Warriors, Buddhas, and More (Part 1)
China is developing at lightning speed. The never-ending cranes, construction sites, and new cars on the road are but a few symbols of its growth. Yet one of the most compelling aspects of living here is the ever-present connection to history. I mean old history.
Hosting friends in town last week was the perfect opportunity to visit Xi’an, in Shaanxi Province. Xi’an was once part of the Silk Road trade route. Today people flock there for college and to work in industries such as machinery, electronics, textiles, and national defense. Its prime tourist attraction is the Terracotta Warriors. These are an army of buried, lifelike sculptures, commissioned by China’s first emperor to serve him in the afterlife. They were built over 2,000 years ago. Recovery and restoration are ongoing, making the museum a live archaeological site.
After a 12-hour train ride southwest from Beijing, we arrived in Xi’an. Our tour guide, a spunky young woman named Yao Yuan, met us at the train station. She took us to the city wall so we could bike nine miles around it. (Unlike many Chinese cities whose walls have been torn down, Xi’an’s has been preserved.) Everyone rented old, rickety bikes, and Dan and I rode tandem. Pumping our legs hard to make the inefficient vehicles go, we soaked up terrific city views.
Next stop was the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda. This is the site to which a famous Chinese monk brought back Buddhist scriptures from India. Yao Yuan shared stories about Buddhism’s inception in China as we wove through the peaceful grounds.
Lunch was in the Muslim quarter of town. We feasted on steaming dumplings, cold noodles, and sweet porridge. Attempting to grasp the dumplings, filled with soupy liquid, between our chopsticks was comical!
Bellies full, we walked to the Great Mosque of Xi’an. Burrowed in a busy street market, it features traditional Chinese-style architecture. It looked similar to a Buddhist or Taoist temple, defying my mental image of a mosque.
The following day was Women’s Day, China’s national celebration of women’s value in society. My morning started off right, with my new favorite drink (which I discovered in southern China): Hot Bean Milk. I loaded into the van with my brimming to-go mug, and off we went.
Arriving at the renowned Terracotta Warriors Museum was exciting. We strolled through several “pits” of warriors, cool air against our skin. I was astounded by the sheer artistry of the statues. They are mind-blowing in size, detail, and numbers (thousands). The fact that they were buried underground for so long haunted me. That night I slipped into uneasy sleep. I was agitated by a sense of sinking into the earth along with the warriors. Eeek!