Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Han Tombs

Dear Mom, I'm so glad I have one blog reader left. You're the coolest.

After we left the drum and bell towers, Tracy took us to the Han tombs on the way to the Xi'an airport. These tombs are about 2,000 years old, so pretty darned ancient but still 200 years newer than Qin Shi Huang Di's tomb. The Han Dynasty is the one that happened right after Qin Shi Huang Di, and we discovered that he wasn't the only one who wanted to play with dolls in the afterlife, he just did it bigger and badder than anyone else.

These ones are only about a third of life size, and somewhere around 10,000 have been excavated from the site (it's another emperor's tomb, but somehow I didn't write down which one). This dude had to choose between size (Qin Shi Huang Di's dudes are all a bit more than life-size) and number of clay figures, so he decided to go for quantity over size.

I bet you're wondering why they're all naked and armless...well, they didn't start out that way. When they were buried, the figures all had wooden arms and clothing made out of silk, but it all rotted away over time.

They've also uncovered a lot of animal figures because the little clay men have to eat little clay pigs, chickens, sheep, and goats. There were also horses and dogs but I refuse to believe that anyone eats horses or dogs and don't even try to tell me differently or I will throw things at you until you take it back.

This entire museum is underground to keep sunlight from deteriorating the artifacts the way that happened at Qin Shi Huang Di's tomb. Of course, low lighting conditions are not all that conducive to good pictures, so we didn't take very many...if I'd realized how few pictures we had, I would have combined this with the drum and bell towers post. Oh well. Missy liked the little booties that we had to wear while we walked around the museum, so that's how come the foot picture. I just really like the fact that my shoes have purple laces.

So here we are at the airport with Tracy, our guide for Xi'an. Little did we know that she would be the last of the fabulous guides on this trip :( *sniffle* Anyway, Mom, tune in next time for the pictures I know you've been waiting for! I'm not posting them though until someone (preferably multiple someones) comments on my blog. Nyeh.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Drum and Bell Towers

On our last morning in Xi'an (we were only there for I think one full day, but we did a lot in that one day) we went to see the drum and bell towers in the center of the old section of the city. We went up inside the bell tower (more stairs), which is over 600 years old. Due to the rain we didn't go into the drum tower, but Tracy told us they're pretty similar anyway so we didn't feel cheated.

The building with the red walls and green roof is the bell tower; the building behind it and to the right is a big shopping mall. Tracy tried to explain to us how the mall was built to have "good feng shui" but I don't think any of us really understood all the rules ;)

Another view of the bell tower...we had to walk a block or two from where our driver dropped us off to get there.

The tower has carved panels depicting scenes from Chinese history and legends. This one is Mulan joining the army (funny, I don't see Mushu from the Disney movie anywhere on there...)


And now you know why the call it the bell tower ;) In ancient times, the drums would be beaten every evening at 5:00, signifying that the city gates were closing for the night, and then the bells would toll at 9:00 the next morning when the gates reopened.

Pieces of the roof tiles...I don't think these were just from the drum and bell towers, I think they were from several structures in Xi'an. There was a small exhibit of this kind of stuff in the bell tower.

The roof guardians on the roof of the bell tower.

And here's the view of Xi'an from one side of the tower, but I forget which direction we were facing. The city is laid out to have more good feng shui so you can kind of tell which section of the city you're in by what types of businesses there are--one direction has all the lawyers, for instance. Unfortunately I didn't write it all down when Tracy told us.

There's the drum tower as seen from the bell tower in the rain.

And here's the feng shui-ed shopping mall. Something about having the round features...ehh, I don't know.

And here's the Starbucks we visited on our way to the tower :)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pork Dumplings, Chicken Dumplings, Beef Dumplings, Fish Dumplings, Duck Dumplings, Dumpling Soup....

I started this blog post three days ago, it's taking forever to get this one ready! So I hope you enjoy what I have to share today.

So in one day, we did an 8-mile bike ride around the city walls of Xi'an, were amazed at the sight of the terracotta army, and visited the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. To finish off the day, we had Xi'an's famous dumpling dinner and a Tang Dynasty show. So here we are:

Missy and I made the boys sit together *snicker* While everyone was getting seated for dinner, they had a musician playing a...well, I have no clue what this instrument is:

It's got strings and I don't remember if she plucked the strings or if she hit them with mallets. Whichever, it was pretty neat.

The mural to one side of the stage...I dunno, looks more Indian to me than Chinese, but what do I know? So anyway, here are three of the many varieties of dumplings we were served:

A lot of the dumplings were made to somewhat resemble whatever wsa in them. So the ones in the back are pork (the red dots are piggy eyes), the ones on the left were shaped like ducks although you can't tell from this angle, and the other ones were cabbage and mushroom.

See the look on Lee's face? I think if you looked up "askance" in the dictionary, you'd see this picture ;) Honestly though, he tried a lot more of the dumplings than I did. For example, I simply will not eat seafood.

Even if it looks like a fish with peas for eyes. Maybe even *especially* if it looks like a fish with peas for eyes.

But see, I did eat some of the dumplings :) In case you're curious, I had my trusty little red notebook out and I wrote down all the different kinds of dumplings we were served:
First set--duck (Bennet's favorite), pork, cabbage & mushroom
Second set--fried dumpling with pork
Third set--beef & peanut, pickle & rice noodle, vegetarian
Fourth set--shrimp, hot & spicy pork (Missy's favorite), shark fin
Fifth set--pork with leek boiled dumpling (Lee's favorite)
Sixth set--fish (see above)
Seventh set--hot pot, which was tiny dumplings in chicken flavor soup. If you get one dumpling in your soup, it means you will have a good journey (Missy got one); if you get two, it means double happiness (Lee and Bennet both got two, they should be doubly happy to have such wonderful wives as me and Missy, don't you think?); and three means life gets better and better (which is what I got).
Eighth set--chicken, seafood, and a sweet dumpling

It was a lot of dumplings.

Anyway, after dinner was over, we were treated to a Tang Dynasty show. The Tang Dynasty was one of the fifteen Chinese dynasties who used Xi'an as their capital. The show is a reproduction of some of the dances, music, etc. from that period.

There were ten acts; this one was the first. Heavy on the percussives with some stringed instruments and one lone flute player.

Missy took a short video so you can get a quick sense of what we saw...

video

This was a group of young women performing the "White Sleeve Dance," which, according to the program, was a kind of folk dance that was popular during the Tang Dynasty.

These were the Masked Warriors. The eyes on the big mask behind the dancers lit up red during their performance which was slightly creepy :) Honestly, this one reminded me of an episode of the cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender (the cartoon is fabulous, you should go see it. The movie...well, the special effects were good! K, the movie wasn't horrible, but I prefer the cartoon.)

This dude started out with a trumpet solo and then he did the most amazing thing that sounded like bird calls without the benefit of an instrument. We were in awe; check out this little snippet of his performance:

video

I think these ladies were from the eighth act, the Fairy Dance. An emperor had a dream that he visited the realm of the fairies and the palaces on the moon, so when he woke up he composed a piece of music based on the dream and his favorite concubine choreographed a dance to go with it.

This is from the last act of the show, that's the show's "emperor" and "empress" (or maybe the favorite concubine, I don't know *wink*).

So yep, that was the Tang Dynasty show. I was kind of surprised that any of the pictures turned out at all given the low lighting conditions, so that was a nice surprise. Anyway, we only had a half a day more in Xi'an after this, so I'll be back in a day or two with more pictures.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Big Wild Goose Pagonia

I could have done three or four posts of nothing but the terracotta warriors, but I decided to just keep moving right along here :) After we left the terracotta museum, we went to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda (or pagonia, as Missy would say) and spent just an hour there before we had to leave for dinner.

The pagoda is seven stories tall and this one was built in the eighth century (a previous pagoda apparently wasn't built up to code and it collapsed). This one has been through some earthquakes so according to Wikipedia, it leans to the west. Maybe this is like China's version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa...

Anyway, the pagoda is part of a Buddhist monastery, so we took a few pictures of the buildings. Tracy told us that only about 30% of Chinese people are really religious, but given how huge China's population is, even 30% of their population is about equal to the entire population of the United States.

And the roof guardians. A lot of old Chinese buildings have animals and things carved onto the roofs that are supposed to protect the structures from fire.

It is 247 stairs up to the top of the pagoda, but we ran out of time to climb up, which is too bad because the view of Xi'an would have been awesome from up there (at least if the smog wasn't too bad, anyway).

Looks like a shishi dog to me, but I wasn't going to lift up his tail and see if he was a pixiu or not ;)

These were cool--they function like waterspouts for the building, like gargoyles on the churches in Europe. Why doesn't my house have these?!

It was getting close to sunset so we got some really nice lighting for pictures. There is also a peony garden on the grounds, so I got to take some more floral shots which are always my favorites.




Hmm...I think we need to tweak this one just a little bit so you can see us better. The pagoda looks great though. I pulled up the Wikipedia page about the pagoda and Lee says our pictures are better than what they have. He's right ;)

This is in the middle of the garden. So what do you call a cross between a pagoda and a gazebo anyway, a pag-zebo?

Last picture from the garden, just 'cause I like the flower photos :)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My Absolute Favorite Part of the Entire Trip to China

So, after we biked around the Xi'an city walls, we met back up with Tracy (our guide) and headed out to a place where they manufacture replica terracotta warriors, which is where we found this:

Teehee. We all took pictures with it, but I figured you only needed to see one to get the idea. This place also manufactures all kinds of other stuff, including shishi dogs:

And also some really cool painted tiles. I ended up getting some tiles, but I haven't taken a picture of them yet; I think I need to get out all our souvenirs and just take good photos of those to show you what we bought. Anyway, they had a big room with the replica terracotta warriors in all sizes.

Lee got a small one (like 6 inches tall) of one of the kneeling archers. And after that, we headed out to the terracotta army museum, which was bar none my favorite part of the entire trip to China.

There's the main building, which is much bigger in real life than it looks in the picture. First, some history: way back in about 221 B.C., this dude by the name of Qin Shi Huang declared himself emperor of all China, and is credited as the dude who united China for the first time, making him the first emperor (if you saw the last Mummy movie, the Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, the movie character was loosely based on this guy). Qin Shi Huang was kinda obsessed with death and the afterlife (like a bunch of other ancient powerful men, such as Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great), so he built this enormous funerary complex (kind of the same reason why the Egyptian pyramids were built) including an army of terracotta soldiers, and to keep it a secret, he had all the workers killed when it was completed.

So around 210 B.C., Qin Shi Huang died and was buried in his super-secret tomb with his army of terracotta warriors to protect him. Two generals, Liu and Xiang, then fought over who would take over power. Liu eventually won, but not before Xiang broke into Qin Shi Huang's tomb (apparently he didn't keep it as secret as he thought) and stole many of the weapons from the terracotta army, smashed a lot of the soldiers, and set the place on fire.

Eventually the tomb was forgotten. Then, in 1974, a group of farmers digging a well rediscovered the tomb. When discovered, all of the terracotta soldiers were brightly painted, but eventually exposure to light and air has caused the paint to fade almost entirely. Today there are three buildings where you can see the pits with the terracotta soldiers, as well as several other sites that the government is keeping sealed until archaeology has improved to the point that they can be excavated without damaging the contents.

So, there's the history of the terracotta army. Here's what you see when you walk into the first building:

Ok, so Lee and I won't be standing there if you go look for yourselves, but you know what I mean. I cannot tell you how incredible it was to walk in there and see this massive site that I studied so much in college. Just unbelievable.

These pits used to have wooden roofs, which were pretty much destroyed by fire. The amazing thing is that each soldier is unique--the face is different, the hair is different, etc. and so far over eight THOUSAND soldiers have been excavated.

You can tell by the hairstyle what rank each soldier is, but all the ones in pit #1 are common soldiers.

Qin Shi Huang's army wouldn't be complete without horses, so he had those too.

A closeup of two of the soldiers.

We took this from maybe halfway back in this building. Up at the front towards the right is where the original well was dug; basically if they'd been maybe six feet away they wouldn't have hit the tomb at all. You can see the columned area in the middle, which was the front door; that was filled in with earth after the emperor was buried.

In the back of this building is what the archaeologists refer to as the hospital:

Remember I said that the evil general Xiang (he lost, so of course history says he's evil) smashed quite a few of the soldiers? The pieces are painstakingly excavated and then reassembled in the hospital.

My artsy shot, I thought it was fun to look at the hospital from the back where you can see the holes where not all the pieces have been recovered.

I suppose the hospital does double duty as a vet clinic since they've got the horses there too :) The horses had real tails when they were first made, but the tails have disintegrated, as have most of the bows and other wooden weaponry--at least, whatever was left after Xiang looted the place.

Once the soldiers and horses are done at the hospital, they are put back in the same place where they would have been standing more than 2200 years ago. Just think, this tomb is older than Christianity!! Incredible to think about, isn't it?

This is still an active dig site, so we watched the real-life Indiana Joneses doing their job for a few minutes.

This is in building #3, still partially unexcavated.

I think this was from a Han tomb that was put in pretty much on top of Qin Shi Huang's tomb; it was only like six to eight feet deep, so they didn't dig deep enough to discover the larger tomb. The Han dynasty was established by General Liu, and lasted for 400 years.

This is the kneeling archer, who was the first soldier to be found intact. He is also the symbol of the Shaanxi province where Xi'an is located because on a map, the outline of the province resembles a kneeling archer. That's why Lee chose the kneeling archer for his souvenir.

This is from building #3, where they haven't come through and reassembled all the soldiers and stood them back up. This is more or less what the whole place looked like when it was first excavated; about 95% of the soldiers had been broken in antiquity.

Last picture for the Qin Shi Huang museum (although we took probably at least a couple hundred, all told): two half-size bronze chariots were unearthed in the tomb complex. The emperor could have had one full-size chariot or two half-sized since it was so expensive to gather up that amount of bronze, so he went with the second option. This is actually a replica; the original was on display at the world expo in Shanghai.

Notice something that's missing? The Chinese archaeologists think they know where the emperor himself is buried, but he has not been excavated yet. They're waiting until better technology and preservation techniques are developed before they will allow Qin Shi Huang himself to be unearthed (hopefully with less dire consequences than in the Mummy movies, ha!) Hope you enjoyed this rather history-laden blog post :) As I said, this was my absolute favorite part about the entire trip to China.