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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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Day 12: Kai and Muslim Food

After rushing Datong and Pingyao over previous few days we decided to take a 9 hour hard seat ride to Xi’an, one of China’s most historical and culturally diverse cities. (or at least it used to be). Xi’an used to be a major hub on the Silk Road. According to my Lonely Planet book, Xi’an once expanded be around 83 sq km and had influences in buildings, cultures from as far away as Persia, and really alien religion like Zoroastrianism, Islam, Judaism, and Manichaeism. (Which I didn’t even know was a thing.)  All of this is pretty cray considering how much bigger the world would have seemed then.

But before we get to what a cool time we had in Xi’an, I want to bring up something about riding trains.  (I know I’ve brought it up before but trains were the main mode of transportation for this trip. All time considered, I think we spent 90+ hours on trains. So forgive me if I’ve got a few things to say about them.) The previous few trips from Beijing >Datong & Datong >Pingyao, we had taken over night sleeper trains which were actually kind of nice once you get past the sleeping exposed thing. We decided from Pingyao to Xi’an we’d ride on a just a regular hard seat with Han Q. Public.

IMG_3550Boy, we were in for an… experience.

So we’ve been stared at and gawked at plenty by this time living in China as a laowai. No big deal, right? Well, imagine having captive audience for 9 hours in close quarters. It gets a little hard to just stare back at people or pretend not to notice until it goes away. After a few hours and chapters into our books, this became much less of a source of anxiety and more a source of …well, kind of a mix between entertainment, worry and disbelief. Mostly because this man decided to nest under our seat.

IMG_3555This may seem really crazy. And yeah, it probably is, but after talking to my students about it they told me that it’s probably because many people take “Standing Tickets” because they can’t afford or don’t want to pay for a seat. It’s a pretty common thing on Chinese trains for the aisles to be jam packed with people as well as the seats.

After being seriously tired of close quarters with people, we were ecstatic to finally arrive in Xi’an. We met up with our Couchsurfing host in the middle of the night and felt really bad about waking him up. Our host’s name was Kai. Kai’s a really interesting fella. One, because his Couchsurfing profile reads seems to be really serious. In his profile, he’s very pro-communist, very pro-China and oh yeah. He’s a cop. Two, after meeting him all of this is rendered moot because he has a really funny sense of humor. He says he’s a cop because he couldn’t pass the test to be a geography teacher. (He’s actually a crime scene investigator after being a beat cop and a prison guard. After hearing his stories about Chinese prisons, I definitely don’t want to go.) He says he’s a card carrying communist (he showed us the card) because he has to be to be a cop. In his words, “Why do we base our government on a book? Didn’t they see how it worked out in Europe? Maybe the book was just a joke and we took it seriously!” Aside from all that, Kai loves hotpot like most other Chinese people and has mad guanxi at a local place. So he took us there was another Couchsurfer that was staying around his place named Dorothy who teaches in Gansu province.

IMG_3566Anyhow, enough about Kai,  let’s talk more about food. Remember how I mentioned Xi’an was culturally diverse? Kai lived about a 5 minute walk from the Muslim quarter. They had beautiful mosques, for once not just temples! We wandered around this part of the city for a while and discovered they have bread! Almost like real bread!  This part of town kicked my whole Chinese food experience up about 10 notches.

We discovered Hui food. The Hui people are one of the recognized ethnic minorities in China. This food doesn’t taste anything like the food we had experienced in China up to this point. The real key indicators that you’re in a restaurant of the Hui variety is the lack of pork on the menu, the little white hats, and most importantly a person swinging, rolling and flying some dough into the most delicious and fresh noodles I’ve ever had. It’s some serious pastamancy, dude. The only part that’s a bummer is that the noodles come out as really long strips of lava burning mouth death. Luckily, they’re also the most slippery and difficult thing to eat with chopsticks as well.  You and the rest of your noodlin’ party will look like heathens in comparison to Western standards because it’s totally okay to shovel as many mile long strands of noodles as you can into your mouth and bite off the excess while the sauce flies everywhere. But seriously, what’s eating like a prude with a fork ever done for anyone? My shirts are never clean after a meal anyway.

The city was actually really nice with all its walls, but we only scheduled 2 days to stick around. So we were off to the Terra-Cotta Warriors ASAP!