Monday, 25 April 2011

Terracotta tastic

Sunday 24th April 2011

MP3 track of the day: Hey Jude – The Beatles

Weather: Hooooot. There weren't that many clouds in the sky, meaning that getting bunt was a realistic possibility. Fortunately I 'shadow hunted' like I'd never 'shadow hunted' before and came away unscathed.

Sunday 24th April 2011

I did indeed get the early start that I wished for thanks to another person, within my dorm, waking me up as he left for the day. I got ready quickly and headed back to the train station for breakfast; once again I found myself within McDonald's (what a shocker … I'd give anything for a Tim Horrtons) however, bizarrely, they didn't serve breakfasts. I therefore found myself, at 7:30am, tucking into a 'McChicken sandwich' with fries. The only similarity to my usual McDonald's breakfast being a hot chocolate. It was at this time that I wished I'd paid more attention to my guidebook; as I thumbed through the pages, in connection with the terracotta warriors, I made a mental note of the coach number that I needed (306); however, if I had read a little further I would have discovered that said coach ran from the east side of the train station and not from the bus station. In my rush I gobbled my breakfast, picked up my guidebook, and headed west to the bus station.

After asking a few locals I eventually found the 306 service; there were many Chinese trying to get me to board their, more expensive, services but I kept focused. It would appear that the 306 had no specified departure time and just went when full. I took one of the last seats available. Next to me was a lady, who was more interested in her word search than communicating, and across from me sat a young Chinese couple who kept smiling, and staring, at me. I faced forward and inserted my headphones into my ears; I decided to read about my destination and, it was at this point, that I read the directions to this coach.

The coach took just over an hour to each the terracotta warriors; it didn't take me that long to read about them, and so I spent a little time looking out of the window seeing nothing new. The coach made many stops and eventually we made it to a large car park; I new that this was my stop due to my guidebooks description and the departing of most of the people on board. “... You've made the right choice...” I herd a voice from behind me state. I turned to see the guy, previously sitting opposite me, repeat the above sentence. Once off the coach I asked him what he meant; he said that there were many other attractions, around Xi'an, but none other was really worth attending. For this statement to hold substance he had to have been here before; he confirmed my judgement by saying that he had been here previously, ten years ago, with his parents. Currently he's studying for his doctorate in robotics and had a few weeks off; therefore him, and his student girlfriend (who couldn't speak much English), were travelling around China for two weeks. We chatted all the way to the ticket office; I can't remember his Chinese name, so I'll call him 'Joe', as it's the closest sounding English name, I think, to the one he gave. Once at the office he asked if I wanted to join him, and his girlfriend, around the site; I accepted, grateful to have a Chinese translator.

It cost 110 Yuan (£11) to enter which I gladly paid. Joe and his girlfriend got their tickets half price, due to being students; we had a further kilometre (0.6 of a mile in a proper measurement) to walk, continually being hounded by sales women from different stalls, (Combined I think that these stores held more terracotta warriors than the actual site) before we had to pass through two ticket barriers and one bag scanner. Once inside the complex 'site one', the main warrior site, was straight ahead in what looked like an old plane hangar. Site three was just to the left with site two behind it; in the extreme right-hand corner was a very new looking building, designed to look old. Joe sighted a little; when he was here last none of these new buildings were, instead the stone courtyards were fields and the buildings were removed to show the mountains behind. Joe said that last time the site was more beautiful and you could get a better vision of what it would have looked like. I was beginning to like Joe as we shared many similarities. He loved nature and hated crowds (I therefore told him, repeatedly, to head to New Zealand), he enjoyed military history and didn't like these 'fake Chinese' buildings. It was at this point that his girlfriend waved at us both and went her separate way. When I asked Joe why she wasn't accompanying us he said that she wasn't that interested in history and that she would have a quick look around whereas we could take our time. We would meet up later – and I felt that there was some truth in his words - however I also felt that the 'three's company' statement rang true. I felt a little guilty.

The guilt disappeared almost instantaneously as we headed into hanger one; after looking at a model, showing what the site would have looked like within the 'Qin dynasty', there were three doors, into site one, that we could choose from. The hangar had a walkway running around the perimeter, with the excavation site in the middle. We had entered at the front of the tomb where most of the crowds stood. I pushed my way through to the metal barriers where a sight, that took my breathe away, was laid out in front of me. I had seen the terracotta warriors in photos – and at a small London exhibition many years ago – but nothing prepared me for the huge quantity of warriors that stood to attention, seemingly looking at me for orders. My eyes were wide, my mouth was open; I swung my head slowly, from right to left, to get a panoramic view of the excavation site. More than a thousand figures were presented within nine columns; space for chariots could be seen, with the remnants of horses still on the ground. Speaking of the ground, it wasn't dirt, that the warriors stood on, but a perfectly levelled stone tiled floor. Once I was able to pull my eyes away from the warriors at the front I looked deep into the ranks noticing that the warriors became in a worse state the further back I looked. Joe was as much in ore as I however, as we moved through the huge amount of people – usually surrounding some tour guide with a flag – he said to me that he hoped no other trench would be excavated. When I probed further into his statement he said that, as soon as the warriors are removed from their air tight compartments the paint work, almost instantaneously, falls away to reveal the terracotta look. Joe continued to say that, until mankind has developed a way of removing the air from an area, he hoped that the other warriors would remain a mystery. Joe was a lot smarter than I first gave him credit for; as we moved around 'site one' we took it upon ourselves to redesign the area. It would have each row of soldiers confined within a glass, air-tight, cabinet and the people, instead of being above the exhibit, would wonder freely through it.

After we had agreed to a final plan for 'site one' we came across where the terracotta warriors were being put back together. I was surprised to find computers, desks and chairs within the bottom left-hand corner of the complex; it would appear that the warriors were pieced together in the open air, with the general public being able to view (However, this being a Sunday, all the chairs were vacant). There was a 'no photograph' sign erected around this area but I'm not sure that I would want thousands of tourists strolling past me at work. We had reached the exit of 'Site one' though we hadn't completed the full square however, due to the many tour groups taking up most of the space, we left vowing to return later. Out of sequence we ended up within 'site three'; according to my guidebook the archaeologists believed that this was 'battle headquarters', due to the way the warriors looked as though they were guarding something and not within their usual battle formations. I read to Joe all the information from within my guidebook and he, in return, translated what passing Chinese tour guides were saying. It was turning out to be a partnership that worked very well.

Many people say that 'site three' is an anticlimax after viewing 'site one'; I would disagree. Sure there aren't as many warriors present however the 'cross' shaped tomb, with the warriors in different positions, was very interesting indeed. What was an anticlimax was site two.

Mainly unexcavated, site two looked like a waves within a calm ocean. You could make out the structural main walls however the roofs, of the trenches, had become concave. As you looked at all the trenches that had been excavated all the warriors were in bits; my guidebook put it quite well when it stated that “...The four groups here – crossbowmen, charioteers, cavalry and infantry – display more variety of posture and uniform than the figures in the main vault, through a large number of smashed and broken figures make the scene look more like the aftermath of a battle than the preparation for one...”. Within site two there were several figures within glass cabinets (one archer, one general, one cavalryman and an officer) however, with the swarms of tour groups surrounding each one, we didn't stay long. What made us both laugh was the opportunity to have our photographs taken, and edited, so that we could look like a terracotta warrior. Yes ladies and gentleman, for the price of 100 Yuan (£10) you too can look like a warrior. It was comforting to see the ridiculous idea made Joe laugh as much as I; it's nice to see that not all Chinese people aren't into tacky tourist gifts.

We still had the exhibition hall and the cinema to see however, as it was midday, it was time for a break. I hadn't really prepared for a full day excursion; I thought that seeing the terracotta warriors would only take a couple of hours and so I had packed lightly. I purchased a bottle of Pepsi, glad to find it not too expensive, before Joe insisted we hunted for a spot away from the crowds. I certainly didn't object and soon we found a quite bench under a huge tree; Joe called his girlfriend as I tucked into one, of two, packets of Oreo's, thankful that I had eaten that McDonald's meal this morning. Joe's girlfriend joined us shortly and we spent a little time eating, and resting, before heading into the exhibition hall. Your entry ticket allows you to enter the hall only once and, as Joe's girlfriend had already been in, we parted company again making me, once again, feel guilty. The exhibition hall was located with a huge, but fake, Chinese building. Most of the exhibition room shutters were closed apart from two on the ground floor. One of these housed two model chariots - one of which I'm sure I saw in London - and the other told the story of how this exhibition hall was built. The chariots didn't take long to view and neither of us were interested in how the building was made; we left to rejoin Joe's girlfriend.

It was at this point that Joe realised his girlfriend had his mobile as well as her own. I offered him the use of mine but he rejected, knowing how much it would cost; he smiled and said “... all we needed was a happy looking Chinese tourist...” For some reason this took quite a while however, once found, the guy handed over his mobile without complaint; a short phone call later and the three of us were reunited. Finally, as a group, we headed over to the cinema; before entering we had to pass through some small stores where I could have purchased a life-size terracotta warrior for £2,000 … bargain. The cinema was a circular building with screens on each wall; as the short film, about the history of the terracotta warriors, came on different pictures could be seen on each screen. This was quite a novel idea however I didn't like it as my neck started to hurt with all 'head turning' I had to do. I decided to concentrated solely on the screen in front of me were I viewed the end of the 'warring states', the creation of 'one China' and the creation of the terracotta warriors before rebellion brought it all crashing down. The film was only fifteen minutes long and the dialogue was in English; with no Chinese subtitles I felt it a little unfair.

The film had ended and the three of us were outside saying our goodbyes; Joe and his girlfriend were heading to the tomb of 'Emperor Qin Shi Huang' whereas I wanted one more look around the warrior area – to make sure that I hadn't missed anything – before investigating the stores and then home. I gave Joe my details, shook his hand, and watched him leave. The trip around the site didn't take too long and there wasn't a building, that was open, that I hadn't been in. I went into the 'official store' to be followed around by some female member of staff, giving me information that I could have worked out for myself. I fancied the box of five warriors but at 500 Yuan (£50) I rejected; as I walked out of the door the lady shouted at me stating that she would give me 'student price', but she had already annoyed me. I decided that it was time to leave the terracotta warriors site (not before viewing 'site one' for one last time) and look at the souvenir stalls which lined the streets outside.

Thirty-five Yuan (£3.50) was the starting price for a box of five warriors within these stores … slightly different from 500. It was at this point that I met Joe, and his girlfriend, again; they came running to me stating that they had just chilled within a small park and saw me come through the exit gate. Joe was very cautious that he didn't want me to get ripped off; he bargained hard with the saleswoman were as I tested the weight of the many boxes on display. They were heavy and, as I probably had to pass through Xi'an on my way back to Beijing, I decided not to purchase anything just yet. Even so as we left the store Joe said that the lady was prepared to go as low as ten Yuan for a box; I stored this information within my brain for my return.

As we were leaving together Joe asked if I wanted to go to the Emperors tomb site; the time was 2pm and it was too late to start anything new within the city. I accepted his offer, even though my guidebook didn't rate the tomb site highly enough for the extra money it would cost me. This was little concern to me as I was enjoying there company. Even though there was a free shuttle service to the temple, and the sun was beating down, they wanted to walk there; I laughed as more similarities appeared between us. Joe was annoyed with the walk; confined to a small, and dusty, track next to a busy road the walk hadn't been as relaxing as we had all hoped. Joe stated that there was too much development for this archaeological haven; the area should be left so that people can try to imagine what the site would have looked like. I agreed as another breath of coach exhaust fumes, mixed with dust, entered my lungs. As the tomb was only 1.2 miles away from the army it didn't take us long to walk there; I was happy to find out that my terracotta entry ticket allowed me free passage into the tomb site and Joe quickly planned a route around. You wouldn't know that you were at a tomb site without all the information boards; due to the high level of mercury within the soil (apparently Emperor Qin Shi Huang's tomb has rivers of mercury among many other wonderful objects) the Chinese government won't even look at excavation for another hundred years. This means that the area has been turned into a park with huge mountains, in the background, lined with alpine trees. The sun was beating down however no one minded minded as the crowds had disappeared and shade could be found.

We stumbled across a stone courtyard, with a monument at the far end, and a circular stage in front. It was lucky that I was with Joe as he found out that a show was due to take place within ten minutes; we therefore investigated our immediate surroundings before finding a shady place to watch the performance. The music fired up and on stage were a dozen or so warriors, in a circular formation, holding huge shields. As the narrator spoke in Chinese Joe translated for me. The first part of the show was about the individual warring states; the show then progressed onto the unification of China before many dance routes symbolised harmony. It was a beautiful thing to watch; the men, who were soldiers, performed military dance routines with weapons and martial arts whilst the ladies provided the cultural aspect. All-in-all it was a fascinating and I couldn't take my eyes off the show for the full twenty minutes. Once it was over I gave a loud applause, glad to see a performance that didn't feel fake. We resumed our walk, around the tomb, until a dirt track lead in the direction of the top of the tomb. Not sure whether to follow it or not Joe wanted to investigate; I was well up for it though a little conscious of any Chinese officials. The path wound it's way up, through many different specie of tree, to a half built structure. Once we had scrambled up (which, I think, is where I tore my shirt … oh well it can be added to the other two shirts I'm wearing with holes in) we realised that we were standing on an unfinished platform; due to the large trees surrounding us the view wasn't that great, however we could make out where the terracotta site was. We spent a short period of time at the top before finding another path down and completing our route around the temple complex. I would say that my guidebook was wrong about this complex; sure there wasn't much to see but the show was brilliant and the time away from the crowds was worth the dust and fumes inhaled along the way.

It was 4:30pm and time to head back to Xi'an; we decided to take the free shuttle back to the terracotta warrior car park (where we would transfer to our coach) but first I needed another bottle of water. Joe bargained the price down to three Yuan (30p) and carefully inspected that the bottle top was sealed. It's nice to be with Joe and, him being Chinese, I'm sure he knows his country better than I; however sometimes I think he forgets that I have been travelling, for half a year, in countries more dodgy than China ... I know all the tricks in the book. We boarded the free shuttle and we were back at the terracotta warrior car park in no time. I hadn't paid much attention to where the coach had dropped me off this morning but, as Joe asked people where coach 306 departed from, I realised that we were back in the same area. I paid the seven Yuan to return back to Xi'an and sat behind Joe and his girlfriend; I was glad that those two were sat together, and me on my own, as I had felt guilty that I had stolen their day together. I watched them pull the curtains and fall asleep on one another; I peered out at the world awaiting to arrive within Xi'an.

It took just over an hour to arrive back and I was expecting, once off the coach, I would be saying goodbye to Joe for the final time. However Joe's girlfriend wanted to see where I was staying, as they were going to stay there before finding somewhere cheaper. We walked the ten minute walk, witnessing a Chinese man get arrested along the way, before reaching the gates to my ancient Chinese style house hostel. I sneaked them in and gave them a short private tour; from their faces I realised that they liked the place, and who wouldn't. Just before they departed they smiled and said that it looked just like the photos they had seen on the internet. I said goodbye to them for the final time, wishing them a pleasant holiday. They did the same and as they left through the huge wooden doors I returned to my dorm to view my photos of the day.

Tomorrow I hope to have a lie-in before wondering around the city. In the afternoon I'm planning to meet up with a travelling friend (Barbara-Anne), who's a Kiwi but lives here, who I haven't seen since early January. I think the idea is to walk along the city walks so, as long as the weathers fine, it should be a good day.

Today has been amazing; not only have the terracotta warriors been outstanding but the performance, at the tomb, was wonderful and, above all, none of it seemed fake. Another important aspect of the day has been sharing it with Joe; through watching, and listening, to him my earlier verdict of Chinese people may have been a little harsh. The young really do seem to be leading China in the right direction and, I suppose, only time will tell.

Toodle Pip!

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