China day 18

Woke up early, but there was some confusion about the time. We were supposed to leave at 7:30, so we set a wake-up call for 7:00. The call came, and I got up, but Sabrina said it was only 6:30. I figured she had changed the wake-up call time. But then the tour guide called us at 7:00, saying he was here. I figured he had arrived early and could wait a little while.

Then we discovered that the clocks in the room were all 30 minutes slow for some reason, and we had to really boogie.

We met the driver in the lobby and boarded the bus. Gathered up a bunch more tourists, and hit the road. We had an Australian couple, a Swedish couple, an Chinese-American mother, and her thoroughly-banana young daughter, an older Japanese man and his Chinese wife (they were living in Vietnam), and another Asian couple.

The tour took us to five interesting locations, plus one tourist trap. The interesting locations were 1) the site of the “Xi’An Incident”; 2) Lin Tong town museum; 3) Hua Qing Chi hot springs; 4) a reproduction of the underground tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang; 5) the terracotta warriors; 6) the tomb of Qin Shi Huang. The tourist trap was a government-run jade shop.

We were all somewhat surprised to find that tickets to the attractions were not included in the cost of the tour. Apparently that covered only the cost of the bus and guide. He collected a couple hundred per person from us all to cover all the tickets required. We somewhat suspected that that would leave some profit for him, since he was probably going to get some kind of group rate.

The Xi’An Incident took place in 1934. At the time, the Japanese were invading China (the tour guide took great pains at this point to avoid alienating the Japanese tourist.) Chiang Kai-shek had refused many times to help the Communists fight the Japanese, preferring instead to fight the Communists. In a nighttime raid, the Communists attacked his home near Xi’An, to take him prisoner. He heard gunfire, snuck out, and climbed the side of the mountain nearby, and hid in a cave. But the Communists searched the mountainside, and found him. He was taken prisoner, and convinced/forced to agree to join their fight against Japanese invaders. Exactly how this whole scheme convinced him to help is not clear to me. Unfortunately for Chiang Kai-shek, fighting off the Japanese left his army so weakened when it was done that the Communists walked all over them and took over the country.

The cave where he hid is now a tourist attraction, though honestly it’s not a bit of history that will greatly interest most foreigners. The cave is up a very steep cleft in the rock, reaching it requires a difficult climb. There are some chains secured to the rock face to help. But with two lines of climbers (some going up, some going down) in the narrow space, it still seemed pretty dangerous. We didn’t try it. This is one of those tourist attractions that would not last a day in Canada, safety or liability worries would shut it down.

The next stop was Lin Tong town museum. It features some Terracotta warriors, some other broze artifacts. One of the main attractions, of interest to Buddhists, is some relics of a famous old monk, some pieces of bone. But really all there is to see is a small sprinkling of little bits, surprisingly clear for bone. They looked like bits of glass or plastic, really.

The next stop, Hua Qing Chi hot springs, is built around a mountain hot spring. A Qing Dynasty prince built a bath here for his favourite concubine, said to be the most beautiful woman ever in China. Other baths were built for the emperor himself, princes, and officials… a whole lot of baths. Most are now in ruins. The site is being renovated with a whole lot of modern embellishments.

There is a fountain (supposedly) supplied by the hot spring. For ¥0.50, you can wash your hands in the waters, which are supposed to have age-reversing properties. The guide says the water has 31 different minerals in it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a very typical number for spring waters.

From there we moved on to an indoor reproduction of the underground tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. The actual tomb site would be seen later on in the tour, but the tomb itself is not open to visitors yet.

The ceiling of the tomb was painted with the stars. And the floor was decorated with a 3-D scale map of China, as it was after Qin united the warring kingdoms. The rivers in the model had been filled with mercury. But in the thosands of years since, it leaked out, contaminating the soil in the area. The contaminated soil is, I think, how the tomb was discovered. And it’s probably also the reason why it remains closed to the public.

The next stop was the one that everybody comes to see, the world-famous terracotta warriors. And army buried in the ground about 1.5km away from the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. After Qin Shi Huang’s death, a peasant revolt overthrew his son and ended his dynasty. But in my opinion, it came too late.

Aside from his debateably-valuable contribution of uniting China, he was also an insane tyrant. Thousands died making his Great Wall for him. After his tomb and the terracotta army were completed, he had all those who had laboured on them, over 720,000 people, killed. Just to keep the secret of their location. Why the people did not revolt at that time and tear the madman to pieces is quite beyond my understanding. They waited until he died naturally, and then overthrew his son. And then they broke into the chamber of the terracotta warriors (apparently the secret got out anyway), and smashed them all up. Then the thousands of years passed, and the terracotta warriors were lost.

They were rediscovered in 1974 by a farmer digging a well. The farmer is still alive, and sits behind a desk signing copies of books about the warriors. He is referred to as the “director” of the facility, but I’m sure that’s just an honourary title.

The chambers of the warriors are still actively being excavated. Large buildings, like aircraft hangars, have been constructed over the three pits where terracotta warriors have been found. The excavation is very slow and cautious. Most of the excavation has only reached the remains of the wooden beams that covered the halls of the warriors. Thousands of them remain buried. They have delayed excavating the remaining warriors, until they find a way to preserve their colours. The warriors were originally painted very brightly, but the paints faded very quickly after they were exposed to air and light.

The final stop was the tomb of Qin Shi Huang himself. This site was quite large. There were small tour busses that could carry us around, but the guide said they would cost us an extra ¥20/person. Having been nickel-and-dimed for extra fees all day long, we declined. One other couple also declined, preferring to climb the stairs to the summit themselves.

After the others all left, we overheard another tour guide negotiate a rate for his group of ¥8/person. Our guide probably got a similar rate, and pocketted ¥12/person. Quite a scam he’s got going on.

Sabrina and I just walked a circuit around the hill in which the tomb is located. The site supposedly includes a mass grave of the 720,000 labourers that Qin Shi Huang had killed after his tomb was completed. And the place where a large bronze chariot had been discovered in the ground. And a few other things. But there’s really little to be seen here: it’s all grown over. And Qin’s tomb itself is not open to visitors. So basically the place is just a big park, nothing to see.

After we returned to the hotel, we rested for a while, then set out for dinner. We went to a dumpling restaurant across the road which feautures a “dumpling banquet”: 14 different kinds of dumpling, one of each. They were all delicious, and some quite wonderful to look at too. But pork-filled dumplings always give me the most spectacularly malodorous burps for some reason.

Went home for a long sleep, with no reason to get up early in the morning. Such bliss.

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