A very full day. We had an 11-yuan breakfast (about $1.50, and that's for all three of us), more than we could eat, at our favorite local place, then climbed into a car rented through the hotel for the day: the Eastern tour (400 yuan). First, the Neolithic village, occupied 6,000+ years ago, really an archeological site discovered in 1953, covered by a huge closed, vaulted room complete with railings around the site, plaques and looped video on various tv's set around the vast space (everything is big—it dwarfs Texas), movie theater and model under glass. And paintings and bas reliefs how the archeologists imagine it was. But they make very few assumptions about the social structure based on their findings (unlike most other archeologists), except to say that the position of women was very high and probably matriarchal (other archeologists insist it was patriarchal.)
Children were cared for by grandmothers in a central place, and men and women were housed separate from each other, even after marriage. They farmed (!, not hunter-gatherers) millet, the staple food (not rice, they didn't grow that), and their village had a huge ditch (moat without water?) around it to protect them from animals. They didn't seem to have domestic animals. Tools were fashioned from bone and stone, but pottery was quite developed, including sophisticated kilns and artistic designs, and woven baskets and cloth. Even writing was already evident, with 22 different symbols.
Art, including jewelry, decorated their lives, and they buried their dead with ceremony and sacrifice (grains and objects, not animals). House-building evolved from semi-underground, squarish (teepee-like) houses with a dug-out entrance (like an igloo) to round thatched houses (like African ones we saw in Zambia) to square ones much like you see in China today—all utilizing the abundant clay, baked glazed and later bricked, with tree poles as support and thatched roofs. Banpo, named for the river it was near, existed in a much warmer, wetter climate than Xi'an enjoys now (you must put the ' between the syllables so people know they are separate, not Xian! One thing I learned today, from Linda, a fount of information.) The communal kilns, storage areas, child care, pottery-making and public graveyard were cited as examples of their "primitive communism."
Of course, the area had the usual tourist shops, including one of peasant paintings (thousands), silk and jade. I was drawn to the peasant paintings, which this area is famous for—untrained peasants draw and paint in their spare time, using as the subject their daily lives. Heavily touted when we were there in 1974, it's great to see this tradition has survived. The very ubiquitousness of art objects, in cloth, in jade, in silk, paintings (an entrepreneurial painter whipped out his portfolio in front of the hotel, offering beautiful paintings for a pittance, such events are everywhere.)
Hot springs. After lunch in an overpriced restaurant with so-so food, but our own private room, we walked across the street to a private reserve, the hot springs resort which was the playground of an emperor, his concubine and a whole simpering court 2300 years ago, and a mere 50 years ago the site of a famous incident nearly ending Chiang Kai Shek's life, who was using the resort as his "field office" (pretty posh for that). Beautiful grounds with flowering trees, freshly painted (new?) old-style buildings, loveliness everywhere you look.
One "museum" featured a model of the Tang dynasty layout, a diorama of full-sized characters showed the king and his court, and another "living" (real women lounging) diorama portrayed the women's harem. A famous love story between the emperor and his famous beauty concubine (one often sees paintings of a half-naked woman, it is usually her), wherein he was so smitten he paid no attention to state affairs, ending in being kidnapped by foreign intruders (Turks). The ransom paid for him weakened the empire so much its downfall came shortly afterward (a century?). I call him the playboy to keep him straight in my panoply of emperors.
Several sources of hot springs still flow through fountains (wash your hands in it for only 5 yuan), open pools, and even a bathhouse (for 100 yuan, take a bath in a private room,) but the old famous pools were mostly dry—although covered by substantial buildings with railings restraining you from going down to them. Workmen feverishly prepared the stage and bleachers for a major performance of dancers, fireworks, musicians (we saw pictures of it on the board outside.)
Linda and Dawei were disgusted at its commercialization, how built up it had become, and that at every turn we were asked for more money (including the cart to ride from place to place). We didn't opt for the gondolas which took one to the top of the mountain—no time, and Dawei gets vertigo. But we did pay the 15 yuan for the go-cart ticket which let you ride from place to place.
Next stop was the prize destination: the terra cotta soldiers that protected the tomb of the First Qin dynasty emperor, which we saw on the way: a mound of earth rising in the middle of flat farmlands, undisturbed except for the huge stone fence around it, guards and stone steps to the top (we didn't stop.)
It's rumored (and written) that he booby-trapped his tomb in Raider's of the Lost Ark fashion, but the government has not tested it yet, preferring to wait till their "technology" is advanced enough, to preserve the findings. Parking in the lot to see the terra cotta soldiers, we had no idea that we would spend the next half hour walking through a virtual outdoor mall, still under construction (isn't everything in China?) selling souvenirs, before reaching the gate. The 90 yuan entrance fee outraged Dawei, who felt they were gouging, but it's really only about $12.
The museum around the archeological site has bloomed into six or seven buildings for the museum itself, huge buildings enclosing each pit, with a balcony around each. Several actual excavated soldiers and horses (and two chariots), enclosed in glass, lined the side of one pit, for close inspection. Throngs of tourists, not only foreigners but Chinese, were dwarfed by the immense size and scale of the venue—and it rivaled in sophistication the best museums I've attended anywhere. Elegant, beautiful, functional. And ready for the hordes whom they hope will attend next year.
We decided today that China is doing a huge "spring cleaning" (for the past few years) preparing for the "guests" who will come next year: Olympics attendees. I do hope they aren't disappointed, but the effect has been to telescope 50 years of development into 5.
I loved the soldiers, the whole visit there, the weather was great, and the walk good exercise. Especially running from building to building to make the deadline to get back out in time (Dawei didn't want to pay the 90 yuan, feeling he had seen it all already, so waited on the outside). Amazing and dramatic. I took another 300 or so pictures—that's about my average per day. Many aren't great, but they are easily discarded, and we have the process down for transferring to the computer, backing up, erasing and going at it again.
The first amazing feat was the creation of the soldiers—so many thousands, so individualized, such a vast army for a man who accomplished what no man had ever done before: united the vast middle Kingdom into one for the first time, and wanted to defeat death itself! He only ruled over this united kingdom for 20 years, although the Tang and then the Han dynasties which came later ruled for 300+ years each. Twenty-five Chinese dynasties have ruled, some short and some long, but more than half of them made Xi'an ("West Peace," formerly Chang'an, "Everlasting Peace") their capitol. I'm so glad we came here. A very different feel from Beijing, now the capitol, the head of China.
Xi'an is in the center of a wide flood plain valley between two mountain ranges, an older city by 1,000 years than Beijing (from the Zhou period, compared to Beijing's Ming). I share these details not to show off, because I can barely remember these details, but to show the complexity that learning even a little about it requires.
After riding back through rush hour traffic, very tired, we opted for the local "Hong Kong" style restaurant, a glitzy café at the entrance to the underpass. One song serenaded us throughout dinner, which we were glad to escape. The food was ok, nothing special, and about 10 times "our" restaurant, where Dawei gets his mo (Chinese hamburger, or chopped up meat in a bun) and Linda and I get our noodles and wonton. I rebelled against eating there again even though it was good (and virtually free) because part of the experience here is culinary experimentation!
But we did have breakfast there this morning again, a mere 7 yuan today (less than $1 for the three of us.) Today we had two destinations, beginning with the National Museum, which has artifacts beginning with Lantian Man, who lived here more than 1,500,000 years ago. Tools, clay pots, money (shells and then metal discs with square holes), weapons, bronze vessels, Tang clay horses and men and other grave offerings marched through the ages and dynasties in a bewildering progression.
A young Chinese tour guide led an English group through all of it, holding forth in a sweet, bright voice. But when one listened closely, much of what she said contradicted not only what we learned at the Banpo Museum about the early peoples (patriarchal, hierarchical, she said, not matriarchal, communal), but what Linda, my resident expert, told me. I decided to not listen to the guide, and only pay attention to the signs and what Linda said. What misinformation is perpetrated every day by poorly trained "guides." Just because they are Chinese doesn't make them experts on history!
The main wing, closed for renovation, may contain even more lovely exhibits when the REAL (Olympic) guests arrive, next year. We, being the early arrivals, had to contend with jackhammers and loud motors, tools of the massive renovation.
Then we proceeded via taxi to the Famen Temple (Goose Temple), set on stately, gorgeous grounds. Would have been peaceful if the electric saw cutting marble weren't shattering it, drowning out the birds. Later, we went on the back side of the grounds, where it WAS peaceful and even not under renovation! Although the back corner was where several monks were working on endless logs, de-barking them and smoothing them for the work going on in the front.
Nonetheless, we had a wonderful time, climbing the steps to the seventh (top!) floor, taking pictures, wandering around. Balmy weather, lovely sunshine, pleasant people. Lots of other tourists, even one family from NY. Linda said it was her BEST day of the trip so far. I would have lots of contenders, but it's up there. Dinner at the dumpling restaurant in the guidebook, it was not a disappointment.
Walking back, looking across at the lit Bell Tower, Drum Tower, shopping centers, the flying kite (the product of the day, it seems, we bought four for 10 yuan, together), we agreed, a beautiful city. In 1974, we didn't see any religious places, they hardly seemed to exist. Now they are among the most beautiful spots in the city, prosperous, thriving.
Tomorrow: The 8th Route Army museum! (revolutionary army).