Friday, May 2, 2008

The Forbidden Picture

Hello from Xi'an, China! I already wrote about the Xi'an Wall and the Wild Goose pagoda that we saw yesterday, but I saved the Terra Cotta Warriors for its own post, because it was the coolest part...

It's Saturday morning (very early in the morning because we are still very jetlagged) and we've finished up our 5 days of "vacation" time in Beijing and Xi'an. It's been truly amazing. We've touched things that are twice as old as America is. We've walked on land and seen artifacts that were in existance before Christ walked in Israel.

Late yesterday afternoon at a Feng Shui (spelling?) museum, we touched a 4ft by 3ft tall stone "Dragon Horse" that was discovered at the bottom of the moat surrounding the ancient portion of Xi'an city wall.

This huge piece of jade is 600 years old and worth a great deal of money, both for the quality and age of the stone and also for its historical significance.
You will notice that I am not posting a picture of this artifact. That is because I did not take a picture of it.


Because there was a sign that clearly said NO PHOTO. (As I think I mentioned, this was later in the day, after our visit to the terra cotta warriors. As you read along, you'll understand what I'm getting at.)

It is a huge carving and considered very good luck in China. Its huge grinning mouth and huge swollen belly mean prosperity. The bigger the mouth, the better. The bigger the belly, the better. All the Chinese are quick to point to the rear of the statue and point out that it also "has no toilet," meaning the wealth just continues to store itself up, the belly just continues to swell.

Terra Cotta Worriors
Yes, you read that right. That's how all the signs read.
First we had tea in the Terra Cotta Tea Room, which was stunningly decorated. There were about 9 varieties of tea to choose from at our table. Jason and I tried chrysanthemum and a local variety of white tea (only harvested in Shaanxi province).
We bought some kind of black root tea that is supposed to be the best medicinal tea available (also only grown in this province). If you drink this tea for three months it dramatically lowers your blood pressure and chloresterol count.

I think the most amazing thing yesterday was seeing - in person - the terra cotta warriors which date from 210 BC and were discovered in 1974 by several local farmers near Xian, Shaanxi province (which is where we were; as we drove we saw all the farming fields).

Jason and I also saw the man who is responsible for discovering this Eighth Wonder of the World in his field in 1974 while he was digging for oil; he is considered a celebrity and spends his days signing his autograph on the official Terra Cotta Warriors history book they sell there.

I took a picture of him.

I didn't know I wasn't supposed to.

Honestly. I mean, common sense kinda told me I should maybe not climb all over the holey rocks in the Forbidden City. But I really had no idea I wasn't supposed to take his picture (not without paying, that is). I mean, he was just sitting there autographing books. And I couldn't see the sign that said NO PHOTO UNLESS PAY because there were so many people milling about.


His little pseudo body guard (you can see his elbow in the lower left of the Forbidden Picture) immediately picked up an empty plastic bag and held it in front of Shaanxi's Indiana Jones to block my line of sight while hollering NO PHOTO!!!!!!!!

I seem to have a penchant for doing things like that over here. I'm starting to worry that I'll do something horribly awful and get tossed in the slammer.

Oh, also: that table is chock full of books, and do you see all those boxes stacked up behind Mr. Indiana Jones? All of the books will sell out by the end of the day. Every last one. I think our guide was worried that we didn't understand what she was saying (we didn't want to buy the book), and she was desperately trying to let us know how valuable it was and how hard it would be to get in a few hours. Actually, it is impossible to get the book anywhere else, even in China. Just knock-off books with inaccurate historical information.

Anyway, the figures include officials, general warriors, archers, chariots and horses. Current estimates are 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 still buried in the pits.
To be honest, we thought it would feel like a museum -- very closed off and stuffy. But it really is three huge pits in the earth (with a modern structure built around it to protect them).
You literally are standing there looking down at 2000 years of history. It sounds cliche and corny and touristy, but it really is quite the feeling to be standing there. You can even bend down and touch the clay walls. Wow. Very humbling. (not sure if maybe that was illegal, too...)
Did I already say that it's really history unfolding? In fact, each day archaeologists take a few soldiers or horses from the center of the pit and bring them up to work on them.
These are the ones out for re-assembly this week.

The Greatest Warrior
Here's a picture of the only perfectly intact, surviving terra cotta warrior. Out of 8,000 members of the army that have been found, he is called "The Greatest Warrior" and is stored separately behind glass.

Maybe some day archaeologists will be able to safely uncover all the warriors still buried in Pit 2. Those warriors will have all their original colors, which faded off all the warriors you see here within minutes of being exposed to oxygen. It must have been horrifying to be the excavators who literally watched the colors vanish before their eyes...
The food in China is good and pretty straightforward (for the most part, although there was that initial incident in Shabu Shabu that had us a little scared about what we might be in for....)

The weather is good. Muggy and smoggy though. Sometimes we wake up with a scratchy throat. Other than jetlag combined with nervous excitment, we're doing very well.

Unfortunately we've only averaged about 4 or 5 hrs of sleep each night. Ugh. But last night we got almost 8, so I think we're turning the corner. We are leaving this afternoon by train to go to Zhengzhou, Henan province where we will meet Jesse Yong Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. We are a little overwhelmed by this prospect and hope we can get some sleep tonight....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love reading your blog! You guys are hilarious. Hey Emily.... I really need you not to end up in the Chinese poky for doing things that you are not supposed to! LOL! I can't blame you though, they are tempting you by putting things in front of you to climb on; or cool things to take pictures of. I did my fair share of things that I was not supposed to do while in China. Incidentally, did you have to pay for the picture you got of "Indiana Jones"?