If you live in China, one thing you must do is always carry a package of moist towelettes.
Another thing you must do is visit the Army of Terra-Cotta Warriors.
This past weekend, Curtis and I hopped on a high-speed train (it traveled around 300 km/h) with a couple of friends to visit Xi'an, the city closest to the Terra-Cotta army. It also happens to be the city which marks the beginning of the Silk Road.
The city of Xi'an itself is surprisingly modern and bustling with a population of about 8.5 million. Back in the 10th century, this was supposedly The Place To Be, and there are still areas and sights that hint at its ancientness and former glory days. We spent our first day checking a few of these out...
The Muslim Quarter
It was fascinating to wander through the narrow streets filled with vendors selling all kinds of snacks and souvenirs. We sampled some peanut candy and dried persimmons because my guidebook told us to. They were pretty good. Then we stopped for lunch at a Muslim restaurant, and dined on a variety of seasoned veggies, cold noodles with spicy sesame sauce, and flatbread stuffed with beef. Only later did it occur to us that the beef sandwiches were probably purchased off the street and served to us. I spent half of that night lying in bed, wondering how grumpy my stomach would be about this. Happily, my belly was a total trooper and did not object at all to its first encounter with street meat.
The Great Mosque
Tucked away in the Muslim Quarter is one of the largest mosques in China. Founded in the 8th century, it's a beautiful blend of Chinese and Islamic architecture. We snapped a whole bunch of photos and soaked in the peacefulness behind its walls.
The City Wall
One thing China seems to do exceptionally well is build really impressive walls. We had a hard time finding our way onto the wall, and by the time we did, it was almost dark. However, we were in for a grand surprise because they lit everything up when the sun went down, which made for an extra gorgeous two-hour stroll. Oh. And that bottom left pic is us pretending to bang on a drum at the bottom of the wall. Because it was there.
The next day was Terra-Cotta Warrior day and we could not wait! After all, these 2200-year-old warriors have been featured a gazillion times in places like Time, Smithsonian, and National Geographic magazines. They are the freakin' supermodel rock stars of ancient relics.
Here are the pics to prove we were there. Or that we're really good at Photoshop. Kidding! We were totally there.
Not surprisingly, the story behind this army of warriors is incredibly interesting. It's the tomb of Qin Shi Huang Di, China's first emperor who died in 210 B.C. Apparently this army of 6000 soldiers (in addition to horses, musicians, acrobats etc.) was created to protect him in the afterlife. It is believed to have taken 700,000 men 36 years to build the grave, and each of the warrior's faces is unique. While Emperor Qin Shi Huang did a heckuva lot to advance China, he was not known for being the nicest guy. After work on the tomb was completed, the artisans and laborers were essentially buried alive so they wouldn't tell anyone about where it was or what was inside. Then grass and trees were planted on the mound to make it look like a regular ol' hill. All I can say is that I am very thankful to my last employer who just had me sign non-disclosure forms when they didn't want me spilling any secrets. Jeebus.
Before catching our train back to Beijing, we tried to visit the Wild Goose Pagoda. It's a Buddhist pagoda in southern Xi'an known for it's height and square shape. We meandered outside the gates before realizing that we were running out of time, so we took a few pics and went to hail us a taxi!
By the way, you should know that pretty much all the taxis in Xi'an take a half hour break at around 4pm. They love this break and will not take you anywhere if there is even a possibility it will make them late for their break. They do not care about you almost missing your train at all.
You should definitely remember this for the next time you are in Xi'an.