Cody had our agenda lined out: we were going to see the fabled Terracotta Army! This was another dream of mine fueled by an article in National Geographic a dozen years ago. It was surreal to stand before these cryptic figures from a far distant past, figures I had only seen rumored in the glossy pages of a travel magazine.
There are guided tours offered, but we found buses out there and saved some yen. These warriors populate a massive burial ground, entombed along with the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (259-210 b.c.) in order to protect him from evil spirits, of which he had a very real fear (apparently he had tunnels constructed to connect many of his 200 palaces, believing that evil spirits could not get him if he travelled underground). The old coot had an obsession with death, and in his lifetime employed many an alchemist to search for the elixir of immortality. It didn’t pan out. In fact, he was probably poisoned by all the mercury pills he was being fed by these alchemists.
The terracotta warriors were made from a mix and match of a few molds and then customized by artists. Take ten in a bunch and you will see that they each have a different face, ears, hat, and height. There are also 6,000 of them, buried along with 40,000 bronze weapons. Archers, infantry, charioteers, and officers are all present. These warriors were lined up in earthen foundations whose floors were paved with stone bricks and then the whole lot covered with log roofs. The roofs have since collapsed, or sagged, rather, but what do you expect after 2,200 years? There is also evidence that part of this Necropolis was looted and burned at one point. The emperor had those who built it killed to keep his secret and this worked well, as the site was not discovered until 1974, when the local farmers were digging wells during a drought. His own tomb is still unopened, though its location is known and it has been probed. I assume they are waiting for new developments in technology so that they may explore it with minimal damage. Much of the terracotta warriors are still buried for this reason, it seems that in the process of unearthing them, many are broken, and the lacquer protecting the paint oxidizes in a matter of seconds and in minutes all of the colorful paint can be lost.
It is an amazing time to visit, actually, because they are still exhuming warriors and there are archeologists at work in the pits, which you can see! It is also obvious that there are many, many more to be uncovered, for though the pits are exposed, most of the area is still covered by the remnants of the log roofs.
“Shi Huang” means “First emperor.” He was the first to unify the separate warring states of China and renamed himself. The movie “Hero,” starring Jet Li, is the story of an assassination attempt on Qin Shi Huang, loosely based on one of the historical attempts on the powerful king’s life.
The Chinese had already figured out how to protect their weapons from corrosion. They chrome plated the swords and many of the arrow heads, and they were pulled out of the ground untarnished. Hundreds and hundreds of years passed before this technology was developed in the West, as the sign in the museum boasts.
We barely made it back in time to see a play about a Chinese empress. In a fancy theatre we watched an excellent show, accompanied by a Chinese orchestra, of which the percussion was of particular interest, with massive drums and bells. The show was full of beautiful costumes, acrobatics, weaponry, drums, and traditional dances. This type of thing isn’t really on my radar, but I really enjoyed it, although I would have swapped Cody’s company for that of a lovely young lady and we certainly weren’t dressed properly. After the show we wandered off in search of a place to celebrate our last night together. We found a bar near the hostel that was done up hipster fashion and playing music Cody liked. It was a new place, operated by two really tuned in partners, a girl who studied fine art in Michigan and a fellow with a mop full of curly hair and a goatee. We danced late into the night and had some great conversations.
The next morning, Cody left. Man, I hate goodbyes! I met Cody six months ago at an Azeri port on the Caspian sea. We rode together through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as part of the Camel Krew. I lost him- and the rest of the crew- when I dashed ahead to evade overstaying my visa, and found myself riding with the Pamir Pack through Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. We reunited briefly in Bishkek before parting ways once more with plans to tackle China together. For two months we braved the bureaucracy and bitter cold of Western China and breached the mountains into the center, living, riding, eating, laughing, conversing, dancing, suffering together. Whatever differences we may have, he is family now, another brother.
As soon as he left I felt strange. I hadn’t ridden alone in five months. I hadn’t been alone for five months! Suddenly I felt very vulnerable. I had a train booked to Hong Kong for the next day, and decided to make the most of my day off; I felt suddenly awkward in the hostel, now a wandering loner, and I needed something to do, so I walked down to the Giant Wild Goose pagoda, which was massive, and went to the free cultural museum nearby.
It was a long walk and I felt weird. I think as a duo we sort of evaded the sense of being so far away in such an unfamiliar place. Now I felt particularly aliund. I had been reading some great literature about quieting the mind, however, and walked as in a dream, allowing this strange sensation to wash over me. To wander around a foreign city when everything about you suggests you don’t know what you are doing or even where you are going can be challenging. Not only do you look funny, but you may as well have a sign on your forehead that says something like “SUCKER.” Feels vulnerable. Two is a tribe, one is… isolate.
China is a safe place though, and there are plenty of expats living here. It is possible that most of my nervousness was derived simply from the complete freedom of choice I now had; truly, such freedom can be intimidating, terrifying. The world splits in a thousand directions every moment and the limits are only practical: for the moment I have time, I have money, and no responsibilities whatsoever. In such a state one needs a little guidance, something to go off of, elsewise one may be hampered by indecision. I have since found my feet again, although I think we are more capable of making sensible decisions when we have someone else to reflect off of. On our own, there is no system of checks and balances, which makes focus and calm discernment a necessity, that or a complete and reckless abandon…
The museum blew me away. It was not the recent history that interested me, but the pottery and bronze work from the oriental bronze age, which began 4000 YEARS AGO! The artistry, subtlety, and plain AGE of civilisation in this part of the world is incredible. The style is pre-Chinese, of course, and of such sophistication! The exquisite taste and animism is decidedly un-Chinese and it felt like I was looking at the relics of an alien civilization, I’ve never seen anything like it. They also used jade to make daggers and all sorts of tools, which I didn’t know. Extremely useful stone, and no wonder they revere it so. If you ever go to Xi’an, this museum is a MUST! You need a whole day to explore it.
(Sorry I don’t have any pictures, my small camera is still broken)
On the way back I bought a pair of chartreuse climbing pants at the store Cody and I had popped in before, cost me a hundred dollars. The first time I saw them I knew I had to have them. Yes, chartreuse.
The morning after, I hopped on a train to Hong Kong.