Thursday, September 18, 2014

In The Land of Terracotta Warriors

Ever since I first set my eyes on the terracotta soldiers, I’ve always wanted to see them in person. The life-size figures of warriors and horses arranged in battle formations fascinated me. Each time there was a documentary on TV about the terracotta army, I would be glued to the TV screen.. wondering how they did it and what moved them to build such an extraordinary thing.

So, when my mum told me that her usual travel group was organizing a trip to Xian, China, I quickly said “Yes, I want to go!”. Usually, I would hesitate or come up with all sort of excuses because the timing was not right or we didn’t have enough money. But this time, I told my husband, “By hook or by crook, I’m going. If you don’t want to come, I’m going alone!” Hee.. hee… Alhamdulillah. All my kids wanted to tag along too, except for my eldest daughter who could not take leave from work.

It was a 5D3N trip, organized by CS Holidays, a travel agent based in Ipoh with whom my parents always go with whenever they go on holidays. The group comprised mostly of retired teachers and government servants. There were 26 of us in the group (my family made up 8 of them) while the rest were mostly couples.

I was a bit apprehensive at first about travelling with this group (you know… I’m not “that” old yet..) but they turned out to be such a great bunch of people. They were very accommodating, no air, no complain and very polite. I like them!

The tour leader is the oldest  man in the group. He is 83 years old but he has more energy and stamina than most of the younger dudes. And he was as cool as a cucumber! My son called him, “Pakcik Tak Ada Masalah” because he always said, “Tak de masalah.. tak de masalah…” whenever we encountered any problem during the trip. His wife told me, whenever they traveled, he would be most energetic but the moment they reached home at the end of a holiday, he would complained of aching bodies and tired feet. A sign that it was time to plan another holiday.... J

About Xian

Xian is a big city with 8 million population. It is located in the Northwest and is the oldest city in China. The weather is the same as in Malaysia. Day time is about 32C and night is about 24C. Since we were there in August,  it was still pretty humid as it was just after summer. 

I always thought Xian was a small town but I was wrong. It's big! Big buildings, big roads, big billboards... everything is big in China.

Food is not a problem in Xian as there are many Muslim restaurants. Our tour guide, May, is quite knowledgeable in  halal food in terms of the food preparation and selection, though I don’t think she is a Muslim. Each time we sat down for our meals, there would be at least 10 dishes served. The food was mostly spicy and tasty, unlike in Beijing where the food was quite bland. 

We tried several local dishes like Yangrou Paomo which was essentially crumbled bread in mutton stew. It was nice... There were several noodle dishes too but they were forgettable. The soups were different. Usually they served two types of soup in each meal – one cold and one hot. I liked one which was green in color (it looked like blended broccoli) but it actually tasted like sweet corn and crabmeat soup. Very nice!

Day 1

Day 1 was spent sight-seeing in the city. We visited the Shaanxi Museum which had an extensive collection of treasures and antiques from the Qin, Han, Ming and Tang dynasties. 

There were a lot of people at the museum because it was a Saturday and still a school holiday. We were told in China, parents bring their children to the museums to make them learn the Chinese culture and history. Entrance is free to encourage people to visit the museum as often as they like, so you can imagine the queue. 

We also visited a mosque that afternoon. Strangely, the mosque looked more like a hostel to me (4 floors divided into men and women quarters). When we arrived, the ladies who were guardians of the muslimah’s section were about to leave as it was just after Asar. But upon seeing us, they were very excited and told us that they would re-open the mussolah for us.

They kept on saying, “Malaysia! Malaysia!” and smiled a lot, as if happy to see other muslimah visiting them from another country. We greeted each other with “Assalamualaikum” and “Waalaikumsalam”.. but that’s about it. Thereafter, it was all like “ayam & itik bercakap”.  They spoke to us in Chinese while the makciks spoke to them in Bahasa Malaysia! None understood each other. J

The bilal of the mosque was this 19 year old boy who had spent 3 years in Malaysia studying at the UIA. He could speak a little bit of Malay and was excited to see us all. The men took group photos with him and the Imam. That is a photo to remember.

Since the group comprised mostly of senior citizens, the tour guide took a more relaxed approach in completing the activities. If she saw that the pakcik & makcik were getting  a little tired, she would cut the visit short. If there were some who didn’t want to join the walk or tour, she would make sure they were seated comfortably while waiting for the others. So nobody complained.

Day 2

The bus picked us up at 8.30am on Day 2 to go to the Terracotta Museum, which is located in Lintong, some 30km from the city. On the way, we stopped by at Xian Ceramic and Lacquer Factory, where we were shown how the terracotta figures were made. In recent times, the clay models were made using molds. But the original terracotta warriors were made by hand, each and everyone one of them 1.8m high.

All the way to the Terracotta Museum, I couldn’t help thinking of what was going on in the Emperor’s mind to order such painstaking task in preparation of his death. And this took place in the year 220 BC, some 2,200 years ago.

The tour guide told us that Emperor Qin, the first Emperor of China, was afraid of death and was constantly looking for ways to be immortal. In preparation of his death, he ordered his men to build a mausoleum for him in the afterlife.

Work on the mausoleum began in 246 BCE soon after Emperor Qin (then aged 13) ascended the throne. The project eventually involved 700,000 workers. The place was picked due to its favored location: "famed for its jade mines, its northern side was rich in gold, and its southern side rich in beautiful jade; the First Emperor, covetous of its fine reputation, therefore chose to be buried there".

Emperor Qin died aged 50 (untimely) and he was buried with palaces, towers, officials, valuable artifacts and wondrous objects. The total size of his mausoleum is 56 square km. According to May, 100 rivers had their flow simulated by mercury in its tomb and above them, the ceiling was decorated with pearl and jade to symbolize the clouds, the moon and the sky.

I can't imagine how magnificent it would have been if I were to see it today. Rivers of mercury?? What is more remarkable is the fact that all the 700,000 workers were killed and buried (some alive) with the Emperor upon his death so as to keep the terracotta army a secret. They were safely hidden underground until its discovery in 1974 by a farmer who was digging a well at the site.

Seeing the terracotta warriors for the first time is truly an incredible experience. This is one place that one must visit before one dies... 

Pit 1 - this is where the first terracotta figure was discovered in 1974. There are about 2,000 warriors restored to date and 6,000 still buried underground.

Each figure is different from another; none the same.

I managed to go down to the lower platform to get a better picture.

The armies in Pit 1 are arranged in battle formation.

Pit 3 - the Army Officers & Strategy Room. It looks like they are "talking" to each other.

The cavalry section

Some of the newly opened section. All in ruins & need to be restored.

They have a special room where visitors can take pictures with their own cameras

Pit 2 - the largest pit at the museum. Excavation work is still on going. 

An open section of Pit 2.

Restoration work is painstakingly hard due to the fragile pieces.

It's like fixing Lego pieces..

The Kneeling Archer. This statue was found intact.

There are 160 kneeling archers altogether found in the middle of Pit 2. Their low position protected them from being broken as they were unearthed. When they were found, they were painted in brilliant colors. But contact with air deplete the colors.

Note the out sole of the shoe..

The Horseman

View of the open Pit 2

There are so many photos from the trip but I can't possibly load them all. Enough to say that, "You have to see it for yourself to believe it."

I would recommend Xian if you are interested in history. A few travel tips:

  1. Nobody speaks English in Xian. You have to go with a tour/group unless you speak their language.
  2. Toilets are dirty. If you think our public toilets are dirty, theirs are worse. And they have this bad habit of not closing the toilet doors properly before they do their business. Ewww!
  3. What I do is, I carry my own toilet kit. Inside a plastic bag, I put one toilet roll, an empty water bottle and a packet of wet tissue. That took care of my toilet needs.
  4. People spit on the floor, in restaurants or just anywhere they like. That is really gross!
  5. There’s not much shopping to do. You can buy souvenirs and gifts from the Moslem Street but you must know how to bargain because otherwise, you will end up paying more than what you can get from the airport shop!

Enjoy the rest of the photos!

26 cool people of the tour group

My family

Trying on the terracotta army outfit

Playing dress-up. It's quite cheap - RM50 for 5 photos.

Resting at the park.

Group photo with the Imam and Bilal of the mosque in Xi'an.


Superwomanwannabe said...

Yay!!! you wrote again!! ye lah the pix look so amazing.. ek? terpegun tengok..kotor kotor ler...this is world heritage kan?

mamabeauty said...

thanks for sharing your experience there..

MrsNordin said...

Yes, Shila... world heritage. But go prepared. Then you will enjoy it more.

MrsNordin said...

You're welcome, mamabeauty..

hani noordin said...

wowww....just cuba2 masuk to see kot2 ada cerita baru n wallaaaa... thankssss...luv to read la your blog...write often okeh ;-)

-niza noordin-