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Warriors, Worries and Water fountains: Asia – China – Day 9

Emma is softly crying at the window of our room. It’s early morning and we’re getting ready for the day at the Terracotta Warriors.

It takes me a few minutes to even notice, and a few minutes more to climb over that damn Chinese poker table in our room to get to her.

Unlike Lily, when Emma cries it’s always serious.

“I really don’t want to talk about it Daddy.”  She whimpers.  I’m wondering if it’s homesickness?  Is she sick?  This is so unusual for Emma. “What is it honey, just give us a clue so we don’t have to worry.”

“I, I, I left my kindle on the plane last night.”

How much should it cost?

Emma was, apparently, very attached to that old Kindle I gave her before the trip.  She is a big reader, and they are fun.  But it still surprises me a little because she lost her birthday mobile phone a few weeks after she got it without so much as a frown. We console her and assure her that somehow she will get another one some day.  Emma lies on the bed and cries softly.

Trish goes to the front desk to try to get a driver for the Terracotta warriors today.  Xi’an has some great things to see, but many of them are in different directions and like all big Chinese cities, traffic is terrible.  It is difficult to do in one or two days without a tour.

She manages to order a car for 500 Yuen – they spoke little English.  That seems steep to me for a driver, but Trish isn’t great at negotiating.  It probably wouldn’t have changed anyway.  We’re not sure what we bought exactly. It might be 6 hours of time, which actually would make it a decent rate (according to tripadvisor forums.)

I hope we don’t need that long.  After yesterday’s difficulty, I want to keep the itinerary simple.  As much as I like to pack in the activities and sights, there is no point in travel if everyone is miserable.

Oh god no NOT A GUIDE!

Our driver drops us off at some kind of back entrance to the Warriors, about an hour outside Xi’an.  It’s a taxi park with some restaurants.  He motions to us that he will be in one of them when we return, at least that’s what I think he means.

The edge of the sidewalks are lined with vendors, hawkers and sellers of all sort of crap including lots of animal furs and of course reproduction terracotta warriors of all shapes and sizes.

It’s hot out here, really hot.  Trish sees a temperature gauge of 44 Celsius, which is, somewhat unbelievably, 114 Farenheit.  I’m not sure it’s that hot, but it is oppressive, like it was in Egypt a few years ago.  Your body tells you that it’s a hazardous environment, and to seek shelter.  It’s hard to think.

They haven’t dropped us off anywhere near the entrance.  We walk about half a mile to the ticket booth in the sun.  As we approach, a group of tour guides stands waiting to pounce.  We had a bad experience in Egypt in Luxor with a mumbling guide who wouldn’t stop talking even when we asked him to hurry up.  To this day our daughters remember the Valley of the Kings negatively because they struggled with heat and boredom.

The guide seems nice enough and is persistent when I say no.  I ask Trish, Emma and Lily if they want a guide.  ‘No’ comes back the answer, resoundingly.  I’m not sure what makes me over-rule them, but I hire the guy for 100 Yuen, which is about 15 dollars.   I just have a last-minute hunch that we will get more out of it with a guide.

Lily cries because she’s afraid this guy will go too slowly, so Trish tells him to go fast.  And fast he goes!  Most of the time he is pushing us to catch up with him.  His English isn’t great, but it does the job and we are glad to have hired a guide, especially for $15 bucks.

The First Emperor of China

The first major exhibit is of stuff collected from other museums, including some bronze age stuff that is really amazing. In particular, the bronze crossbow triggers look modern and precisely engineered.

In the same building are the bronze, silver and gold chariot and horses that were made for the First Emporer.  Qin Shi Huang.  Qin Shi Huang is a controversial figure in Chinese history.  He was definitely ruthless, using mass slave labor, brutally conquering new lands, imprisoning his mother, burning books and killing scholars.

But he was an early empire builder and united much of what is Northern China today under one rule.  He took the title First Emporer and began a two millenia tradition of autocratic dynasties.  Currency, weights an measures were standardized and roads were built to facilitate trade.  He accelerated China’s role as a great civilization.

Because his history was written by scholars that hated him, there may be an alternative presentation of his record, but we will never know it for sure.  Though he has seen some friendly historical revision in the 20th century, most likely he will remain one of it’s great villains.

The greatest archaeological find in the world?

The terracotta warriors are a recent find, which is why they are so well preserved.  In 1974 a few brothers digging a well broke found broken shards of fired clay or terracotta.  They had discovered what is, perhaps, the greatest find in archeological history.

Over 8,000 life size warriors were created around 250BC by an assembly line of government craftsman and local artists.  The heads were made seperately from 8 molds, but the individual features were painted or clay used to give each a different face.   The warriors had weapons, which have since disintegrated or were stolen.

Since 1974, only a few thousand warriors have been reassembled from the shards that they are when discovered.  There were once bright colors on the clay, but it has since worn off.  Any remaining color disappears quickly when exposed to air.

A hanger for the Army.

Inside the big hangar it’s cooler.  They obviously keep it climate controlled to some extent. Our guide tells us there are not many people here today, and in fact we can get straight up to the edge of the railing overlooking the warriors.  That’s fortunate to not have to fight huge crowds.

It’s really impressive.  We can only see about 1500 warriors here, but one gets a sense of the scale.  To do this in 250BC is quite a feat.  We take lots of photographs, but they don’t do it justice.  The guide points out some interesting bits such as the officers have the longest beard.  They face east because that’s the direction from where the Han armies would attack.  (The did, and they held the next Dynasty.)

But it’s also repetitive.  There are 3 pits here, and only the first one is truly interesting.  The second really doesn’t have much yet and the third is interesting only because it’s the officers, who are positioned facing one another apparently having a meeting for all eternity.  Horrible.

The long march

And two hours later, we say good bye and get back to the taxi.  In the gift shop before we left was Yang himself, the only surviging brother that discovered these warriors 40 years ago.  He is there to sign autographs if you buy a book, and he nods off and never smiles.  Trish says he has a nice watch on, so maybe he isn’t poor, but it’s sort of sad that this is what became of him.

We took an electric cart for a dollar to the exhibits from the ticket office, but we are not allowed to take it back.   That’s crazy, we think, but we soon find out why.  They make us walk a mile gauntlet of souvenir shops and snack bars, which in this heat, is a punishment.

It’s enough to make us angry at first, but within a few minutes we are all loopy from the heat.  Emma says she has a headache and both girls sleep in the car back to the hotel.

The happy, unhappy ending.

Trish sleeps too, but I want to get out of the habit of taking naps, so I go out for a coffee.  There is a coffee shop connected to the Baskin Robins we went to last night and they sell me a $3 espresso that’s not bad.  I want to get Trish a massage somewhere, and I know that Chinese have a lot of massage places.  I scout the area for  a massage place, not really knowing what to look for.

I found myself in the middle of a huge home supply mall with tiny stores selling outlets, tiles and plumbing.  And again the heat is oppressive so I give up after about an hour of walking around, having found nothing interesting.

Back at the hotel I decide to talk to the business center to see if I can get tickets for a show tomorrow and go to floor 2, where I expect the travel/business center to be.  I get off into a big room.  The walls are painted red and there are several doors with mirrors and black trim on them.   Hmm, I think, this looks a lot like a spa or massage parlor!

They speak no english at the counter. The young man, smoking,  says somethings in Chinese and brings out a menu.  There are massage options like “Lotus flower experience, and hong Kong style” but nothing that tells me what the massage is like.

I pull out my guide book and look up the word for foot and show him.  He nods and points at a menu in Chinese.  There are at least 20 different foot massage types, so I point at the cheapest one.  He ushers me into a room filled with a TV, wall-to-wall mirrors and a shower.

And then it occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t in a normal massage place.  Maybe this is one that does happy endings?  Oh shit, I think. This is not what I was looking for.  Not that I would judge anyone that does happy ending thing, but it’s not exactly a family travel activity and I already have a very hawt wife.

In the door comes the masseuse, and she has 2 inch heels, very short shorts and is attractive.  (In fairness, 2 inch heels and shorts describes about 40% of the women one sees in Xi’an.  They show a lot of leg here.)

This is a reputable hotel and it’s unlikely that there would be anything like that here.  Right?  She looks at me and points at the 88 Yuen massage on the menu and says “this one bettah – you do this one.”  I nod.  Doh, what kind of upgrade did I just buy?  I want less bang for the buck here not more (pun intended.)

The foot massage is done with clothes on and if my masseuse weren’t a pretty girl in high heels and short-shorts, It would be completely unremarkable.  I suppose I should have known that $15 doesn’t buy anybody any kind of happy ending.

As if to ridicule me for even thinking something like that might happen, at the very end of the massage just when something would have happend, the door busts open and it’s Emma and Lily, who were bored and decided to come looking for me.  (It’s hilarious that they found me and somehow explained to the Chinese what they wanted.)

Well, I’ve tested out the massage place and it’s safe for Trish.  I’ll send her here tomorrow.  It is easily the best $15 massage I ever got.

Night at the fountain.

Last night we saw a light and water show for a few minutes after dinner at the series of pools and fountains in front of the big pagoda.  Emma and Lily saw kids playing in the water, and we promised them we would come back tonight in proper swim gear to splash in the darkness.

The Big Wild Goose Pagoda is a Buddhist one built in the 600’s during the Tang dynasty.  It was rebuilt a few times since then after earthquakes.  It was designed to house figures brought from India by Xuanzhang, who is a very famous historical figure in China.  The famous Chinese literary epic ” Journey to the West” is about his travels to India in search of better translations of Buddist writings.

The Pagoda is sort of the symbol of Xi’an, even though the warriors are the bigger draw.  The fountains in front are coreographed to colored lights and music that includes the Nutcracker and the William tell overture.  It’s a madhouse around the fountains, with people at least 3-4 deep the entire way. There are at least a thousand more in the fountains themselves.

Emma and Lily are soaked in seconds and are completely hysterical with laughter and giggles.  The fountains erupt high in the air, drenching us all even though we are trying to protect our new camera.   Chinese tourists want the girls to take pictures with them of course, and Emma agrees.  Lily runs away.  We have to shout to keep them from going off to far. It’s not dangerous, but it’s dark and there are a lot of people to get lost among.

The show is thirty minutes and is the kind of thing that makes travel great.  I had heard there was some kind of performance here, but I thought it was folk-dance or something.  But it’s much better (and free!)

This is like a rave for little girls, and they look worn out and bleary eyed when it’s over.  We get more Baskin Robins before bed and head back with soaking wet clothes. For once the AC is unwanted and freezing cold.  The girls take hot showers, brush hair and go to bed, still giggling about how much fun that was.

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