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Terracotta and Leather

Xi'an, China

First thing, we were on the minibus from the hostel towards the Terracotta Army. Before we got there though, we were told, we would be stopping off at a workshop / warehouse place where we would be able to buy reproductions of the terracotta warriors as well as other works of art. Ah, yes, I remembered this is why we normally avoid tours. The stuff in this particular tourist trap was lovely, but very expensive. I found the warrior reproductions a bit annoying: I wanted the first terracotta warriors I saw to be the real thing, not a warehouse full of reproductions ranging from 10cm high up to twice life-size; they should have gone there after. We managed to spend so long looking at all the gorgeous carved wooden furniture inset with precious stones that, when we made it outside, everyone else was waiting for us. Oh, yes, another drawback of a tour: you have to go at the consensus speed.

At the real thing, we were taken first into pit two. I was really disappointed. I had an image of thousands of complete warriors all neatly lined up, but here was half-dug site, littered with bits of broken pottery. At least it was a bit more than a series of small walls, but not much. This was the second biggest of the three finds, and the newest. It seemed to be more about demonstrating the archaeology process, but I was looking for the wow-awe experience I had expected. Next up was pit three, which was the smallest, but much more assembled that the previous one had been. This pit contains mostly higher ranking warriors: generals. It was also a bit underwhelming, but I felt a little rush of expectation with the rising tension.

The finale was pit one. This pit was also a work in process, but much bigger than the other two. Clearly this is where all my ideas of the Terracotta Army had come from but, we were told, it's archaeologically less interesting because the warriors are lower-ranking. It was certainly more impressive, but I wasn't blown away like I expected to be; for one thing it's not as complete as I thought, and for another, there just aren't as many of the warriors as I expected. After walking around for a bit I really started to appreciated the detail on the warriors, though: each of the warriors is individually made and they are all carefully crafted, rather than mass-produced despite the fact there are quite a lot of them.

We managed not to be last out of pit one where we were informed that next on the agenda was sampling some real Chinese food. We had already had our fill of “real Chinese food” and suspected the lunch would be very expensive, but we followed along anyway just in case it was included. They were herding everyone to the tables, but had still not said anything about cost, so we asked our guide when we were assigned a table. It was going to cost about the same as our big splash-out Beijing Duck night had cost; just for lunch, and not including drinks, either! The food did look really nice: a westernised version of various Chinese dishes, but at this point we made our excuses and left, finding nourishment from the barbecued sweet potato stalls and others, along with all the Chinese tourists. In the restaurant there had been literally no Chinese people apart from staff and guides. That had been our first clue that we should do a runner. This is yet another reason, I remembered, for never ever going on tours: they try to railroad you into spending money at every turn, but we had won by denying them their commission!

We had wanted to get back home straight after the Warriors so, finally back at the hostel, we immediately escaped and headed out again to the Muslim quarter. The traffic in Xi'an was terrible and I saw why so much of Beijing was fenced off with underpasses: nobody pays any attention to green men and it is very hard to find a break in the traffic. But when we got to the Muslim quarter it all changed: there were occasional mopeds going up the road, but it was mostly stalls and people. I loved it. It had the kind of exciting market atmosphere completely missing from the UK and Japan. You get similar markets on mainland Europe but, for some reason, nothing so lively happens at home or in Japan. I sought a local speciality recommended in the guide book and found it, but it was mostly sheep guts I think, although the liquor was delicious and the way you eat it is to break one whole local bread into the broth. So we just soaked up all the juice and left the ugly bits. Stupidly, I had not asked for a price before we sat down, because I was a bit too excited at having found a place doing this dish. When we were leaving she showed me two fingers, which I thought was excellent value, but when her face filled with (feigned I think) horror and she began jabbering excitedly to her husband I realised she meant twenty Yuan. Not exactly a bargain, but not quite a total rip-off. I think it probably should have cost less than ten.

On the way home I saw a couple of leather wallets I liked and, bearing in mind advice we had received, planned to purchase some decoy wallets for South America. I entered into bartering but we could not agree on a price; after the food I was determined not to be ripped off again, but the girl on the stall would not lower her price beyond a certain point.
We were close though: I was determined not to go above 25 for a wallet and she wouldn't go below 30.

The next day we worked on our New Zealand plan and booked a flight from Queenstown to Auckland in time for our flight on to Chile. We sent loads of Couchsurfing requests off to Auckland, where we were arriving. We also finished off our organisation of China, booking a hotel in Lanzhou, where we were staying one night before our flight out of Hong Kong; this was not easy as many hotel in Lanzhou do not accept foreigners and the ones that do, don't speak any English. We also spent a lot of time researching everything we would have to do to get from Lanzhou to Hong Kong in time for our flight. It was quite an intimidating prospect as there were several stages to the journey. All this took almost the whole day.

That done, we headed out to the Muslim area again. Joanne finally found some shoes but didn't follow the haggling instruction I was whispering to her, so paid 50% more than I would have done :-p and I gave in to the woman selling 30 Yuan wallets, but also bought another pair of “designer” wallets from the same stall as Joanne's shoes. Hopefully we won't be robbed as enough times to need all the wallets, but at least we'll be prepared! On the way back I couldn't help buying more lovely Muslim food. Muslims always seem to have excellent cuisine.

Kitted up, it was off to the train station for another overnight train, this time to Lanzhou.

permalink written by  The Happy Couple on August 6, 2009 from Xi'an, China
from the travel blog: Michael's Round-the-World honeymoon
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Really interesting blogs and thanks for the travel plans. Terracotta soldiers look wonderful.

permalink written by  Rosalyn Faulds on August 26, 2009

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