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September 21, 2001
Xi'an: China's first capital (Russell)

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Joss and Cameron in the terra-cotta souvenir store

On the morning of September 20, we arrived in Xi'an right on schedule at 5:00 AM.  The conductor had checked our tickets right on schedule a half hour earlier at 4:30 AM.  At the station, we were met outside the train by Sherry (our guide) and Mr. Su Tao (our driver).  That was the end of the good news about our arrival.

Joss and Russell had slept well on the train.  Cameron said he hadn't slept, but he actually had.  Gail (whose stomach was better, but was now going on her fourth day of debilitating headache) hadn't slept at all.  In the process of pulling our rolling suitcases out of the train station, one of the handles completely broke off on the rigid wash-boarded floor.  It was raining in Xi'an, so we would not be seeing the Big Wild Goose Pagoda or Provincial Museum as planned.  Instead, Sherry would give us the full day for resting.

Unfortunately, because we had arrived at the train station two hours early, Sherry told us we would have to sit around in the lobby for four hours until we could check in.  Fortunately, when we actually arrived at the Xi'an Hotel, she was able to locate a receptionist.  Unfortunately, our accommodations were even more inconvenient than Beijing's: two separate rooms that were not even next to each other.  Fortunately, the hotel itself was nicer than Beijing's.

Gail got a little bit of rest, but the guys stayed up all day.  In the afternoon, we took a long walk from the hotel to the ancient city walls, beyond which was the downtown area.  At the four-story shopping mall (department store), we bought a new suitcase to replace the broken one.  As usual, the army of clerks was extremely helpful, despite our speaking no Mandarin Chinese (Russell was able to communicate at a very low level using his limited Cantonese).

We had been warned that the boys would serve as a "people magnet."  Joss was walking down the sidewalk when a woman stopped him and started talking to him (in Chinese) about his stuffed panda.  Within seconds, a crowd of a dozen people had gathered around to see what was going on.  Although we are still awestruck by the everyday things around us, we are past our culture shock and having an absolutely delightful time in China not blending in.  

On September 21st, Sherry met us at 8:30 AM for our only full day of touring in Xi'an.  Our first stop was a pottery factory -- Xi'an is famous for its pottery.  We have discovered that every tourist stop in China is accompanied by prolific shops and souvenir stands, and we ended up purchasing a few glazed tiles.  Next was the Banpo Neolithic Museum, where archeologists have excavated some of the earliest known human settlements in China or anywhere, dating back to 4500 BC.

Xi'an was China's capital during the Qin dynasty (pronounced "Chin," where the word "China" derives from).  The first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi, took the throne in 246 BC at the age of 13 and spent the next 36 years building his own mausoleum (with the help of 700,000 workers, mostly slaves).  His memorial included 6,000 individually crafted, life-sized terra-cotta (clay) soldiers and horses and their 10,000 weapons.  Emperor Qin was not a nice man -- he burned all of the books, buried the scholars alive, and had his own son killed.  So when he was finally overthrown, the peasants stormed the mausoleum, destroyed much of the terra-cotta army, set the place on fire, and buried it.  The site remained undiscovered until 1974, when peasants were digging a well.

Needless to say, our visit to the Terra-cotta Warriors was the highlight of the day.  The excavation work is still only partially completed; China is waiting for technology to improve so that the relics can be better preserved.  Even so, the site has been developed much further since Russell was here fifteen years ago: there are three huge pits open to the public, and the gauntlet of souvenir stands now has permanent buildings along a paved walkway.

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The real thing: Pit Number 1

Sherry also fell in love with the boys, especially Joss and his "walnut hair" (she nicknamed him "pretty boy.")  Cameron and Joss are the first children she has guided in her two years (most of her clients are retired Americans) and she was fascinated by their ongoing antics.  She said they are very much like Chinese boys.  (Sherry's English was also very good -- she studied for four years in the university).

The lunch banquet was much more appealing to the children, and Gail especially enjoyed the glazed potatoes (they tasted like caramel honey).  After lunch, we visited the Hua Qing Hot Springs, which did not reek of sulphur, and the Shaanxi History Museum, which housed fascinating relics from every one of China's historical dynasties.  At the museum shop, Joss finally got his long-awaited yellow silk outfit.

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Two of China's four most beautiful women in history (the other is Yang Qui Fei, royal concubine)

The family voted to skip the Buddhist Temple and Pagoda in the rain, and instead take an hour break at the hotel before dinner.  This was just was well for Sherry, who was still recovering from a cold.  Gail exploited the extra space in our new, bigger suitcase, and Cameron worked some more on his ongoing story.  (Cameron's writing has simply exploded and blossomed within the past two weeks.  He writes prolifically on the PC, his writing is becoming very good -- and funny -- and he gives dad a break by reading to us from "Farm Wars" before bedtime.  The only problem is that he and dad have ongoing struggles for the computer.)

We had dinner and a show at the Grand Tang Theatre Restaurant, where tourists are treated to authentic song, dance, instruments, and costumes from the Tang dynasty.  The dinner was the most "western" Chinese food we've had so far, and the show was fascinating enough to keep the boys (mostly) interested.

We got back to the room by 10:00 PM.  (Again, we have voted to skip any rushed sightseeing in the morning.)  Joss slept in his yellow silk "pajamas" with his stuffed panda.

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Joss in his new "pajamas"

 

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