10.05.2015 - 12.05.2015 19 °C
Day 5 Beijing and Xian – May 10, 2015
This morning we were up and packed and left our luggage outside our room by 8:30 am before having a last wonderful breakfast at the Westin. The hotel and tour staff always pick up our luggage for us from outside our hotel room. They then load it into a truck and take it to the airport separate from us. It is then checked in by the tour company staff. When we finally arrive at the airport our baggage has already been checked and our boarding passes printed and given to tour staff who hand them over to us when we get to the airport.
After breakfast we boarded our big tour bus to go to visit “the hutongs”. The hutongs are the old traditional Beijing neighborhoods. Hutongs are alleys formed by lines of traditional courtyard residences. Neighbourhoods were formed by joining one alleyway to another to form a hutong. Since the mid-20th century, the number of Beijing hutongs had dropped dramatically as they were demolished to make way for new roads and buildings. More recently, some hutongs have been designated as protected areas in an attempt to preserve this aspect of Chinese cultural heritage. Our mode of transportation was via rickshaw and fortunately our rickshaw had a rain cover as it was raining fairly steadily.
Rickshaws in the hutongs of Beijing (note all the new cars as well)
We first went to a tea ceremony where we were given several types of tea to sample. A very entertaining and personable young woman also showed us how to make and drink tea. Like many things in China the various varieties of teas are believed to cure a wide variety of ailments.
Our group learning about Chinese Tea
We then boarded the rickshaws – Pedi cabs really - and continued through the narrow alleys in the rain.
Dave and Hazel in Pedi cab
It would have been interesting and much more enjoyable if we weren't enclosed in a red plastic bubble somewhat akin to having a pup tent mounted over a flimsy frame with a plastic window to look out the front. What was interesting to note was that the narrow alleys were lined with fairly new and well-kept cars. The bicycles were junkers for the most part but the cars were fairly new. Our guide pointed out that this was partially due to the fact that the residents often chose to remain in the old familiar neighbourhood because of the proximity to the prime areas of Beijing. Because of the prime location the properties were very valuable and residents had often sold off little parcels making them fairly well off despite the run down look of the area.
We next visited a Chinese household to talk of traditional Chinese life.
Sue and Roy at household visit in the hutong section of Beijing
This household may have been traditional but it was not typical. It consisted of a woman and her niece who had an art business of doing very intricate painting on the inside of very small bottles with special curved paint brushes.
Painting inside bottles
The product was beautiful but the they were far from inexpensive with a square bottle about three inches high going for about $100 US and the lady would not bargain a penny which was very unusual here where bargaining is the norm for everything. Like our experience in Vietnam we discovered that the bargaining was all done in good humour and the sellers seemed to enjoy the process as much or more than we buyers.
Sleeping area tucked into a far corner of the 2 room flat of a house inside the hutong area
Kitchen for the household in a traditional house in the old hutong section of Beijing
We returned to our Pedi cab and continued on a few more minutes in the rain back to our bus. We boarded our bus and were given a box lunch to eat on our way to the airport.
At about 3:30 pm we boarded the plane and flew to Xian, a key city of the Tang Dynasty. From 618 to 907 AD, this dynasty presided over one of China’s most glorious cultural periods spreading its influence throughout Asia into Europe and Africa by starting the Silk Road. Our guide told us an interesting fact; while most people think the Silk Road was started for trade of silk, ceramics and spices, it actually was originally started to trade for horses which the emperor needed to defend his lands from the Mongols.
Xian is a “smaller” city of 9 million people and is seen still as a key center of culture and art in China. This evening we had no formal activities planned so we were able to have dinner and relax at our hotel which was a beautiful Crown Plaza.
Crowne Plaza, Xian
Our room in the Crowne Plaza
Day 6 Xian – May 11, 2015
After an early breakfast we headed off on our tour bus to visit the mausoleum complex where Emperor Qin Shi Huang was laid to rest over 2,000 years ago. This is the home of the world famous Terra Cotta Warriors. There are literally thousands of life-sized Terra Cotta Warriors, archers and infantrymen that were buried in a huge necropolis complex located about 2 kilometers from Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s actual tomb at the foot of nearby Mount Li. The tomb itself is “only” about the size of a football field while the actual site of the Terra Cotta warriors is many acres. The soldiers within the complex were laid out as if to protect the main tomb from the east, where all the Qin Emperor's conquered states lay.
The entire dig site has been enclosed in a series of massive buildings the largest of which covers Pit #1 and is the size of several immense aircraft hangars joined together. Inside each of the buildings are elevated walkways which provide a bird’s-eye view of the entire area. Although Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s tomb was known for centuries, this mammoth necropolis complex only 2 km away was only discovered in 1974 by a farmer attempting to dig a well.
Archeologists studying the site in 2007 estimated that the three pits containing the Terracotta Army held more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits.
The building which houses Pit 1, the first discovered of the Terra Cotta Warriors
Pit 1 view from inside the building
Pit 1 is which is 750 ft. long and 203 ft. wide contains the main army of more than 6,000 figures and is a combined battle formation of charioteers and infantrymen. At the front of the pit, the bottom of the photograph above, there are 3 rows of vanguards. Immediately behind the vanguards is the main body of the battle formation. Around the outer edge there is one row of soldiers facing outwards to guard the sides and rear of the army. Pit 1 is a subterranean earth and wood structure. There are eleven corridors divided by ten earth partition walls. The corridors are paved with pottery bricks on which the figures were placed. The earth walls supported a wood roof that was then covered with layers of fiber mats on which soil was added. By the time the area was discovered in 1974 all of the wood framing and the fiber mats on the roof structure were long gone from decay and the earthen cover had collapsed in over the entire project. There is some evidence that the site was looted and possibly further buried by a jealous contender to the throne named Xiang Yu.
The sign in the middle of the picture points out the site of the farmer’s well
Figures being reassembled
We were even able to see the farmer who discovered the site in 1974. He is now in his early 90’s and works at the gift shop signing a beautiful photo book about the site – we of course bought a copy of the book which he signed for us.
Farmer who discovered the Terra Cotta Warriors site signing books
Like everything here in China the book signing was mayhem with a big crowd jostling to get their books purchased and signed. It is a scene we witness time after time as every location is very crowded with Chinese tourists who all shout and jostle each other constantly but no one ever seems to take offense, it is just part of life in the very crowded country. Something we did not realize is that only about 33% of China is habitable as the rest is desert and mountains. This means that even though China is just about the size of the USA the 1.3 billion inhabitants are crowded into a much tighter space. No wonder they call a city of over a million a town!
After spending most of the morning at the amazing site we boarded the bus headed off to a nearby large manufacturing facility which specialized in manufacturing models of the Terra Cotta Warriors as well as lacquered furniture. We had tours which explained the manufacture of each. Clearly this facility was set up for tourists as we were ushered to the top floor where we enjoyed a nice buffet lunch.
Replica manufacturing facility - full sized replicas of the warriors are available for sale
Modern Day Warrior
Craftsman working on a lacquer ware piece
Lacquer ware Table and benches
The gift shop had a wide variety of locally produced crafts and we purchased a painted glass bottle similar to the ones we saw being made at the home visit yesterday. This time the folks were open to bargaining and Dave was able to get a very nice one for about half yesterday's price or about $50 U.S. Still a fair amount to pay for a small painted bottle but they are amazing pieces of art. Nothing that involves manual labour here is inexpensive which was not what we expected. Wages are rapidly advancing in the booming industrial economy and they have to as the cost of living is quite comparable to Canada particularly in the tier 1 and tier 2 cities with condo prices matching our condo prices in our larger cities. Gasoline here is a bit cheaper though at around the equivalent of 90 cents a liter.
After lunch, we boarded the busses and made the hour long trip back to the beautiful Crowne Plaza.
Street scene in beautiful Xian
Once back at the hotel we headed out on a walk with Sue and Roy. Our goal was to find the ancient wall that surrounded the old city.
Old Xian city wall with outside canal
This wall which was built around the old city has been beautifully restored. Part of it has been turned into a lovely serene park where you can walk between the wall and a canal which was originally a moat. They have piped music and lovely gardens.
Walkway along the old city wall
We were not able to find out how to get up on top of the wall but did see people up there. As is typical in China they built things to last, the wall is about thirty feet high and thirty to forty feet thick.
We returned from the long walk and had a rest and dressed for our dinner and show of the song and dance of Xian. This was an added extra option which cost 490 yuan each – almost $200 CA$ a couple. The mode was a standard dinner show where we had dinner and then stayed at our table for the show. The food was the usual multi course dinner which wasn't bad but we are pretty spoiled by now. The servers were very rushed and not very attentive but they had a pile of serving to do in a short time. The show was very interesting and put on by a huge troupe of very talented musicians, singers and dancers. It showed song and dance from about 2000 years ago.
Tang Dynasty Show
Tang Dynasty Show
Day 7 Chongqing - May 12
We were up and had our luggage at the door by 8 am this morning as we fly to Chongqing later this afternoon. After breakfast we headed out to tour the museum here in Xian. This museum tour is an addition to the itinerary as they have added an extra day in Xian because it was too rushed in previous years. As we have mentioned previously the Chinese have really taken to travel and tourism and the museum was packed with Chinese tourists pushing and shoving to get to see every exhibit. Despite the crowded conditions it did give us some real glimpses of art and artifacts of ancient China.
Typical Chinese lunch being served at a restaurant in the airport complex – note the large lazy susan on the table
Once through the museum we promptly boarded the bus and worked our way through traffic to the airport where we also grabbed lunch at one of the airport restaurants.
Our flight to Chongqing was about 90 minutes and uneventful. Airports here are all large and very well organized making navigating them relatively easy. Like most things in major areas signage is well done and is usually in Chinese and English. This includes the major road signs which are also in both Chinese and English.
We were ready and anxious for the cruise portion of the trip and, if truth be told, looking forward to settling in to relax a bit at a less hectic and crowded pace. We were getting pretty tired of early morning bus departures to an historic site or an airport. The next phase of the trip will be aboard the river boat so we’ll be able to settle into our cabin and unpack and stay put for almost a week. We love river cruising and this will give us an opportunity to rest up for the next land portion of the trip although the river portion is very busy with lots of trips ashore but the pace is much more relaxed.