Friday, September 10, 2010

China, Day 2: Xi'an and the Terracotta Army

The travelogue continues! The trip to Xi'an is one of the more crazypants things I've ever decided to do. When Mom and I booked our tickets to China, we planned to spend five days in Beijing and five days in Shanghai. I asked Leah what she most wanted to see in China and she immediately said the Terracotta Army. I have also wanted to see the Terracotta Army for approximately forever, but it's 750 miles from Beijing. Not exactly a day trip. Or is it?

Enter Sarah. Sarah decides she is going to China and we have the following conversation in a ten minute break between classes:
11:34 AM
Sarah: how close are the terra cotta soldiers?
me: um, fairly far away

11:56 AM
Sarah: um
so I totally want to see the terra Cotta army
apparently it's only and overnight train ride away
I'm totally up for that
And like that, I decided that maybe going to see the Terracotta Army was something I should seriously consider. Clearly, I'm easily suggestible if I already want to do something. (I was already planning to go back to China over Chuseok just to see the Terracotta Army, but I would rather go with someone. China can be intimidating by yourself and if I go by myself, I have no one to make excited seal noises to.) I shot off a quick email to my mom, letting her know I was going to Xi'an for a day (on a family vacation, no less) and inviting her and Leah to come along. They thought it would be fun. And like that, we were going to Xi'an.

The plan was to take an overnight train to Xi'an, spend the day at Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (home to the Terracotta Army) and then take an overnight train back to Beijing that night, essentially treating this like a 1,500 miles (2414 km) daytrip. (It also meant two and half days without showers, and China is hot in August.) Ca-ray-zee.

Guys, it was so, so worth it.

We left Beijing on Monday evening from the Beijing West Railway Station, the largest train station in the world. Sleeper trains to Xi'an were four berths to a compartment. We booked our tickets through our hostel, and the travel agent was only able to buy top bunks, meaning we were separated into two compartments. Luckily, there was an Austrian group in the same situation, and we were able to switch berths and end up in one compartment. The sleeping cars were nice, if small. Bedding was provided and there were two bathrooms (which quickly ran out of toilet paper) at the end of the car. I was lulled to sleep by the rocking of the train in the suburbs of Beijing and woke up to sunrise in Shaanxi province.

The Terracotta Army was amazing! The army was built from 246 BC to 210 BC by Qin Shi Huang, who unified warring city-states in the Yellow River basin and became the first Emperor of China, to help him rule another empire in the afterlife. It was buried when he died in 210 BC and rediscovered in 1974 by farmers digging a well during a drought. The sheer scale of the necropolis is staggering. There are an estimated 8,000 soldiers guarding the tomb, and in addition to the soldiers, there are horses, water birds, musicians and acrobats awaiting the Emperor in the afterlife. Only three pits of soldiers open to the public, but dozens of other pits have been excavated and there's a really excellent museum full of the finds. There's no AC in Pit 1, which is really just a glorified air craft hanger, and it was sweltering hot, but we still spent hours walking around the army until our clothes were plastered to our bodies. Well, Sarah and I did. Mom and Leah abandoned us to play cards in a gift shop.

We stayed at the Mausoleum until closing time, then caught a bus back to Xi'an. We made the mistake of getting on a local mini-bus instead of the tourist bus that goes directly to the train station. They cost the same, but the mini-bus has a much longer route and there was a tense twenty or so minutes as we stared out the window and tried to figure out why we kept seeing fields and not a train station. We just barely made it back to Xi'an in time to catch our train back to Beijing.

The trip to Beijing wasn't quite as pleasant as the trip to Xi'an. We weren't able to switch bunks for the ride back, so we were in different compartments. Also, Mom and Leah found out the hard way that you *must* show your train ticket before exiting the arrivals terminal in Beijing. Sarah and I had our tickets, but Mom and Leah left theirs on the train. Mom blustered her way past the guard, but Leah, who was prone to getting stuck places on this trip, lacked Mom's gall and was detained, so Mom went back to wait with her. Sarah and I tried to pass Mom and Leah our tickets, but we were caught and the guard started ripping everyone's tickets so they could only be used once. Someone eventually gave Leah an extra ticket and she made it out, but Mom was still stuck. Eventually a guard took Mom back to the train to search for her ticket, but due to the language barrier (we spoke no Chinese, they spoke no English), all I knew was that Mom had been taken away after pissing off the guards in the Chinese train station. I spent the thirty minutes Mom was gone freaking out about how we hadn't even be in China for 48 hours and ALREADY someone had managed to get arrested or detained or whatever, what am I going to DO and, oh God, Mom has Leah's passport, I can't even take her back to Korea with me. Luckily Mom reappeared waving her ticket before I started contemplating calling the Embassy.

We escaped the the train station, caught a taxi to our hostel, and I took the best shower of my life. It was an awesome trip!

Terracotta Army

Terracotta Army Terracotta Army

Terracotta Army

There are many, many more photos and more information that you could possible want about the Terracotta Army at my Flickr page.

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