Saturday, June 30, 2012

Xian

Welcome to my blog about Xian (pronounced she-on).  Xi means west and An means peace.  So the name literally means peaceful city in the west.  However, this wasn't the original name of Xian.  Xian's name was changed when the communist party began.  In historic times it was named Chang-an which meant city of eternal peace.  The people living in Xian believe that this might be a more nobel name, and they are considered changing it back to the historic name of Chang-an.  With a population of 6 million Xian is the largest city in the north west of China.  It is about 1,200 miles away from Beijing so we had to take a plane to get there.  Xian is known as the historical area of China.  It was the capital of China for the first 13 (out of 24) dynasties in China's history.  There were more dynasties in Xian than any other city in China, and it is the oldest city in China... which is saying a lot when you consider that China is 5,000 years old.  Jenny, our local Xian tour guide, told us that if you think about China as a tree, Xian is like the roots of the tree and Beijing is like the branches of the tree.




This is one of the two large rivers in China, called the Yellow River.  Xian is primarily an agricultural city with 5 million farmers.  It is known as the bread basket of China.  Our tour guide told us that people in China used to think that they had it better off than people in the rest of the world, and they thought that people elsewhere were living in hell and that they were starving.  So they used to tell their kids after dinner to eat everything off of their plate because there are starving children in America.  We all thought that was amazing, because it very much mirrored our saying of starving kids in China.



Here is the bell tower.  You can see about 20 women around the outside perimeter of the tower switching out the flower arraignments.  They do this every two weeks and make different designs with the arraignments.



We drove by later on and this was the final result of their hard efforts.  It was pretty amazing to me!!



Here is a picture of the Xian city gate.  It is the only intact standing city wall in all of China.  It is over 600 years old and 9 miles long.  The people in Xian are very proud of this city wall, and they are fighting very hard to keep it preserved and standing.  It was built in 1417 for defense, similarly to the Great Wall.  However, unlike the Great Wall it is not made of stairs... but the surface is flat.  This allows people to go on nightly walks and ride their bikes on it.  It is almost about twice the width as the Great Wall.  At night the wall is all lit up.  We were lucky enough to have the chance to drive past it at night, and it was very pretty.  A lot of ceremonys are held around the wall.  There has been one major change to the gates over time.  Originally there were only 4 gates, or places where people could get in and out of the city.  However, inside of the city wall is mostly commercial areas, and most people live outside of the wall.  So due to the popularity of people wanting to come into the commercial area of the city 6 more gates were established.  This gives the city wall a grand total of 10 gates now.



There is a big muslim population in Xian.  There are about 20 million muslims in China. However, these people came to China about 1,000 years ago, and they are known to be very peaceful people.  Now about 20 generations after they immigrated to China, the muslim people look exactly like Chinese people.  Jenny told us that the only way that you could tell them apart from other Chinese people was by the muslims head dresses that they wear. She said other than that you'd never know.  I think thats amazing how after 1,000's of years even people with different genes and skin tones can blend to look just like each other.  I found that very interesting that they became that intregrated into Chinese culture.  However, I will admitt that I wasn't very enthusiastic when they told us we were going to go down a walk on the muslim road.  I thought that we were just going to be walking past people's houses and looking at them.  I felt kind of weird about it, but once we got there I found out that it was a sensational market with all kinds of items very decently priced for sale.  After that I was very happy that we went there.  It was a lot more interesting than I had originally thought it would be, and I was actually sad to leave. 

 

People that live in the Xian area love to eat noodles and dumplings, and boy are they good!!  I am sooo glad that we went to the dumpling excursion. Normally at home, you can go to a Chinese restaurant and they will have maybe one or two different types of dumplings.  When we went to this dumpling banquet restaurant... with over 18 different types of dumplings!!  Each dumpling was designed differently with a different type of filling.



 
The place was called De Fa Chang or DFC.  Here is dad with the giant golden dumpling.



 
Here was one of the dumplings that we received.  A lot of the dumplings we got were steamed, but some were cooked in original ways.



They were also designed to reflect what was inside of them.  Here is a design of a pig, so you knew this dumpling had pork inside of it.



Here is a duck dumpling, so you knew it was stuffed with duck.  We had 18 different types of dumplings and they were brought out two at a time.  Our table devoured them!  I think we ate all of the dumplings that they brought to us.  I think the duck dumpling was my favorite it was DELISIOUS!!  But then again they were all really really good!!!  I know everyone at our table thoroughly enjoyed it.  The other table had quite a few dumplings left over, and our table was so surprised! 


The brown dumpling was very interesting.  It was filled with walnuts.  It had a very rich flavor and was very different from the meat filled dumplings.  It was interesting.  I had a hard time wrapping my head around it because the taste was so different... it almost didn't feel like a dumpling to me.  But still it was cool to get to see it and try it.



Chinese people do not have fortune cookies.  That is purely an American thing.  However, they do have something called a fortune dumpling.


 
A server put a random amount of dumplings into a large bowling soup.  They are tiny little dumplings, and then she randomly fills up bowls of soup and passes them out to everyone.  You can tell your fortune based on how many dumplings you get in your bowl.  If you get one dumpling you will have a happy and safe journy, two you get double the happiness, three you will get  promotion, 4 you will get rich, 5 dumplings you will havea good harvest in the upcoming year, and if you get no dumpling you are the luckiest of all because you have nothing to worry about.  So as you can see all of the fortunes are positive.


Of course dad decided that our table should put some stakes on it.  So everyone threw in a dollar, and the person with the most dumplings in their bowl won.  Now, I didn't write it down but I'm pretty sure that our winner had 3 dumplings.  I had one in mine.

 


 
Here is a display of all the different types of dumplings that they have.  I know that it is hard to see, but I thought it was really cool!!



Here we are walking to our "education and enlightenment" portion of the trip.... which I think is probably the most fun we had the whole time!!  People in China do not usually work out at gyms.  They have public parks where they gather together on a daily basis to do exercises.  So here you can see our group walking into the park entrance to join in with them! 

 


Here is our group exercising outside.  You can see Jenny, Joan, and dad in the background.

 


The first area that we stopped at were doing all types of different movements with their bodies so that they used every joint.



Here you can see us following along.  The woman in the white was leading the class.  At the end of the session we all stood in a "conga" line and gave each other a "massage."  Man those woman had tough hands!!  They were really strong!!  There was one part where everyone beat on each others back, and I swear I felt like I was getting whipped!!!  Although it probably didn't help that this instructor woman was the one beating on me!!  I guess it must be good for you...??



Now I think the most fun that we had was during the fan dancing activity.  We jumped in with the locals and danced around in a line waving our fans.  Here you can see dad in action.

 


Some of the locals would grab the hands of people in our group and have them walk around with them.  Here is the guy that took dad around.

 


Here we are in the middle of the line waving our flags around.

 


You can see this guy was working dad hard!!  After he was done, dad was drenched in sweat!!

 


After a while dad switched to walking with the woman on the horse.  He thought he was funny, and hit the horse on the butt with his fan.  You should have seen the look the woman gave him!!

 


It was a blast though!  I think dad was one of the people that parctipated the longest.  It's too bad that we don't have anything like this in the US, because it was very welcoming and very fun.  But I think it's too much of a liability here.

 


Here is dad posing with some of the people.  They all had on such wonderful costumes and they were so friendly.  They didn't mind us joining in with them at all.



Underneath the trees there were hundreds if not thousands of people singing Chinese songs together.  It was really cool to experience it.  There is nothing like a huge group of people gathered together and doing something patriotic or singing about something they care about.  It is amazing that these people get together everyday and sing songs together.  They all had books with the lyrics to different songs.  It was pretty amazing.  I can't think of a time when I've ever been around people spontaniously singing in a park together.

 



Here is yet another activity.... ballroom dancing.  It is amazing all of the different exercise groups that the park had.  I think this park is one of the larger ones in Xian.  But they had tons of different groups doing a wide range of activities.  There was a group doing the tango, another group balancing balls on rackets, some doing tai chi and...

 


...this 80 year old man was break dancing while a crowd gathered around to watch him.  It's pretty amazing how well Chinese people stay in shape.  I don't know too many 80 year olds that can break dance here.


 
And this guy was moving... he was WAY quicker than me!  He was really busting out the moves!

 


Here is a sample of Chinese furniture made out of lacquer wood.  The lacquer tree is clear and translucent from the mountains.  It used to be exclusively for emperors, but now it is pretty common.  Most people do not decorate their home in traditional lacquer furniture, because it is very expensive... but some people still like it because it reflects on China's past.  Most pieces are black so that they can match everything and are decorated with... you guessed it... jade! 


All pieces are made by hand and coated with 20 coats of clear coat!!!  This furniture is very strong... its water proof, air proof, and acid proof.  It is also very smooth and shiny.  AND you won't imagine how heavy it is!!  We tried to move a chair made out of lacquer and it wasn't going anywhere!


The Xian airport is surrounded by over 100 emperial tombs.  Xian is considered the treasure house of China, because they are constantly finding new artifacts. Jenny told us that almost every week a new discovery is made of things like pottery, tools, and jars.  So it's no wonder that Xian has over 20 museums in the city to show all of this off.  If you're a person that really likes museums and historic artifacts you will really love spending time in Xian.  Unfortunately, over the past hundreds if not thousands of years various tombs have been plundered and a lot of treasures have been lost.  However, even with this it is said that archelogists will always have a job in Xian.

 


 In 221 BC China was split into 7 different kingdoms.  War was constant during this time as the kingdoms fought each other and the people suffered greatly.  One of the 7 kings died when his son, Qin, was 13 years old, and Qin became king.  His mother was wise and sent him all over China to learn about the different areas.  He was a young king and people thought that he couldn't lead without the ministeries help.  Therefore, in order to prove himself he started war with some of the neighboring kingdoms.  Within 15 years he conquered all 7 areas of China, and he gave himself the title of emperor.  He was very proud to be the first emperor of China, and he wanted to have a grand tomb for when he died.  He actually started making his tomb when he became king at 13, but once he became the first emperor of China he enlarged it to be 17 square miles large, which is the biggest tomb in the world.  It is 165 feet high and buried 30 feet underground.  It is said that the ceiling is decorated with precious metals and is very luxorious.  It is thought that this tomb has never been plundered, however tombs of emperors are never disturbed in China so this has not been confirmed.

 

Buried a mile away from his tomb were 8,000 warriers.  Each warrier is unique with different facial structures.  It is thought that these clay warriers were modeled after actual people.  Each are 6 ft tall and weigh approximately 320 pounds.  Originally they all had weapons, and some had horses.  Also, all of the warriers were in colored uniforms.  However, sadly the colors were oxided or vaporized once they were revealed to the air, and they are gone now.  The discovery of the Terracotta Warriers made Xian famous, and it brings many tourists each year.  In fact, between 7 and 8 million people a year come to visit the warriers.  At the ticket price of 150 yuan they must be bringing in a lot of money!!  Before the discovery of the Terracotta Warriers the area around here used to be a small village of about 200 people, now the area is home to more than 500,000 people.



When I heard about the Terracotta Warriers I was expecting to see 8,000 standing soliders, but this is not the case.  A few years after Qin, the first emperor, died the warriers area was plundered, and their weapons were taken and almost all of the warriers were smashed to pieces and burned.  Archeologists have been working for many years to put the warriers back together.  So far, 2,000 warriers have been reconstructed.  It takes about 3 months for two archeologists to put together one warrier.




There was only one solider that remained fully intact during the raid, and this was the archer boy.  He is thought to be the luckiest statue, and they put him inside of a glass case to see.  He is one of the few warriers that people are able to get close to.  Most of the warriers are so far away that you can not really see them.  They have a few of them in cases so that you can see them up close.  However, our experience was that it was pretty crowded and hard to get a good view/picture of them.


Here we are in front of the warriers.  You can see we weren't really able to get close to them.  The warriers are located in 3 pits, or different areas where they were originally placed.  The warriers were not moved from the location they were found.  Buildings were actually built above the pits, and people are able to look down into the actual area where the statues were found. We hoped that they really scoured the area well before they built the buildings, because how bad would it be if they discovered there were more warriers around the area, and they built a building on top of it.  I'm sure that they explored it really well before they built the buildings, but our tour guide did tell us that archeologists in China use primitive tools to search for objects.  They take a bamboo pole and stick it into the ground to see if they can find anything...  so let's hope that they looked really well!



Now might be a good time to talk about how the Terracotta Warriers were discovered.  In 1974, Mr. Yang, was digging a well to try to find water.  He had to dig down extra deep, 16 feet, and he dug up a face.  As you can imagine he was probably terrified at the time.  When people find discoveries like this it is common that they don't say anything to the government, because the government owns all land in China... and they will simply take your land and make you move.  However, Mr. Yang was an honest man and he reported the discovery.  At first it was thought that what he found wasn't a big deal and only 3 or 4 archeologists were sent to look at the discovery.  Xian was the capital of China for 13 dynasties so findings of pottery is very common.  Soon it was discovered that he had found what the people in Xian call the 8th world wonder.  For his discovery Mr. Yang was given a basket of 30 chicken eggs.  However, in the 1980's there were a lot of people starving in China and this was considered to be a very good gift, because it provided good food for his family.  Now, Mr. Yang is the local celebrity in Xian, and he was hired by the Terracotta Warrier gift shop.  He signs books and takes photographs with people that come into the gift shop.  And at $20 a photo he probably isn't doing too bad.





Someone in our group purchased one of the books and I snapped a picture of it throw into the blog.



I was really excited to visit the Terracotta Warriers. I've seen a couple wonders of the world before, and everytime that I have... I have been truely amazed.  With the title of the "8th world wonder"  I was looking forward to seeing the warriers a lot.  When we first came to Xian our guide talked about how the 8,000 soldiers were found standing up, and that they were so tall and that they were all original and unique.  She told us that she had visited them so many times that she knew them all, and would tell us all about them.  As we got closer to the site, she started telling us about the raid on the tomb and how the warriers had been destroyed and were in the process of being reconstructed.  She told us that at the current moment only 2,000 of them were standing.  At that point I was very confused, and I felt a little bit let down.  I think saying that these warriers are a wonder of the world is stretching it a little bit.  To make it worse for me our guide didn't actually come into the pits with us at all.  When she told us that she knew all of the warriers and that she would introduce us to all of them... I was expecting to hear stories of warriers... or the tale of the horse that won a war... or SOMETHING...  but she just sent us off into the pit, and told us that she would meet us in about an hour to go onto the next pit and that she would tell us more about it.  So I was thinking... ok... maybe we'll hear some of the stories she was eluding to then, but when we got back to her she only told us that the second pit wasn't nearly as interesting as the first one, and to visit the archer boy.  So... I wasn't too thrilled with just walking around the pit looking at the nameless soliders, and it was incredibly hot in the musuem area, and I think everyone in our group was really not into seeing the warriers at all.  I know a lot of people only wanted to spend about half the amount of time at the warriers than we actually did.  I really thought originally that we were going to be able to get up closer to the warriers... I didn't realize we were going onto a dig site.  You can see the office area of the archeologists in this picture.  They are working on constructing more pieces.  Of the three pits only the first had fully constructed warriers.  I think that the Terracotta Warriers does a lot for Xian's economy and that they really want people to visit the warriers... but I think there is a bit too much hype on it right now.  Maybe in 20 to 50 years when all of the warriers are finished it will be something spectacular, but as it stands right now I wasn't expremely impressed.  I suppose if you are into statues and museums it might be something that you'd like to see... but for me... it wasn't the coolest thing I saw on the trip, and I actually think that is why my blogs are taking so long to write.  I've had the other areas of my blog written for the past two weeks, but I've been delaying writing out the whole story of the Terracotta Warriers.  However, I feel like it is crucial piece to the story of our trip to Xian, because without the discovery of the warriers I do not think our group would have gone to Xian at all. 

 


Here is an area where soliders are alomst fully assembled.  Once they are fully reconstructed they will be sent back down into the pit.




At the site there are 3 pits with the warriers and then a musuem area with other findings.  Here is the largest brass statue ever found.  It is a replica of the Terracotta Warriers and their horses.





Here is the place where we at lunch... which is owned by a Mr. Lee... who used to be the neighbor of Mr. Yang.  He is called the village tycoon now.  His restaraunt is 4 stories high and can hold up to 2,000 people.  He hires people who used to live in the area before the Terracotta Warriers were discovered. We ate at a nice buffet there.  It was a very pretty place, in fact while we were there a wedding was going on.




Here is a picture of their wedding banner.  I mentioned that Chinese people often get a banner made to welcome their guests 6 months before their wedding.




Also during our lunch we kept hearing them set off fireworks!  Here you can see the parking lot where they were setting them off!



Here we are in front of pit 2 with Joan.

 


And here we are with our local guide Jenny.




The hotel we stayed in Xian was very nice!!  They had an outside area with this decoration.  I saw this outside of our room before we went to see the warriers, and it made me even more excited to see the warriers...  funny that I ended up liking to look at this more than the actual warriers...

 


That night we went to a Tang Dynasty show.   It was a very beautiful place.  Jenny told us a story that happened during the Tang dynasty... although it didn't really have anything to do with the show we saw.  It was about the most beautiful woman in Chinese history named Lady Yang.  She was the emperor's daughter in law, and the emperor had a family banquet and she volunteered to dance for everyone.  The emperor instantly fell in love her.  In the 700's in China a son had to obey his father and wife had to obey her husband.  So the emperor sent one of his severants to tell his son that the emperor wanted him to divorce his wife so that he could marry her.  However, the emperor was afraid that people would gossip so he made a temple and made the woman become a nun for four years before he made her one of his concubines.  Once he married her, she became his favorite concubine and he built her many palaces and resorts.  He loved her very much and traveled all over with her.  He had so much fun with her that he began to ignore his job as the emperor.  People in the north of China rebelled against him, and the emperor ran away with Lady Yang and his guards into the woods.  After being in the woods for a quite a while his guards gave him a choice... he could either be an emperor or a husband... so he made her hang herself when she was 37 years old.  After that, he returned to his home, defeated the warload from the north, and the Tang dynasty continued...

 


We had a WONDERFUL dinner there. It was 7 course long, and it was very delicous.  When I got to my seat I felt like Jack (Leonardo Dicaprio) from the Titanic, because I had all of those forks and knives.  I remembered what the woman told him... just start from the outside and work your way in so thats what I did!! 

 


Our show was very interesting.  There were several different acts and I enjoyed the show.  I think there were a few people in our group falling asleep during it, and usually these types of shows aren't really my "thing."  I was worried for dad, and I kept sneaking a peek at him... but he stayed awake during the whole show. 

 


Our favorite part of the show was the Kung Fu guys!  They did all kinds of flips and Kung Fu moves!  They were super exciting to see, and we really liked there part of the show.  We probably would have been happy to watch them the whole night.  Overall, I think that we really enjoyed Xian.  It was a lot of fun despite the let down of the Terracotta Warriers.  I think the time that we spent in the park was one of my favorite parts of our whole trip.