bike and riding it along the top of the walls and seeing the whole city that way) - but we were foiled by nonstop RAIN. SO MUCH RAIN.  

So what did we do? Traipse around the entire city until we randomly stumbled upon this place - which was this strange, incredibly fancy spa that gave us our own room for 10 hours and robes and let us get all these massages and treatments and such for a steal.

Parks and I are in our free, stylish silk pajamas. We got our ears cleaned (a big thing here, and it felt like you were about to get an eardrum punctured), and Parker had a lady masseuse whose massages were like pure torture, and my masseuse and I made fun of how wimpy Parker was until we switched masseuses at the very end, and his lady put me through the most pain I've ever felt in my life.  I'm sorry I made fun of you, Parker.

Our super-fancy spa also had FREE FOOD. These were maybe some of the most delicious noodles ever.  AMAZE.

And to top off the Xi'an post, here is our hostel cat. Named Sheldon. Who again, may be the same kind of cat Taylor has!?!  (ARE YOU A SCOTTISH FOLD LIKE MEREDITH??) (Not apologizing for that reference - if you know, you know)

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