It’s Sunday night in Dalian. I just got back from Xian (She-on). I flew there early Friday morning. The flight is almost two hours from Dalian. When we landed, I couldn’t see the ground until we almost had the wheels down…which I thought was odd (More later). It was a great weekend, lots to share.
So a Rockwell distributor picked me up, and drove me to their office. I met Woody there….you may remember Woody as my host last time I was in Beijing. Woody is a great guy! I was really happy to see him again. Xian is so remote from the rest of the country, that our distributor has a much greater role there, than anywhere else in China….a little more along the lines of the American model. So I gave a presentation that I had put together the night before. It was a little hard because most of the distributor people did not speak English, but Woody did the translating. The meeting lasted for about two hours. Once it was over, Woody was able to borrow a car from the distributor for us to use Friday and Saturday. So we drove to the hotel, so that I could check in and drop my stuff off. We stayed at a Sheraton…which was nice, because I could collect some frequent stay points there!
Once I dropped my stuff off, we were out the door.
Xian is the ancient capital of China. It is located in the far west of China. To the northwest are mountains and to the southwest is a desert. Xian is the gateway to the West. It’s the first major Chinese city you come to if you come from the East. This is the start of “Silk Road”. Marco Polo came here in the 1400’s. The city is well over 3,100 years old.
The first thing you notice about Xian is the SMOG! It is horrible! You can’t see very far at all. It’s terrible! It’s the worst I’ve ever seen in China….and that’s saying something! Smoking would be the least of your problems here long term. I still can’t believe it. It amazed me every day. Once I can post my pictures you’ll see what I mean. It’s impossible to take a good long range picture.
HOWEVER! Don’t let that deter you from a visit to Xian. It is a wonderful place! The city is not developed compared to modern cities like Shanghai and Beijing…even Dalian. Which is cool; it’s like stepping back in time 25-30 years. There are very few skyscrapers by China standards. There are maybe 20 or 30 buildings over 15 floors….in a city of over 7 million people. It has more of a LA feel. It has a small downtown compared to the sprawl of homes and businesses. It’s really cool. Everything is very old, tons of scooters, bikes, and three wheel trucks!
I saw three accidents on the road in my three days there. Woody says it’s because cars have just started to become popular there. So they are learning to drive on the fly. It looks like the China you would see in the movies during the 80’s. Everyone is scurrying around on bikes with trailers attached that have boxes stacked to the sky. There are lots of street markets. The restaurants only serve food during specific hours. Then they are closed till the next meal. Most of the stores don’t stay open past 9 on the market streets. It’s like time forgot about this place until now. The only foreign hotel is the Sheraton.
That all being said….they are doing their best to catch up for lost time. There is construction everywhere!
The first place Woody took me was the Wild Goose Pagoda. It is an ancient Buddhist temple. It was built in 652. It is 7 stories high and has an accompanying complex full of halls. It was really cool. Woody got an English speaking tour guide who directed us around the complex. There is a hall where the walls are covered in story of the beginning of Buddhism. How the one they worship came to be and his accomplishments during his life. The entire picture is made of Jade and painted ceramics. It is really something to see.
After the tour they took us into a building where they sell paintings to support the temple. They are all done by local artists. They have a lot of copies of the same pictures but they are all a little different…they are all originals. Woody said it was the real deal, so I felt OK buying one. I bought a sweet cartoon looking picture of a Chinese guy with a giant sword. He is the Chinese version of Robin Hood.
After I picked my painting, they showed me how they wrote their language over 1000 years ago. They used rice paper and ink that is actually in the form of a rectangle, and then they rub it into water in a special bowl (Almost looks like an ash tray). There is a special property to the bowl, where the water won’t freeze once the temperature drops below 32.
The guy wrote my name, and then I wrote my name…pretty cool. I got to use a brush that was made the ancient way. I then got him to write both my nieces names in Chinese. Amazingly this was all free! (Rare for anywhere in China)
The next place we visited was the “City Wall”. The first wall was built in 194BCE. The wall was then rebuilt in 1370. It surrounds the original city. Once again, Woody got a translator to give me the tour. The wall was great! You can walk all the way around it if you want to. We walked one of the long sides. At 7 o’clock the lights come on…which is really cool. It was cool to think that Marco Polo once came upon this place. Oh! Also the South entrance is where Bill Clinton came through on his visit (I came through this entrance.) This is not the last time Bill Clinton and I will cross paths.
After that we had dinner with some Rockwell people. It was at one of the hotels…the food was good…except they ordered seafood (Not good in China). After that we had drinks in the hotel bar…listened to a Philippine band. We called it a night around midnight.
Saturday we went to another Buddhist Pagoda. This one was 1-1/2 hours out of Xian. Woody said he wanted to take me there because no foreigners ever go there. It’s big among the Chinese. Once we arrive…you can make out this giant diamond looking thing through the smog…which means it must be huge, because we are WAY away from it. We also now have a guide to direct us to the sites. Her name is Shine….I asked her if she went to jail for Puff Daddy to help him beat a wrap with J-Lo….she looked confused. (Some will get that reference…some will need help)
This place is way out in the country. There are no towns or villages around….just little clusters of homes. These are poor people…probably don’t know how to read or write.
Once we pull into the parking lot about 50 old Chinese women start chasing the car. I mean they are going as fast as they can…I’m a little nervous….I look at Woody…he could care less. They surround the car. I ask Woody what they want; he says “Probably sell something”.
I get out of the car….and they ATTACK! The best way I can describe it, is they look and sound like Jawas from Star Wars! They are all over me…none taller than 4-1/2 feet…..in fact….they sound JUST like Jawas. All of them are poking me with what I think are fireworks….bottle rockets. I ask Woody if they are leftovers from the Lantern Festival. Woody laughs, “They sell incense.”
They still look and sound like Jawas….and they are getting annoying. I can’t get away from them. I started putting some fake moves on to get away from them. I’ll never be confused for Barry Sanders, but I did get a couple to spin all the way around. Woody and Shine were cracking up. Finally another car pulled in…that got rid of all but a few.
So as we got to the front of the temple, there was one persistent Jawa. She started putting them in my pockets, yelling, “No Pressure! No Pressure!”
Hmmmmm….seems like pressure?
She followed us all the way to the gate, then she told Woody they were free, because she thought I was good luck….I broke down and gave her 20 RMB. I’m sure I gave her 20 times the value…but she was persistent…have to reward it with the equivalent of 2.80 U.S. money.
Once we got in this temple it was pretty impressive. It’s actually a site that the Chinese government spent a lot of money to restore and improve. They built a giant structure and new temple to compliment/dwarf the original pagoda. That’s the giant diamond looking thing. It’s HUGE! It’s actually a pair of hands as if they were put together overhead. It dominates the skyline…I wish it was clear to take a good picture….It had to be 30 to 40 stories high. It stood at the very end of a VERY long walkway. Along the walkway were GIANT Buddha statues. There are 8 of them set in opposing pairs along the walk way, each one is a different god. They are really something to see!
The walkway has to be close to a mile long. We end up taking a golf cart shuttle that takes us half way up the path to where the original pagoda is. I can’t remember the name of this one, but it was destroyed in an earthquake….then rebuilt using as much original stone as could be salvaged. The real attraction here is the discovery that happened after the earthquake.
The earthquake revealed a secret structure under the pagoda. This contained all kinds of artifacts. They had a museum that housed most of the artifacts. They were all over 1000 years old and truly impressive. There were b owls, boxes and small chests…all made from metal and rare stones. The craftsmanship is insane! It’s amazing to think that this level of skill existed 1000 years ago. It’s so detailed; it’s hard to think it could be done with hands and basic tools. The major discovery was a finger! I believe one of the fingers of the guy that began Buddhism…the equal to Jesus. It was really cool to walk around. I didn’t go to the new Buddhist temple. We still had another site to see.
We left the pagoda and went to lunch. It was a nice place…We had steamed broccoli that had a great taste to it. No one could tell me what created that taste…but it was the best broccoli I ever ate.
Next, we went to the tomb of the only Empress of China. Now those of you that might say…Ah! Wait, there was an empress in the Qing dynasty in Beijing! She was not legit, she stole it from her son. So the Chinese don’t recognize her as a true Empress….so now you know.
The tomb was about an hour from the pagoda….it was worth the trip! This place was awesome. It doesn’t look like much when you arrive….you can see giant wide ancient gate towers and a big mountain at the far end…but not much else…then you walk through the ticket gate….and your draw drops. You are standing halfway between the first pair of gates and the second pair of gates. The mountain is at one end 200 yards behind the gates. You are standing on an original giant stone path. When I say giant stone, I mean it is giant pieces of stone flattened and pushed together…almost like granite blocks. Along the sides are very large statues of warriors and different animals that protect the tomb. The total length of the path is probably 1/4 to just short of ½ a mile long. It is really impressive….
When you get to the top of the gates in front of the mountain, there are two large lions guarding the entrance. On each side are a bunch of headless figures…all life size. They are all dignitaries from other countries that came to pay respect for the Empress. The mountain is actually her tomb. It was dug out from the side of the mountain. It has never been disturbed. The government was going to excavate it, but there are large detections of Mercury. It is believed that a replica river full of mercury is buried in the tomb. The ancient Chinese were obsessed with Mercury. They used it for lots of things….never realizing it was killing them.
Woody had told me he was going to take me to some special places. He knows that I like to experience real China, things that the Chinese, see, do, or like. I always want to see the big stuff, but I like to get off the beaten path too. At both these sites I was the only foreigner that any of us saw. Woody said that foreigners rarely go to these places…they don’t know they are here. I appreciated that he took the time to take me to these places. It was really cool.
After that we went back to Xian. We dropped Shine off at her home, and then Woody took me to dinner. I asked him what we were having…he said he was taking me to “The Dumpling Feast”…..I am down with dumplings!
We get to this place…and it doesn’t look like a restaurant…I ask Woody what it is…turns out it is a Xian Opera House. We are going to see a Chinese Opera. We go in and it’s a good sized theatre. We are seated and they start bringing the dumplings….honestly the dumplings aren’t that good. I ask Woody if he likes them…he says, “Do you like them?”
“Not really, I’ve had better.”
Woody starts laughing, “I agree, I was putting on a good face for you!”
The show started at 8:00. The set up had three levels. We were seated on the back wall of the second level…pretty close to the stage. Once it got close to show time I noticed a lot of Chinese people were filling in the third level…which had been empty until now. They had brought some snacks and were talking as they ate them. I asked Woody what was going on. He told me that they just came for the show…not the dinner….smart Chinese!
The show was a traditional Tang Dynasty Opera. It had ten different acts…to display different types of music, stories, and action!
My favorite one was the warrior dance. This giant demon head came down from the ceiling and it’s eyes flashed red, while all these dancers wore dragon masks and danced and clapped their hands in unison. It was cool…kind of had a Klingon war party feel to it….maybe the night before they attack the Federation. It lasted about an hour and a half. It was a good time…I took lots of pictures. The music and dancing were great. It was a really nice experience.
Sunday! Today we went and saw the Warriors! All weekend I’ve been quoting the movie Warriors…which is great. “Warriors!....Come out and play!!” Woody has no idea what it means….might even be slightly annoyed by it….but I like it!
We checked out of the hotel at 8. My flight to Dalian was at 3:15; Woody had a flight to Beijing at 3:45. Shine met us at the hotel and we took off.
The Terracotta Warriors are a 2000 year old statue army of over 8,000 warriors, 130 chariots with 520 horses, and 150 Calvary horses that guard the tomb of the Emperor Shi Huangdi, the first Emperor of China. They were discovered by a four village farmers that were digging for a well.
The first time I came to China, this is one of three things I immediately thought of…and the Forbidden City and Great Wall of China…..So I was extremely excited to finish the hat trick!
The pits are numbered 1-3 in the order of discovery.
Pit 1 is the largest, and it is the pit discovered by the villagers.
It is AMAZING!
I don’t like to use that word a lot. It seems everyone uses it to describe just about anything…especially on Facebook.
“I went to dinner with my BFF…it was AMAZING”.
“Had dinner with the wife at a new restaurant the food was AMAZING”
“Watched little Johnny’s play….it was AMAZING”
It’s just a played word…it’s used so much out of context, that I don’t know if most people would know amazing if it hit them.
Anyways…back to the warriors…sorry!
It holds an estimated 6,000 soldiers. They are in ranks in a giant room! It’s big enough to put a football field in….maybe two. Each soldier is unique. They are all different…faces, slight height differences, body types…no two are the same. The level of detail is incredible. The bodies and heads were made separately then assembled once placed. It really is something to see. It’s even more amazing when you stop to remember that they are all over 2000 years old! The attention to detail is so great that the archers that are kneeling have details down to the sole of their shoes. There was a roof that protected the warriors, sometime in 2000 years the structure gave way and collapsed. Only one warrior is completely intact (Original). The other ones might be missing a hand or arm…or a chip out of the armor. Archeologists have put a lot of them back together where you can’t tell. It really is something to see. The completion of the army took 38 years!
The site is still active. Archeologists are working there still, uncovering new pieces, and putting together pieces. There are large portions of the site that remain buried. The warriors were also painted, but when exposed to air the paint faded quickly. So they are leaving them buried until a technology can be developed to ensure the paint remains.
Pit 2 is the cavalry and archers. Pit 3 is the Generals. Shine said that when it is tourism season, the entire site is packed, all the rails are covered with people. You have to wait to take pictures because it’s hard to get to the rail. While we were there, there were barely any people in the place. I could take pictures from anywhere I wanted. I am glad I got to go when I did.
Once we got done there, we went back to the city. We dropped Shine off at her house, and then Woody took me to an old part of Xian. (This is funny…being over 2000 years old) We walked around for a little bit. It was cool, lots of little restaurants and shops. Woody said we were going to get dumplings for lunch. He pointed to a place that looked as run down as possible….we walked in….this place couldn’t pass a health code inspection in Somalia! It is rough!....So I know it’s going to be good eats!
Woody tells me to sit down at a table….I look at the table and there is a guy sitting there. I point this out to Woody, he says, “Yes, we must eat at same table, no other table open”.
Of course! How could I have been so stupid! So I sit down. There is a girl across from me sitting on a stool with a cigar box of money. I notice that it’s not big denominations for China. They are the smaller bills…meaning less than a dollar. (If Jack Gray is reading this blog…I gave you one of these bills…it’s the small purple/red bill with three people on it.) I think it’s like 50 cents. I know this means we are not having an expensive meal…or even a cheap meal…we are having a poor meal….GAME ON! Let’s try it!
There is a little old lady working three large kettles in a room no bigger than a bathroom. She is flanked by her husband who is working two kettles, smoking a cigarette, and screaming out order numbers to the wait staff of 2. There is lots of noise and organized confusion going on. We get our food. Each of us gets a giant bowl of dumplings in a spicy red sauce/broth. They are delicious! It’s a huge portion too! Lots of dumplings!
I’m always amazed by people that won’t eat in these places….missing out on so much of life!
Finally we headed back to the airport….Ah!!!! Home! The one consistent thing in the world…the airport! They all work the same! It’s the most American part of travel….we invented it! This is REALLY when travel perks work the best. I fly China Southern in China. They are part of Delta’s Sky Team Alliance. So I can use the priority line…instead of getting behind 200 confused Chinese people…who may or may not be standing in the right line…but won’t know till they get to the front and argue for 30 minutes.
Security is funny in China. The first couple times I took anything metallic off and went through…it would still buzz; then I realized it buzz’s no matter what you do. You’re going to get the wand. So now I just take off my watch and throw the loose change in the holder….I leave my belt on…why go through the hassle…you’re still going to get the wand.
Closing message….if you are ever in China…go to Xian! It’s worth the trip! Even with the smog. Now I am back in Dalian…ready for another week of work.