As I mentioned last time, I have a ton of things I want to talk about in these next few blog posts, but for now I’ll try to focus on this past weekend in Xi’an. Xi’an is a city in China’s Shaanxi Province, about 1,000 km southwest of Beijing. Xi’an is actually one of the oldest and largest cities in the entire country, and served as the capital city throughout the Zhou, Qin, Han, Sui and Tang dynasties. The city itself is much like any other industrialized city in China. My own impression was that Xi’an is slightly cleaner and more colorful in Beijing, but that’s only based on the very short amount of time I spent walking around the city and looking around through the bus windows. It’s quite difficult to develop any sort of real appreciation for the true character of any new environment in only two days, but regardless I had a great time this past weekend, and at the very least it was nice to get out of Beijing for a couple days.
First thing on Friday morning we headed to the Xi’an City Wall, which is essentially a miniature Great Wall that I assume in ancient times surrounded the main part of the city. The wall itself wasn’t much to get excited about, but the fact that we got to ride bicycles on top of the wall made this part of the trip infinitely more interesting. On the bus ride to the wall, our tour guide, Helen, advised the group against riding around the entire wall, as it runs a little over 10 km in total. Jonny, Travis, Aaron and myself took this advice into consider, and politely decided against heeding it, riding the entire 10.3 km in just over an hour, which, considering that we didn’t really pick up the pace until we reached the 1/3 mark and realized we only had half an hour left, is not too shabby. The remainder of Saturday was spent checking out the Muslim district and attending a Tang Dynasty-style performance, complete with singing, music, dancing, and a tiny bit of martial arts. While I have yet to fall in love with traditional Chinese music, I was very impressed by the show’s set and costume design, and the overall easiness-on-the-eyes factor made up for some of the hard-on-the-ears portions.
My initial impression was that Sunday would be designated almost entirely to the Terracotta Army, but we actually only ended up spending about two hours touring that area, which actually turned out to be just the right amount of time. The Terracotta Army, as the name implies, is literally an army of terra-cotta statues buried with a former emperor of China’s Qin Dynasty, Emperor Qin Shi Huang. Unfortunately we did not have much time to learn about the history behind the army, but from what I gathered from our tour guide and from what I’ve just read on Wikipedia, the army was intended to help Qin Shi Huang rule his empire in the afterlife. The Terracotta Army itself is actually just one piece of Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum, which was built by 700,000-plus workers over the course of thirty some-odd years – Qin Shi Huang was 13 when construction began. To this day, the mausoleum complex in its entirety, including Qin Shi Huang’s main burial chamber, is still yet to be excavated, and ongoing archaeological projects will likely continue to produce incredible historical findings. According to legend, the burial chamber was supposed to contain rivers of flowing mercury, and our tour guide told us that recent tests of ground mercury levels around the supposed main burial chamber have proven much higher than normal, which seems to lend some credibility to this legend. I for one will certainly be keeping an eye out for when archaeologists finally decided to crack open Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum.
That pretty much sums up the Xi’an weekend. It’s hard to believe that we’re already halfway done here, and if this summer is anything like last summer, these next four weeks will go by in an even bigger hurry. Yesterday I spent the afternoon with the guys planning out our weekend excursions for the rest of the term, and luckily enough it’s looking like I’ll have time to make it to most of my top-choice destinations. According to the calendar, we’ll be headed off the the Temple of Heaven and Beihai Park this weekend, so you guys can look forward to some (hopefully) beautiful pictures from those trips.
As far as blogging goes, I’d really like to spend some time talking about my experience at the National History Museum, as well as touch upon some of the topics in our textbook, namely 重男轻女观念 and the now infamous story of Fan Paopao. For now, I have a new text and some characters to go over, but the copy of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” sitting on my bedside table is calling my name, so we’ll just have to see who wins out.
Happy (almost) Wednesday,