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Monday, 01 March 2021

Xi'an & Suzhou - Page 2

Written by Eric D. Goodman
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An Army Fit for an Emperor

If the Terracotta Replica Museum impressed us, the real deal blew us away. Located on the spot where the enormous burial site was discovered, the Terracotta Museum was unlike any other in the world—thousands of unique, life-sized terracotta statues standing before us. When the Terracotta Army was uncovered in 1974 experts and the general public alike heralded the find as the greatest archeological discovery of the century.


No one expected that such a treasure was buried in the area. In 1974, four peasants were here, digging a well. That’s when they struck gold—or in this case, clay. The clay artifacts, in the form of human body parts, told the farmers to stop digging and contact the authorities. It appeared that something more important than a well was under the dirt.


Indeed, 8,000 six-foot soldiers, each one created uniquely using a coiling artistry—not molds—stood under the earth’s surface, just waiting to be uncovered. Each statue was individually made with distinctive features, from the armor to the fingers to the decorations and positions of hands. Every face as unique as a snowflake. To verify this, scientists have employed complex face-recognition software. Sure enough, there is not one set of twins in the army.


We didn’t have time to look each warrior in the eyes for ourselves, but spread out before us, we witnessed the thousands. Footmen and equestrians, horses and generals, archers and swordsmen. And each of the countless warriors had an individual and unique face. It is one thing to see pictures and another to actually see the great field of terracotta warriors in front of you.


We visited two pits, one completely excavated, the other still active. Most of the terracotta soldiers on display were complete; some were still being pieced together, fragments missing. In pit two, many of the figures remain broken and partially uncovered, showing visitors how they were discovered. We looked out upon a sea of dirt, the soldiers almost appearing as though treading water in the pit.


The Indiana Jones of Chinese Archeology?

After witnessing both pits and the terracotta warriors within them, we were fortunate enough to meet one of the four farmers who discovered the army while digging a well. We shook his hand and asked him to autograph a copy of the book about his discovery. He brushed his name on the title page in Chinese calligraphy. Three of the four original farmers who discovered the terracotta army are still alive, and we’re told they live comfortable lives and are taken care of by the state for their discovery.


It turns out, our guide told us, the farmers were nearly forgotten until foreign visitors, such as presidents and ambassadors, expressed an interest in meeting the terracotta army’s founding fathers.


During one such visit by President Bill Clinton, the farmer we met (who did not speak English) was prepped for the important meeting and attempted to learn a few phrases in English. When he shook hands with Clinton, meaning to say “how are you,” the farmer asked “Who are you.”


The President grinned. “Why, I’m Bill Clinton, President of the United States,” He answered to laughter all around.


We laughed at the story ourselves as we left the site of the terracotta army. Our last visit in the area was to the large mound where the Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi himself was buried.


Close Calls in a Rickshaw

With a few hours to spare before our evening engagement at a dinner theater, we walked to the west gate and passed through the city wall towards the east gate. On the sight-filled walk through the center of Xi’an, we happened across the City God Temple, which featured several shrines full of large, colorful statues carved from wood. An active temple and virtually tourist-free, we spied locals making offerings outside and burning large bundles of incense. Being the only foreigners present, in spite of our discrete respect, we garnered a number of suspicious looks—as though we’d been pegged as spies. Feeling out of place, we left the temple area and returned to the main streets.


Shopping areas and venders filled the streets, from little booths to large department stores. During our walk through the city, we visited the Bell and Drum Towers. We went inside the Drum Tower and saw the Drum Museum with an array of drum types; there was even a traditional performance going on when we entered the tower. Directly across from the Drum Tower stood the Bell Tower. The Bells kept the time during the day and the drums at night.



We must have been under the spell of the drums, because when we looked at the time we realized we didn’t have enough time to walk back to the hotel in time to meet our guide for our dinner engagement. We decided to hail a taxi.


But rush hour had come. The streets burst at the curbs with cars, busses, scooters and bicycles. The sidewalks were packed with people coming home from work and going out to dinner. Instead of waiting hopelessly for a taxi, we opted to hire a three-wheeled scooter rickshaw with a plastic film back. It was basically a scooter with a homemade bench fastened to the back and a cabin made out of flimsy see-through plastic.


The first rickshaw taxi we approached laughed at us when we showed them the card with our hotel’s address. After a few blocks of attempts, we finally found an older man who smirked, and opened the flap for us to climb aboard.


Our motorized rickshaw driver was a maniac! He sped the wrong way in heavy traffic, he almost ran people over, he navigated tight spots between buses, trucks, and large vehicles, and we almost got crushed between two huge busses. A few times, he went the wrong way in a round-a-bout so he wouldn’t have to go all the way around—busses and cars were flying toward us and at one point a traffic cop even gave us a funny look. Our driver missed old ladies and old men scuffling on the side streets by inches, their clothes fluttering as we sped by. And he seemed to like to squeeze between busses and trucks when there wasn’t a lane between them.


This guy’s going to get us killed,” Nicole said.


I’ll bet he’s doing this on purpose—to give the “spoiled Americans” a scare they won’t soon forget.” I laughed


He’s doing a great job of it!”


We made light of the situation. But it was probably the most dangerous ride we’ve had, zipping in and out of traffic where no vehicle should be able to squeeze.


Eventually, our daredevil driver got lost. It took us 40 minutes to arrive at the hotel; it should have taken us ten minutes. It was a dangerous ride, but a unique experience. We were now wide awake for the show!


But we were late. At the hotel’s front desk, we asked to call our tour guide. Our tour guide knew we were out on an adventure so he had already arranged a taxi to pick us up. It only took three minutes to drive to the show. We arrived to the table right before our dumplings.

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Last modified on Monday, 01 March 2021

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