The Ancient City of Xi'an

Maybe it has taken me so long to enter this next part of our trip because I knew this would be a long post! Xi'an was one of my favorite stops.

Our guide in Xi'an was Leo (His Chinese name is Liu). His English is pretty good, but not quite as good as Tao's. He taught us a few Chinese words. "Ni-Hao" (pronounced "knee how") is how you say "hello." If you want to say "how are you?" you say "Ni-Hao Ma." If someone asks how you are, and you're doing great, you answer, "Ding Ding Hao." If you're just so-so, you answer, "Ma Ma Hu Hu." (I probably didn't spell any of the Chinese correctly.)
Our first stop in Xi'an was to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, the oldest Buddist temple in China. (About 1400 years old.) Since our guide, Leo, is Buddist, he could tell us about the various symbols, etc. He also pointed out the location of the one "western-style" toilet. Most in our group prefered that to the squat toilets. He said tour guides refer to the western-style toilets as "The Happy Room."
The grounds around the Pagoda are beautiful.

We saw three monks on the grounds and Leo started talking to them. We noticed that they all had iPhones and one had an iPad. Since monks take a vow of poverty we were curious about that. They told Leo these items were gifts from their families. They had traveled (on a pilgrimage) to this Pagoda from somewhere in western China—not Tibet, but near it. There are some simple quarters on the grounds for monks on such a pilgrimage to sleep at no cost to them. Leo joked that "all they need is a simple bed and wi-fi."
The interior of one of the buildings has three walls covered in jade, depicting the life of Buddha.
Close up detail of one image on one of the walls.

Our hotel in Xi'an is called the Shangri-La Golden Flower and is said to be one of the nicest in the city. Our room was huge and luxurious. It even has a walk-in closet!

We thought it was amusing that the floor mats in the elevators changed every day—to indicate the day of the week. I guess they realize you can lose all track of your days when traveling.

Xi'an was the first capital of China. There were four major dynasties that reigned from this city—Zhou, Q'in, Han and Tang. Then, the capital was moved to Beijing (I think during the Ming dynasty). Emporer Q'in (pronounced "Chin") was the one who conquered the other provinces (about 221 BC) and united China into one nation. He also completed the Great Wall (by uniting already existing city walls and expanding them) and is the one responsible for the Terra Cotta Warriors. (more on that later) It's interesting, with the history of the different dynasties, that 90% of the people in China today are considered to be Han. Not sure why that is.

Some scenes from around the city:
It's amazing that their electrical wiring functions with these kind of connections.

 We saw lots of package transport that looked like this. . .
Atop the old city wall. 
Although the current city has expanded well beyond it, you can still see where the old city walls were. In the center of the old city is a huge bell tower. Anciently, they rang the bell each morning to indicate when the gates of the city were open and people could enter or exit. Not far from the bell tower is a smaller one — the drum tower. Each evening the drums sounded to signal the closing of the wall gates.
You can rent bikes on top of the wall and people ride bikes or walk around it's perimeter.

Saturday, May 24, 2014
Today we visited the Terra Cotta Warrior excavation. It was about a 40 minute bus ride from our hotel to the site — Emperor Q'in's burial site. Before Q'in, it was common practice, when a king died, that all of his family, his household, and, his army were buried (alive) with him. (Mentally, I have a hard time reconciling such a bizarre practice.) However, Q'in decided he needed his army to stay behind after him and fight his enemies. So, he had this vast terra cotta army created for his tomb. (They began construction on his tomb as soon as he became Emperor.) 

The burial site covers more than three square miles, with a mountain on one side and a river on the other (very Feng Shui), and the location was unknown until it was accidentally discovered in 1974 by a local farmer who decided to dig a well. The Chinese government paid the farmer the equivalent of $5 for the discovery, then took all the land in the area and began the archaeological excavations still in progress. (He wasn't happy with his compensation and kept complaining so they gave him a position at the museum gift shop. Two or three times a week he sits in the gift shop and autographs books about the site. Then he receives some percentage of the sales.)
Only a small portion of the total site has been excavated. There are three pits currently being worked on and I can't remember how many total there are — maybe 12 - 20 — that are like spokes going out from a center point that is the actual tomb of the emperor. But, just in the three pits they've dug, there are more than 8,000 warriors, horses and chariots. They said the center/tomb part was designed/shaped like China itself, with rivers of mercury running through were the rivers would be. (They used to believe that mercury had magical powers that increased longevity. And, the lives of several emperors were shortened because they would drink it.)
Archeologists want to leave everything underground until they are ready to work on it. Because of oxidation, the painting that was originally on the warriors and such in the pits fades or disappears altogether within 37 seconds of being exposed to the air. 
 Each warrior was individualized from a series of eight molds.
 A view of dig number 2
 Gift shop items
 Archer - with Bob in the background

All of the warriors, horses, etc in the tomb were designed to be oversized - in order to intimidate the enemy - and each warrior held real weapons. Not too long after Q'in's death an enemy discovered the site, stripped it of all the weaponry, and burned the wooden beams that supported the structure. This meant that the earth collapsed over the warriors, breaking them up. It isn't yet known how much damage the actual tomb suffered. Though with sonar technology they can determine some things about what's there.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that Emperor Q'in saved the lives of his army, his wives, concubines and servants still had the great honor of being buried with him. (Gives new meaning to expressing the sentiment, "Long live the king!")

In the evening, we attended a dinner theater performance. The theater itself was strikingly beautiful, the meal was excellent, the costuming wonderful and the performance exceptional. My western ears struggled a bit with the high pitch of the traditional music, though.
Mural at the front of the theater.
Dinner seating

We got back to the hotel about 10:30 pm and packed up and set out our bags to be picked up for tomorrow's flight to Wuhan.

Sundays were travel days. We got to sleep in a bit and have a late breakfast before taking the one hour bus ride to the airport. We left Xi'an just after noon and landed in Wuhan about 2:15 pm. Then, we boarded a bus for the 4 1/2 hour ride to Yuchang, where we boarded the ship for our Yangtze River cruise. (Our guide referred to Yuchang as "a small city of only four million people.") It was nearly 8 pm by the time we put our bags in our cabin and went to dinner.