Thursday, November 14, 2013

October 26, Xi'an

This morning we went to a jade factory: not particularly interesting, nor was I in the mood to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on jewelry. Then we went to a wholesale herbal market which was more interesting. Dozens and dozens of vegetal and animal products are dried. One was a dried human placenta, believe it or not. To use them – different substances for different physical ailments – you boil them in water and drink that. The worse it tastes, the better it is for you.

At lunch we had a noodle-making demonstration. You take wheat flour and mix it with salty water, and knead it in flour. Then you hold the two ends and swing it so that it stretches. You do this half a dozen times and when it is sufficiently flexible you double it and then swing and stretch it again. Repeating the process you have a dozen or two dozen strands of noodle!

After lunch we went to the Terracotta Warrior museum. There were the usual hordes of people Рmany tour groups Рbut because this place is so spread out it was possible to see things. I know I am somewhat blas̩ about tourist sites, but even I have to say that this one place is worth coming across the world to see. I had seen pictures but the impact of the real thing is extraordinary. A farmer was digging a well in 1974 when he unearthed the first piece of what turned out to be 60 square kilometers of an extended buried mausoleum for the first Qin emperor about 2200 years ago. The main excavation area is huge Рtwo and a half football fields long by one football field wide. A single cantilevered roof covers all of it with skylights for light. In the middle is the archeological field divided into 15 or 20 areas. Each column of life-sized soldiers is divided by a thick partition wall, at the top of which had been placed strong wooden timbers for roofs. I could not believe I had forgotten to take my iPhone off the charger in the morning so I was without my camera, but here are some pictures from the Web.

It is estimated that there are 8,000 figures there, every face and body different and carved with a different live warrior serving as model. The majority of the figures have not yet been excavated. When originally found the figures were painted, but upon exposure to air and light the paint oxidized and now they are sort of beige. The faces are so realistic you might think they had just been sculpted using people you see on the street every day as models. 

The warriors themselves remained living to serve the next emperor. Three thousand concubines who did not have children were not so lucky: they were buried alive, along with slaves and officials, to serve the emperor in his next life. When the construction was done, a task of forty years that required immense labor (Mike says a full third of China's GDP at the time), the doors were sealed. The concubines who had children were spared to take care of them. 

Although a few of the figures were found intact, the vast majority were in pieces – imagine a huge three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. The legs were made of solid clay but the bodies were made of clay ropes coiled around to form a chest, arms and head, and then sculpted for the final details. They were therefore hollow. The timbers fell down and crushed the warriors due to an insurrection against the Qin dynasty which destroyed much of the mausoleum, the rotting and caving in of the roof timbers over time, and an earthquake or two. Archeologists will have their work cut out for them for many years, sorting out the pieces and figuring out which go with which.
Although most people in the group continue to eat huge meals three times a day because the buffet breakfasts, lunches, and dinners have dozens of delicious dishes, give or take, I have found that I am skipping some meals to be able to concentrate on others. I am also no longer wanting seconds on anything, even if the plate is the size of a saucer. However tonight we went to a dinner theater of dance and acrobatics performances. Dinner consisted of rice wine, half a dozen appetizers, eighteen different kinds of dumplings, soup, and three desserts, literally. A feast like this shouldn't be skimped on and it was a terrific experience, definitely worth skipping breakfast and lunch for. The theater part was a show of Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) dances and acrobatic acts, with the most gorgeous, over-the-top costumes.  I sat front and center (lucky me!) and there wasn't a shabby costume among them.  Here are a lot of pictures, chosen from many more.

I have learned to write some Chinese words!

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