Friday, October 7, 2011

The China Diaries: Neat Little Rows

I spent a decent portion of the National Holiday week in my apartment, reading and watching Game of Thrones (really just great, by the way). On the last day, I went East to see the Terracotta Army.

You are, I'm sure, at least familiar with the concept of the Terracotta Army. In 1974, farmers in Shaanxi province were attempting to dig a well when they stumbled upon a terracotta soldier buried in the ground. Curious about the find, but still in need of a well, they moved a few feet to the left, and dug again, only to strike another soldier. This process continued for several more hours until, finally frustrated by the utter lack of success, the farmers reported the discovery to the authorities. The incident report read, "Can you get these things out of here? We're trying to dig a well."

I went with another teacher who'd been here a year without ever managing to visit the warriors. This is not, it turns out, so unusual; the Assistant Director of Studies at my school has been here for four years, and he hasn't visited them. He tells me he will go to see them on his last day, before going to the airport. At this point it's a matter of principle.

Damian and I met around 10:30, traveling into the city center to catch a bus. Adjacent you'll see a picture of part of Xi'an's wall. Like most places in this part of China, Xi'an is famous for its wall. I await the day when I learn of a place in China which is famous for not being famous for its wall. This wall surrounds the center of Xi'an in its entirety, though of course it has had a number of large holes cut into it over the years to allow for vehicular transportation.

The bus ride took roughly forty minutes, and cost ¥10 per head, which is a bit less than $1.50 per person. How they pay for the fuel alone, I'll never know. During the ride, we passed by what would have been a large amount of gorgeous scenery, but for industrialized China's legendary smog. Behold, for example, what would have been a lovely photograph of a mountain-top pagoda, but is now instead a photo of a pagoda in silhouette.Part of me wonders if people born and raised in China go to other countries and feel a jolt of excitement and fear when they realize they can make out details in buildings more than three blocks away. Do they know it's an environment thing? Or do they think the human eye just works that way? It's a bit like Plato's Cave, but we could test it.

When we arrived, Damian made the mistake of buying a pomegranate off an old woman. This was not in and of itself a mistake, but it signaled to the hundreds of other sellers crowding the tourist trap that we did in fact have money, and that we were in fact capable of some level of interaction with non-English speakers. (You should click on the picture of the pomegranate, if for no other reason than to share in my gleeful relationship with my new camera lens.)

Admission in to see the warriors is normally ¥110, but for reasons I'm still a little fuzzy on, anyone with a student ID could see them for ¥55 when we went. I would wager it had something to do with the holiday, much as I wagered they wouldn't be able to tell my driver's license wasn't from the University of Tennessee.

There are three major Pits which are open to the public. Pit 1 is the big one (in the picture at the start of this post, which, in full disclosure, is from Wikipedia.), while Pits 2 and 3 are both fairly unimpressive. Neither is lit well, and neither contains much. They are, forgive me, the pits.

The entrances and exits are labeled with "Way In" and "Way Out," which technically makes sense, but I got a strange sense of foreboding from them. It's funny how it's the little idiomatic mistakes that really get you. Walking in, I was stunned by how big the excavation is. "Imagine the size of the kiln," I thought. I took a lot of pictures in Pit 1. Looking at them after the fact, the weird combination of earth tones with speckled hints of blue and red makes it seem like the camera is broken. The one to the left here is of particular interest to me because of the way the soldier in the center of the picture seems to be mugging for the camera. I'd bore you with more pictures, but you really have to be a member of my family for me to feel I can subject you to that.

I will say that one who visits the soldiers on a busy day should be as proud of every picture one manages as a war veteran is of every wound sustained in battle. The Chinese do not believe in the concept of "First come, first serve," and I had to fight to get every pole position.

In addition to the three pits, there is also a museum portion, though the largest section of the museum seems to be about the museum itself. What they housed in the museum before it had any history... I try to ignore the thought. Because it is a major attraction for China, the English signs throughout are well-translated, though it would likely have behooved the government to have a native speaker give them the once-over. Again, it's not wrong, but it's not quite right. As an aside to those who read the sign, China's self-centrist view, exemplified in the conception of "two civilizations" as China and Everyone Else, remains to me a fascinating thing.

After a walk through the heinously overpriced gift shop- keeping in mind that it was overpriced after the Westerners-only 50% off- Damian and I hopped on the bus back home.

* * * * *

I like to think, 37 years later, that the two farmers, having been relocated in the aftermath of the discovery, still don't understand why they had to move because a bunch of pottery was in their well.

No comments: