The Wild Goose Pagoda and the Terra Cotta Warriors
19.08.2013 - 20.08.2013 95 °F
Harry met us in mid-morning for our drive over to the Wild Goose Pagoda. With a name like that, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. The pagoda, and surrounding buildings, is now a popular place for Chinese to go visit. We realized that we picked our trip during the most popular time for Chinese families to take their summer vacations, and now that many have some money, they are doing it!
So, again, there were large crowds as we learned about the history of the pagoda, when different additions were made, the marvelous nature of the structures, and what purpose each one had. I got so busy taking pictures that I missed much of the information, so Bruce got much more of that story. I do know that this is the only monastery open to the public that still has monks there.
And this was, in the theme I have been noting for days now, my favorite monk:
At last, we headed out of town to see the wonder of the world: the Terra Cotta Warriors of Xi'an. We were not disappointed. Emperors generally used to bury their imperial guards, concubines, and other close household supporters with them when they passed. But the time the Emperor Qin was nearing his end, there was more of a population need than there obviously is now in China. To him, it made more sense to bury the likenesses of his bodyguards. That is one reason why this event is considered so outstanding. Each soldier is an actual portrait of someone. So, it wasn't just some sort of assembly line of warriors, it was a series of portrait sculptures.
The whole complex was first discovered in the early 1970s when a farmer was digging deeper to refresh a well he had to water his field. He ran up against shards of hard clay and a head sculpture. He called the "authorities" and antiquity archaelogists around the world came to Xi'an. Since then, other kinds of sculptures, and different kinds of warriors and officials have been unearthed. It's been going on almost 40 years and they are still finding new discoveries. He was there signing books telling his tale. It's kinda cool to get one from him, which we did! There are three main areas, and while the largest one is the most familiar, and most explored, the newer sites are being more carefully revealed.
The original statues were also painted, but the air hitting the statues, together with sunlight, causes the paint to fall off. Now, the newer worksites are being shielded from sunlight and protected under roofing that allows the climate to be more controlled. It was an amazing thing to see and experience and one I will remember all my life.
The Chinese really let their new capitalism show from time to time. You pay a small fee to have a little "Disneyworld" type tram take you from the parking area (complete with hawkers and tourist traps) out to the site. But you have to walk back through a gauntlet of hawkers, shops, restaurants, etc. The American chains are well-represented: KFC, McDonalds, etc. We decided to have a bit of lunch and had a Subway 6 inch. It's not quite like in the US, but probably as close are we were going to get.
A bit about "Chinese" food. What we Americans call "Chinese" food, is not real Chinese food. We knew that coming out. If you have a culture where starvation is a constant concern, you end up eating...pretty much whatever your cast-iron stomach will take. Many things we skip right away (chicken feet, pig intestines, genitalia, etc.) But even the normal things can have regional differences that you need to be aware of. Spice levels should always be considered to be many times higher than you might see at home. Preparation is another key concern. There are certain foods that we usually avoid because of the water it would be "washed" in (lettuce, most vegetable) unless they are cooked well in the preparation of the food. This is why we often end up eating American food, because we know that our preparation will "kill" any little hitchhiking critters that could make our time a little less pleasant.
We left Xi'an truly appreciating the history and majesty of this former imperial city. It was one of the most satisfying stops on our tour and we were excited at the idea of finally getting to the capital, Beijing. However, mindful of the nature of Chinese overnight train accommodations, we were a bit cautious as to how our 13 hour train ride to Beijing would go.
Coming in to the Xi'an train station did not calm our concerns. Thousands of people were everywhere. I thought of a scene in Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun where the young boy (a youthful Christian Bale) is separated from his parents by a mass exodus of refugees. That's how the train station felt. People were everywhere on the ground, many lying on newspaper, waiting for a train. Being ticketed on a "soft sleeper" (a misnomer as far as I'm concerned!) we had a seat in a waiting room. It's still chaos!
At 6:30, we said goodbye to Harry, got on the train, and settled into a cabin much like the Guilin to Nanning berths we had, but with a little nicer touches. Like an electrical socket in the berth! Yay! Um...but they don't work. Hey, wait...the "TV" works (lots of ads for stuff). It's funny what the Chinese will "make sure that it works" when you look at certain things. Everything is very calculated, I assure you.
After a few hours, the kids began to doze off, as did Bruce. Me? I couldn't get sleep in that sort of situation, but that was ok. I texted with my wife across 1200 miles of China and she could track me by my iPhone across Google Earth. She was telling me what kind of terrain we were passing (it was dark, there was little I could be sure of). As it got near 4:00 am, I did finally doze off...but I got this slightly blurry little shot of an almost full moon over the mountains at night.
The final leg of our little tour is ahead...