Friday, May 11, 2012

The Terra Cotta Warriors

Our next stop on the tour was Xi'an where in 1974, a farmer digging a well discovered some pottery shards.  Excavation began and altogether over 7,000 pottery soldiers, horses, chariots, and even weapons have been unearthed from these pits.  Many have been restored, but there is still a lot of work to do to uncover the entire army built by Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China.  The figures were buried with the emperor in 210–209 BC and their purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife, and to make sure that he had people to rule over.

Nancy and I particularly enjoyed walking along the city wall, the largest intact city wall in the world.  Below the wall, the moat around the old city is still pleasant to walk along.  Had it not been late in the afternoon, we would have rented bikes and biked around the old city, all 9 miles of the wall.  Maybe next time.

An optional tour was a dumpling dinner and Tang Dynasty show, one of the most popular entertainments in Xi'an.  It was featured on Samantha Brown's tour of China on the Travel Channel.  The dumplings were delicious and we must have had over a dozen varieties - the ones shaped like chickens contained chicken, the ones that looked like little fish, were made with fish, of course.  One variety was very, very spicy hot, and Nancy and one other member of our group ate all the ones given to our table - they were too hot for everyone else!  The show was phenomenal.  I loved the costumes and the scenery.  The performers were excellent.  Here are two photos:

Xi'an was our favorite city.  They say it's small because it only has 8 million people.  

Next stop, Beijing.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Discovering China

My daughter, Nancy,  and her husband, Mike, gave me a trip to China for my 70th birthday.  Wow!  What an amazing thing to do.  Of course, someone had to go with me, so Nancy volunteered.  In spite of her concern about not being able to sleep because of my snoring, she signed us up for a 10-day trip to Shanghai, Xi'an, and Beijing with Friendly Planet.  We left the night of March 26th and returned on April 5th.  I have traveled quite a bit, but this was by far the most relaxed and educational trip ever.  Being with this tour and its excellent staff, we felt safe and secure, and the itinerary covered so much that we never would have seen otherwise.

One of the first impressions we had was that a lot of the things we had been told about China were just not true.  We expected the cities to be so smoggy that possibly we would be issued masks by the tour guides.  As you can see by the photos, that is simply not true. It was cold and windy some days, but no matter where we went, there was little if no smog.

Another concern had been that everywhere we went there would be a lot of second-hand smoke.  We expected the Chinese to be smoking everywhere - in elevators, in restaurants, in parks.  Not true.  Of course, there are a lot of Chinese who do smoke, but not in public.  The rickshaw drivers smoked while waiting for customers, and our bus driver smoked while he waited for us to return to the bus.  But, in general, we did not have any problem with cigarette smoke.

We arrived in Beijing's modern international airport with welcoming shops and restaurants.  The signs were all in Chinese and English, so we had no problem finding our gate, the restrooms, or a beverage.  There were no pictures of Chairman Mao, although all the souvenir shops sold copies of his "Little Red Book."  We did not stay in Beijing at this time, but caught a plane to Shanghai to begin our tour.

Shanghai was a city of hi-rises.  Coming in over the city, it looked like Alex had been playing with his legos, just building tower after tower and he would never run out of blocks.  I cannot imagine that there is enough concrete in the world to build all those buildings.  Of course, the skyline is what you always see, with that huge onion-topped tower - the Oriental Pearl Tower - dominating everything.  Nancy and I opted out of the tour of the city on the last day we were there, preferring to explore on our own.  Unfortunately, it poured rain the whole day, we couldn't get a taxi to take us back to the hotel, and we got soaked and exhausted.  But, the rain prevented the people on the tour from seeing anything from the Pearl Tower, so we didn't miss anything!  

During the Shanghai portion of the tour we went to Suzhou, the silk capital of China.  Originally the beginning of the silk road, Suzhou is a lovely little town of about 4 million.  (4 million is a small city in China!)  We toured the silk factory, had a tour of the city's canal in a quaint little boat, and were treated to a dumpling dinner and a performance by talented dancers and musicians.  We went to the Embroidery Institute and saw an art form I had never seen before.  Of course we all know what embroidery is, but until you see the skill demonstrated by the Masters at the Institute, you have no idea.  First of all, the stitches are done in fine, fine silk threads and not one of us could imagine how small the needle must be and how in the dickens one threads such a needle.  Here is a photo of one of the pieces that looks like a photograph itself.

Next post will be Xi'an, the site of the Terra Cotta Warriors.