If you’ve ever dreamed about riding on a bullet train, or checking out an amazing archeological find? You’re going to love this edition of Hello from… Xi’an.
1| What was it like taking the bullet train to Xi’an? I liked traveling by high speed train better than flying. It takes a little longer, but when you take into account the time you waste sitting in airports, it works out about the same. Their bullet trains travel at speeds up to 300 km per hour. The seats are roomy and comfortable. Our trip from Beijing to Xi’an took 5.5 hours. We saw lots of towns, cities and countryside. We noted identical clusters of high rise apartment buildings in every town, regardless of size. And they were all sitting empty. Apparently, the government builds these to prop up the economy and to plan ahead for future population growth, but they looked wildly out of place in small towns of single-story cinder block buildings.
2| Tell me about your visit to see the famous terra cotta warriors. In 1974, a man digging a well found something more historically valuable than water. He tapped into an underground tomb containing the now-famous terra cotta warriors which put Xi’an on the map. The warriors were constructed over a 36 year period for the purpose of guarding China’s first emperor in the afterlife. Today, they are the main attraction of a vast archeological excavation protected from the elements by an immense covering akin to an airplane hangar. I caught my breath at the first sight of the soldiers marching shoulder to shoulder towards me. They are life-sized, and each clearly styled by rank. There are even terra cotta horses for the cavalrymen. Workers have uncovered and restored 2,000 figures and have an estimated 6,000 more to restore. Some were found intact and others are nothing more than pottery shards that require meticulous matching and assembly. Visitors can see the completed statues as well as those in various stages of repair. This ranks among my favorite places we visited in China.
3| You walked around the city of Xi’an… did you meet any of the locals while there? How hard it is for a non-Madarian speaker to converse with the locals? We walked about two hours atop the city wall which once protected Xi’an before the city outgrew its borders. Other than getting a photo request, we didn’t really talk to anyone. It’s hard to communicate with Mandarin speakers, sometimes even when they know English. Hotel clerks, for instance, know the basics to conduct business, but stumble when you get off topic. I’d be worthless if I had to speak Mandarin, so I don’t blame them.
4| What was your favorite part of visiting the Big Goose Pagoda? The Big Goose Pagoda is a wooden tower built in the 1600’s, and still serves as a worship site today based on the red-robed monks we saw on the grounds. Lots of outlying buildings feature Buddhist relics and gift shops. My favorite part was resting in a quiet, shaded garden. The most memorable part, although uncomfortable at the time, was being stalked by a Chinese man. He approached us and excitedly indicated he wanted photos. We gladly complied, but then he didn’t go away. Everywhere we turned he was lurking nearby smiling at us from the shadows. He followed us through most of the grounds. I think our lovely daughter has that effect on some Chinese men. He definitely triggered my daddy protective instinct.
Just one more China adventure with Rob Deason and his family coming up. Don’t miss next Friday’s post!