Of tombs and barbecues

16 04 2010

Yesterday we went to another tomb close to Xi’an – the tomb of emperor Jingdi who ruled in 188 BC–141 BC.  This tomb was discovered by highway construction crew in 1990. 

We had to take two busses to get to the tomb but on the first one we were told that the second bus wouldn’t go until thee hours later.  Fortunately we were rescued by five local ladies (one spoke English) that were also going to the tomb.  With them we took a local bus to the middle of nowhere and walked for 25 minutes until we found the tomb.  The ladies were great fun, always laughing and joking around – and really helpful and took care of us in the museum and took us back to Xi’an after the visit.  The Chinese people seem really cheerful and very helpful – even though the language is often an obstacle.

While emperor Qin was said to have ruled with an iron first, emperor Jingdi was a just and fair and ruled according with Taoist believes of going with the flow – he seems like he had a lot in common with the laissez-faire capitalists that have been ruling the western world for the last 10-15 years.  He lowered taxes, used diplomacy rather than force and shrunk the state – and the people prospered.

The tomb was similar to the terracotta army in some ways, it contains many terracotta figures but most of them are quite small – the men about two feet high (Maybe the emperor thought he might spend the afterlife in Lilliput) and not so much army focused, more just items from regular life.  The museum facilities are cleverly constructed and you can get very close to some of the artifacts.  There are glass tunnels above and at the side of the excavation pits where you get a good view everything.

The highlight for me was a holographic 3-D movie telling the story of the emperor and his wife – or so we think.  The movie was only available in Chinese :)  I hadn’t seen such a holographic movie before and was fascinated with the technology.  The movie was shown in a small room and the stage and the figures were quite small, about a foot high.  It was amazing how the figures and the props interacted with the real stage.  Elínborg was less impressed but I was just fascinated.  Just imagine the possibilities for theatre and live performances.  We could be watching plays with the best actors in the world “live” but at a fraction of the current cost.  I think that the 3-D phase that cinema is going through now will be short lived and holograms will take over – or maybe these technologies can work together?

After we returned to Xi’an Yong and Mr. Lee took us for dinner and a few beers.  He took us to a special Xi’an barbecue place that served meat, bread and vegetables.  It seemed like everything (meat, bread and vegetables) was put on skewers and fried and then coated with a spicy herbal seasoning and barbecued.  We had some beef, mutton, bread and bread balls with vegetables and like when we had the hotpot, everything was extremely good.  Yong told us that Xi’an is famous for its noodles and ordered one portion of noodles for us to try.  The noodles were wheat noodles hand made in the restaurant boiled and then covered with some hot oil and chilies and tasted great as everything that Yong has offered us – surely the best noodles that we have had.

It is strange that we have been struggling to find good places to eat in but when we are taken out by locals we have these wonderful meals.  There seems to be a some sort of disconnect here.  I have heard the same stories from people visiting China that the food is a problem but then fantastic meals are just waiting around the corner.

Now we are just preparing for the 16 hours train ride to Shanghai where we will arrive around noon tomorrow.  Yong has told us how nice Shanghai is and we are really looking forward to seeing for our selves.

The eighth wonder of the world

15 04 2010

Yesterday we went to see the Terracotta Army.  The Terracotta Army is a whole army, current estimates say 8,000 man strong, constructed by Emperor Qin around the year 200 BC.  Most of the figures are full sized and every figure is unique in shape and facial features. 

The emperor constructed his army to support him in the afterlife.  The emperor didn’t stop there and built a whole city in addition to his army.  There are acrobats and musicians, all kinds of animals, offices and stables and everything that comes with a proper city.

The site was found by a couple of farmers digging for water some thirty years ago and stumbled onto the first pit.  Now three pits have been excavated but some archeologist believe that even more pits wait to be discovered.  I just wonder how many sites like this exist in the world – uncovered and hidden to everyone?

Getting to the site was very easy – just a bus straight from the train station.  There was a constant stream of visitors arriving at the gate, mostly Chinese tourists but also a few foreigners. 

After buying the tickets there is a twenty minute walk to the main sites.  Along the way there are several restaurants including KFC and Subway and a lot of shops selling stuff made from jade, stuff made from fox/wolf/mink skins and terracotta warrior replicas.  The whole place had a very commercial feel to it – in a nice way though.  I couldn’t resist all the sales people and bought a very nice skin hat – similar to the Mao hat I had previously bought ;)

After the walk we arrived at the main gate.  We had only heard the best things about the Terracotta Warriors so at this point we were very excited! 

The site consists of a museum and three excavation pits.  We started at the museum, which contained examples of what was found in the pits as well as explanations on how all the stuff was made, why it was made and by whom.  After the museum we headed for the smallest pit that gave us a taste of what was to come.  The second pit wasn’t that exiting and hasn’t been fully excavated.  The third pit is the main attraction and contains the real Terracotta Army. 

It was very impressive to see all those soldiers lined up like they were ready for battle.  It was also very interesting to see the archeologists still working on digging up more figures.  We were very impressed with the whole site and really happy that we came to see this wonder but I couldn’t resist the thought that maybe it has been hyped up a bit too much.

It is very interesting to see how the Chinese approach archeological discoveries like the Terracotta Army and others that we have seen here in China.  They have a different approach to what we are used to seeing, at least back home.  The Chinese don’t hesitate to rebuild and fix or even recreate artifacts and buildings without distinguishing the from the authentic artifacts.  This makes it sometimes difficult to differentiate between the old and the new or the authentic and the re-created.  At the same time it is of course really interesting to see how things looked like when they were first created and you can better see the whole picture when the blanks have been filled.

This site is a perfect example of how crazy us humans can get.  Why would someone want to build such a mausoleum for him self?  It has been estimated that construction the whole mausoleum involved some 700,000 workers and took several years.  At the same time it shows the power of the emperor and how prosperous his nation must have been being able undertake such a project.  What do you think?  How do you want your mausoleum to look like?

Of Chinese hotpots

14 04 2010

When we arrived in Xi’an we were greeted by my colleague Yong, Yong and I were classmates in the MBA in St. Gallen last year.  Yong lives and works in Xi’an and was at the train station with his colleague Mr. Lee.  Yong and Mr. Lee were kind enough to show us around until we could check in to our hotel at noon.

We saw the fanciest part of town where the government has built a great looking garden to jack up real-estate prices in the surrounding areas.  It is quite obvious that there is no recession in Xi’an, you can see building cranes everywhere and a lot of things going on. 

We went to a culture center that acted both as a museum displaying traditional Chinese art – paintings, sculptures and antiques – as well as a restaurant and a meeting place for the rich.  The whole place was fancy to say the least but the fanciest piece in the whole place was a nice piece of pork that had been conserved in some kind of transparent coating.  Very arty!

For lunch Yong and Mr. Lee took us to a Chinese hotpot restaurant.  We had never tasted a Chinese hotpot before so we were very excited.  On the table came two pots, one with some kind of lightly seasoned fish broth and a the other with a spicy kind of chili soup. 

We went to a communal table to create a dipping sauce where we could choose from about twenty different ingredients: garlic, chili,  spring onions, ground peanuts, sesame oil, soya sauce, peanut sauce, fish sauce and many others that I didn’t recognize.  We just followed Yong and tried to do as he did.  In the end our dipping sauces tasted great :)

Finally all sorts of things to dip into the boiling hotpots came to the table: mutton, beef, ground meat, mushrooms, seaweed, noodles, beads, fish balls and cabbage and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few items.  Gradually the dipping things were were dipped into the hotpots to boil and then we ate them.  We can both agree that this was absolutely fantastic and the best Chinese food we have ever tasted.  We had a Japanese hotpot in Bangkok but this was much better, especially the spicy one. 

Thank you very much Yong !!!

After the late lunch we had no choice but to go back to our hotel to digest and relax for the rest of the day.  We watched Resident Evil II on the computer – highly recommended …hehe.

When we woke up in Xi’an

14 04 2010

We spend our last whole day in Beijing strolling round Central Beijing.  We walked to Tiananmen Square where I bought a old fashioned Chinese/Russian winter hat.  We had been stared at before but nothing like when I had the hat on.  Later we were told that the Chinese connect the hat with Chairman Mao and his followers.  We were also approached by several Chinese people that wanted us to pose with them on photos.  We felt like rock stars but somehow this was a strange and surreal experience.

After checking out Tiananmen Square and the surrounding buildings we walked to Jingshan Park.  The park is located on a small hill, 45 m. above the very flat surroundings, just behind the Forbidden City.  There seems to be an (small) entrance fee where ever you go here but and we paid 2 Yuan to get in (15 cent).  The view from the top of the hill was great!  We saw over the Forbidden City and basically all over Central Beijing – or as far as the smog allowed us – and this was something we should have done on day one for sure.

Before heading in for the night we had a wonderful Pizza at Hutong Pizza a well hidden Beijing treasure.  In the morning it was time to train to Xi’an.  We had to postpone our departure to Xi’an for one day because the Hard Sleeper class we wanted was full.  The west train station in Beijing is huge but very well organized.  Right in the lobby there was a big sign telling us which of the twelve waiting rooms to use and forty minutes before departure we were allowed to check in.

The train had double decker coaches and each floor had about twelve open cabins with four bunk beds – two lower and two upper.  We bought upper bunk tickets both because they were cheaper but also because we had heard that it would be easier to sleep in the top beds.

The train ride was twelve hours and went by pretty quickly.  It was very easy to sleep in the nice beds.  Even though they were a little hard they were way better than the buses in Thailand.  We found us in Xi’an at 06:20 in the morning – roaring to go.