Day 13: Terracotta Warriors

After a lot of miscommunication and getting lose at the bus station, then an hour ride on such sought after buses, we arrived at the very confusing complex for the the Terra Cotta Army. Why is it confusing? To arrive at the gate to see the warriors, you must first embark on the noble quest of acquiring tickets. These tickets are posted far away from the parking lot of the park, and farther still from the actual entrance into the dig sites and museum. After getting your tickets, which you should totally bring your ancient student ID from college because it will still work and save 50% of the ticket price, you must wander through what seems like miles and miles of tourist shops all selling the same things: candy, magnets, little replica warriors and horses about the size of  your finger, and all sorts of toy guns and light-up tops.

IMGP2809But it’s worth it, because the actual full-sized soldiers are a pretty amazing piece of history. The story goes that in 1974 a farmer was digging a well and stumbled onto this site where now current estimates suggest that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits near by Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum. What’s more interesting is that out of all of these statues, they may be similar, but no two are exactly the same.

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Another thing about being in China that I love is that I’m experiencing first hand all sorts of history that I never even came close to learning about in America. It’s a real bummer because I never considered taking an Eastern World history class. Qin Shi Huang was a crazy dude but did so much for China.  This guy was the first emperor of unified China, he started construction on parts of the Great Wall, created massive road networks, standardized money, weights and measurement systems and of course had these Terracotta soldiers guard his future final resting place. Yet, all of these accomplishments came at the expense of many Chinese lives including my home girl Meng Jiang Nu, and the 460-1100 scholars he BURIED ALIVE. Oh yeah, and to top it off he burned books too! Plus, his tomb hasn’t been fully excavated because this jokester probably has it booby trapped with rivers of mercury and crossbows primed to shoot anyone trying to break in.

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I’d like to impart some advice on you if you are ever going to visit the Terracotta Warriors exhibit. Do the dig sites in reverse order. Site 3 is the smallest and least impressive, 2 is a little bigger, but 1 is what you’re there for. It’s enormous and they’re still doing tons of excavation to this day. It would have been a little bit of a let down to see the other sites after 1. I’m glad Lotte suggested this when we headed in.

It was pretty remarkable to see something so old, and in pretty decent shape. Even if many of them are missing heads, or are broken, some of the soldiers even have still have paint on them. This is definitely one of the coolest spots we stopped at on our trip. I just wish these pictures could do this experience justice.

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Travel Advice: New Beijingings

We spent a grand total of eight days in Beijing. We realized after the breakneck pace of the first few days of our stay that we should start to space out all the excitement to one sight a day. I think by the end we were pretty over old Peking. But, if you’re looking to travel to Beijing during the tourist season or just popping through to catch the best tourist attractions on summer vacation, I have a few tips of Beijing travel advice that might make your trip a little easier.

1. Get centrally located. While this seems like a no-brainer, it’s really important because Beijing is so large and most of the must-see spots are located in the center of the city including Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven as well as many other sites. There are a number of really reasonably priced hostels like the Red Lantern that are actually relatively short distances to the spots.

2. Depending on your length of stay, get a smart card. You’ll be taking public transportation all of the time. All the subway stops were a flat rate, but with a ton of other tourists and Beijingers around it can take a long time just to get your tickets. It’s not too expensive to get one, either. It’s a 20 RMB deposit and then you add money from there. It makes things go smoother when you’re navigating the circuitous, lengthy subway terminals, you get a 60% discount when riding the bus, AND you can turn it back in at certain subway stations to get your deposit back when you’re done! CHA-CHING!($u$).

I'm so bad at math, though.

After doing a brief number crunch, this is the amount of dough I saved.

3. Add an extra hour for travel time if you have to change to a different metro line to reach your destination. I’ve never experienced quite a large subway system like Beijing’s before, but 9/10 transfer stations have you walking a country mile to get to the next train. It feels a lot like walking to different terminals in an airport.

Hutong A-Go-Go, Baby!

Hutong A-Go-Go, Baby!

4. Be prepared both mentally and physically for crowds. Before I moved to China, I thought I knew what it was like to be crowded. I thought “There’s no way it could be worse than the Red Line on the Washington, DC metro during rush hour.” Oh to be that naïve, once more. It turns out I didn’t know what a crowded subway, bus, hallway, park, train, or really just any room you want to exist in could be or was actually like. Everyone always says China has a lot people. Sweet heavens is this ever true. Overcrowding is nightmarish in the dead of that blistering summer heat.This goes for a lot of cities in China, but doubly so Beijing. Many of the experiences we had like the Summer Palace, which had around 300 thousand people visiting by the team we were leaving early the day that we were there, and 400 thousand the day before. Things can seem far less magical if you aren’t mentally prepared to see the sights you want stuffed with a whole gaggle of camera-toting, electric-fan-hat wearing sightseers.

5.Lastly, if you’re getting burnt out on seeing the sights, I recommend taking a nice stroll through Nan Luo Gu Xiang near Houhai lake. You can walk through the hutongs and find all sorts of neat little shops, even some that aren’t completely aimed at tourists! After walking around you’ll realize that almost all of the bars feature the same crooning one man/woman with a guitar to pop songs. It’s charming in that weird China sort of way.

Keep these little tips in mind when heading into the Middle Kingdom’s ever-expanding capital city. You’ll have at least a marginally more enjoyable time. I promise.