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The Terracotta Warriors

Toilet star rating = - 10

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It was an inauspicious morning. The nights antics had left me with a shocking hangover, although, Shelly seemed to have bounced back okay. We had opted to do the half day tour to see the Terracotta Warriors as we had no interest in going to the Banpo neolithic village, the hot springs or other tombs in the area. None of the tombs, including that of the First Emperor have been excavated so there is really nothing to see at any of them. We also hoped that we'd be able to get back early to squeeze in some more sight seeing in the city before we flew down to Kunming at 10.30 that night. There were seven of us on the tour, excluding our driver and guide - a young English couple, the two Kiwi ladies we did the panda tour with, and a lone American. The English couple had arrived at the train station the night before and been caught up in the chaos caused by the demonstration. It took them five hours to get from the station to their hotel near the southern gate! Not an auspicious welcome!
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The first stop on the tour was the obligatory visit to a ceramics factory where they made replicas of the warriors, ranging in size from 3 inches high to larger than life size. It was interesting to see the replicas being made. It was quite a manual process. Of course, there are cheaper mass produced versions available at every tourist market in China. We all hoped to get through the sales pitch as quickly as possible and be on our way, but R from Arizona decided he wanted to buy a lifesize warrior to ship home to his mother. Then he wanted to buy a carpet. Then he wanted.... and so it went. We spent over an hour at the shop waiting for him to make his selections and do the paperwork while we all stood around in the carpark impatiently.

Underway again, it took us almost an hour to drive to the site. Our guide, Sunny, asked if we wanted to stop for the lunch stop now, as it was almost twelve. We all agreed we did not. Time was certainly ticking on this tour and it was increasingly apparent this was not going to be a half day tour at all. Sunny escorted us through the massive shopping complex and hawker city that has grown up around the Terracotta Warriors, got our tickets and then we entered the site. She wanted to lead us straight to Pit One, the enormous hanger sized complex that covers the largest of the warrior pits, but we all said we'd rather look at the museum first to get some context, then start at the smaller pits two and three before the grand finale at Pit One. Sunny thought this was a little unorthodox as it was against the usual order of the tours, but we got our way.
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The museum had some interesting exhibits, especially the bronze chariotteers that were found in a pit some distance away from the main warrior site. The half size figures are incredibly detailed. The museum also displayed some of the civilian terracotta figures and artifacts from the workers' camp, including some of their own grave goods.
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Work on Qin Shi's mausoleum began the moment he ascended the throne at the age of 13 in 246BC. At that stage he was only king of the leading Chinese state. Under his leadership the Qin state progressively swallowed up its rivals and he proudly declared himself First Emperor. Just so everyone was clear about his status he invested untold resources expanding his tomb to monumental proportions. Historians of the time talked about a gigantic underground palace complex of audience chambers, halls filled with gold, painted ceilings set with stars, and surrounded by a model ocean of liquid mercury. All of this was covered by an enormous artifical mountain. They also made a brief note of a huge buried army to guard the tomb. Sadly for Qin Shi, his legacy didn't last and within a decade of his death the empire had shattered into waring factions. A rebel peasant army had ransacked his tomb and burnt the complex to the ground. Centuries later, when European historians read these tales they scoffed at them as totally prepostorous! And that was pretty much the end of the story, until in 1967 a group of peasants was sinking a well shaft into a field and pulled up some broken pieces of terracotta. At first they thought nothing much of this; old pottery gets found all the time. But then they discovered a terracotta human head. That was something to report! The amazing thing is if the well had been only one foot over it would have completely missed the entire site - a site as large as a city block.
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The rest, as they say, is history. Archaeologists investigated the find and found some terracotta soldiers, all badly smashed. The more they dug, the more they found. Pit 1, the largest pit, is absolutely enormous and it isn't even fully excavated! But here's the thing - they don't really know what it is they have here. A large relief map of the area shows that the terracotta army is situated on the right hand side of what would have been the ceremonial way leading to Qin Shi's tomb. I would warrant there's another army situated on the left hand side of the ceremonial way too, just as there would have been in life.... But no one is digging. Instead, shopping malls, hotels and theme parks are filling up the landscape.
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The discovery of the army of course meant that many of the other 'myths' around Qin Shi's tomb could no longer be dismissed. Ground penetrating radar has since revealed that there is a huge complex beneath the hill marking his tomb. It also shows that there is toxic levels of liquid mercury in the ground. Unfortunately, until a way is found to neutralise the mercury, Qin Shi's resting place is going to remain undisturbed.
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So now it's 3pm. So much for a half day tour. Just after we all meet back and set off to the bus, R suddenly realises he didn't visit Pit 2. And off he runs. So we wait again.... He comes back about 5 minutes later and we set off again. We end up at a run down looking restaurant, filthy tables, peeling paint, water stained ceiling, empty... it all looks very auspicious. R and I and the New Zealand ladies all need to go so we duck out the back to the restrooms. We all return looking pale and shellshocked having witnessed visions of unspeakable horror. Someone said, "This might not be the best place to eat."

"Once more into the breach dear friends! Once more.."
Chinese toilets get a bad rap. We have been fortunate in our experience Yes, they are mainly squatters which can be a little unpleasant. Some can be decidedly communal, with either low 3 foot doors or no doors at all. It's not a very comfortable situation to find yourself crouched down next to a perfect stranger wrestling with an inner demon. But most toilets have been quiet passable - even on the trains! BUT, every now and then you do come across a toilet that simply takes your breath away. It's even more frightening when it's at a restaurant. I mean - what must be the state of the hygiene in the kitchen??
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Well, we did eat and no one died. Yet. We finally got underway about 4pm and then hit the afternoon peak hour. Traffic into Xian was banked up for miles and slowed to a dead crawl. We got back to our hostel about 6pm. All in all, visiting the warriors by a tour was a waste. We found out later that there is actually a regular bus from the local bus station that will take you to the Terracotta Warriors for about 10 yuan. If we'd done it ourselves we could have been there and back by about 2pm at the very latest.

Posted by paulymx 09:06 Archived in China

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