Week 2 in China (Pingyao, Xi’an)

2 10 2011

In part 2 of summarizing a week in China in a few paragraphs, I bring you the ancient walled town of Pingyao and the city of Xi’an, home of the famous Terracotta Army. Links to pictures are at the bottom of the post.

Pingyao is a “small town” (only 500k people!) that is one of the few places with intact city walls dating back to the 14th century. Although we’ve seen huge city walls in a few places, it’s somewhat sobering to reflect that these walls are about 3 times older than the USA itself. The guesthouse we stayed in was beautiful, it felt like something out of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. The bed was “Kang style”, meaning it was like 2 queen size beds put together! Being able to spread out as much as wanted and not touch was an experience we can’t even get at home.

The town is practically lousy with old temples and museums, conveniently accessible with one entry ticket. During our few days there, we leisurely explored the town and walked along a good section of the city walls. Some of the notable museums were a Martial Arts museum with a training area with rusted weapons you could play with (I’m not sure if you’re supposed to, but when has that ever stopped me – see pics for my warrior face) and an Armed Escort museum. “Modern” banking in China was created in Pingyao (several hundred years ago) and so they were the first to start using armed escorts to protect shipments to/from “bank branches”. There was a sweet diorama of a caravan getting attacked and dudes getting beat down/shot by bandits. We also celebrated our one year anniversary with a quiet dinner (this is not easy to achieve in China!) at our guesthouse, where we reflected on how hectic this past year felt and how far we’ve come since we talked about traveling the world together on our 2nd date. Whitney got some great nighttime pictures of a large gate and the streets lit up by lanterns, beginning to justify carrying around a carbon-fiber tripod for 6 months.

We shared a golf cart taxi (cars are banned inside the city walls) to the train station with a couple from the Netherlands. They take a 1 month trip every year and over the past decade have been to most of the places we’re going and mentioned some nice places. I asked about his line of work and turns out he’s a truck driver. He works 4 day shifts so he can stagger them to take a bunch of vacation without using a lot of his allotment. His wife was a homemaker and now cleans buildings so he joked “a truck driver and the cleaning lady – look at us now!”. Pretty awesome that they’re able to travel so much internationally with those jobs, I imagine that’s a combination of frugal living and being from a country that pays better wages for lower-skilled jobs – and provides health insurance, child care assistance, reasonable vacation time. The US is the only western country with no mandated vacation or family-leave time.

Xi’an – The Han Tang hostel was one of the most “guesthouse” places we stayed with a big communal area, TV, bar and scheduled activities most nights (dumpling making, trivia, ping pong). Xi’an was the most modern city we’d been to, pretty clean, not nearly as many people spitting, lots of well-lit stores. I quickly found the nearby arcade (see my previous post about dancing games). The main reason people come here is to see the Terracotta Army. On the walk over from the bus stop I had my first-ever fresh pomegranate (2 for $0.50!). The seeds were yummy but it’s a little labor-intensive to dig them out. For those who don’t know (or are too lazy to look it up on Wikipedia), the Terracotta Army was a collection of thousands of clay, life-size replicas of the Emperor’s army. Every figure is unique, modeled on a living person in his real-life army. It also had horses, chariots and other instruments of war. Several huge pits were dug out, the figures were placed inside and then they were covered over with dirt so they wouldn’t be damaged. The idea was to provide the Emperor with an army for the afterlife. After the army was finished, they also went ahead and killed all of the 700,000 “laborers” who worked on it. That’s one way to save on retirement costs! The pits were discovered about 30 years ago by some peasants digging a well and the excavation/reconstruction is ongoing. Many of the figures were destroyed when ceilings caved in, but at least one pit was largely untouched.

My first thought at seeing the army was “Wow, this is super impressive, especially given the technology available at the time”. My second thought after reading more about it was “What a colossal waste of human effort and life”. 700,000 people forced to create clay replicas that would just be buried and then they got killed for their efforts, wtf!? I kind of felt guilty, somewhat similar to when I saw the Great Pyramids, knowing how much human misery went into their creation. However, I didn’t let that stop me from getting some awesome pictures taken, dressed up as one of the warriors. Many tourist sites in China have backdrops where you can put on costumes and get your picture taken. Here they had a whole room with replica warriors and horses, plus I got the guy to let me use one of the spears they had laying around for enhanced badassedness.

Pingyao pictures on Flickr
Xi’an pictures on Flickr

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One response

2 10 2011
kimberlea

Love you blogs……missing you and wishing you continued explorations!

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