Terracotta Army and Tea

Once again, the sound of the wakeup alarm shattered the air, and jolted us from sleep.  We had another early start and a lot to pack into this day, so we were up, washed and dressed and down at the breakfast table in good time.

After fortifying ourselves with a substantial breakfast followed by cups of good hot coffee we once again took our cases down to reception and checked out of our room, before boarding the bus again, where a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Robert greeted us cheerfully and explained the day’s itinerary to us.

Our first stop today was to a factory and large warehouse where they make replica Terracotta Warriors, using the same type of clay and firing method as they believe the ancient originals were made.  The guy showed us models of the different warriors and explained how the soldiers were ranked.  There were all sizes of replicas available, from about 6″ high to life-size 6 feet high ones.  As in the originals, the head and hands are made separately and then added afterwards, and are, in fact, detachable.

As well as the soldiers there were also horses and chariots.  The warehouse was huge and we took some time looking around, where obviously all the models were for sale.  I could just imagine buying a life-size Terracotta Warrior and putting him in our back garden!  I didn’t dare ask the price, and heaven only knows how much the shipping costs would be.  You could also stand behind a headless warrior and have your picture taken, making it appear that your head was on the body of the warrior.  The Chinese version of the cardboard cutouts you see along the front at any British seaside resort.   🙂

There were lots of things for sale in the warehouse, including jewellery, silk bags and souvenirs, wall hangings and Chinese silk screens, and other furniture.  I also came across what I’d been looking for – some good quality loose pearls, on a temporary strand.  I picked out two strands of rondelle shaped white pearls, as well as two strands of rice shaped peacock pearls; the quality was lovely and the size of the pearls was nice and uniform.  The guy gave us a 30% discount so I ended up getting them for about £150.00.  They wanted to make up some necklaces for me out of the pearls, but I said I’d take them loose as I liked to hand-knot pearls onto silk myself.  In fact, when I looked at their necklaces, they had just strung all the pearls onto the silk, one after the other, but I actually put a knot in between each pearl; not only does it look better, but it prevents all the pearls falling off if the cord breaks.

Pleased with my purchase, we got back onto the bus to go to the mausoleum that houses the real Terracotta Warriors, about 8,000 life-size figures about 2,300 years old, and one of the wonders of the modern world.

The Terracotta Army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China.  It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BC and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife, and to make sure that he had people to rule over.

The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals.   The figures include warriors, chariots and horses.  Current estimates are that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits near by Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum.  Other terracotta non-military figures were also found in other pits and they include officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians.

The figures were discovered by chance in March 1974 by workmen digging a well to the east of Xi’an in Shaanxi province.  There had been reports of pottery finds for centuries in this area, as it was only about a mile from the Qin Emperor’s tomb, but this most recent discovery prompted Chinese archaeologists to investigate, and they unearthed the largest pottery figurine group ever found in China.

One of the curiosities is that each of the warriors has a slightly difference look to his face; it is believed about eight facial moulds were used and the individual features added afterwards.  As I mentioned above, the hands and heads were fired separately and then added afterwards, so quite a few of the figures were still missing their hands or heads, as more of the pottery is still awaiting excavation.

When we arrived at the mausoleum we were told we had two hours to look around, then meet at the Tea House at the end of the park.  We entered the first vast building, which encloses Pit 1, and looked in awe at relics over 2,000 years old.  They were lined up in the pit in armies and in rank order.  In some parts of the pit you could see where excavation was still taking place, and there were many bits of broken pottery, partly re-assembled and party cleaned, still undergoing restoration.  As with most places we had seen in China so far, the place was crowded with sightseers, not least because it is the summer holidays and the children are off school.

In the next pit, we came across lots of horses and chariots as well as the soldiers.  You could tell from the shape of the soldiers’ hands that, originally, they may have held weapons such as spears, lances and bows.  The detail was amazing.

The final pit didn’t have as much in it; it was discovered two years after Pits 1 and 3 and only had about 68 figures in it and was still undergoing quite a lot of restoration.

When we’d seen as much as we wanted, we went outside to find some toilets and sit on the grassy bank for a rest.  As ever, it was a case of hoping the toilets would be “sitty-down” ones rather than “squatty-down”, but the main concern was that they were clean.  Most of the toilets we’d seen so far were less than salubrious, partly due to the fact that the used paper (and sanitary products) were just put into waste bins adjacent to the WC’s rather than flushed away.  Invariably the bins were full to overflowing and, in the heat and humidity of the day, the stench was all pervading.   😦

After the loo visit (and thorough hand-washing and use of hygiene gel) we bought an ice lolly each and sat on the grass to consume them.  We then made our leisurely way to the China Tea House at the end of the park, where we were reunited with Robert and the rest of our party.  In here, the fragrance from all the many different herbal and fruit teas was very pleasant, and we took some time choosing what tea to have from the extensive menu.  I settled on the Jasmine and I love the smell so much, as it is also good for the digestive system.  Looking at the different health properties from all the types of teas, I could be tempted to buy them and give them a try, especially those with anti-ageing properties.    🙂

After tea, Robert gathered up his flock and, leading the way with his Union Flag, led us back to the waiting bus.  We had a short ride before arriving at a restaurant for our lunch, which was the inevitable Chinese buffet selection.   However, there was one thing new today that we hadn’t yet tried: sticky toffee potatoes!  Yes, that’s right; apparently the potatoes are cooked in their skins, then a hot toffee sauce is poured over them.  You have to choose between the fine line of eating them while the sauce is still runny and soft, in which case they are unbearably hot, or letting them cool a bit and risking the toffee hardening so that you almost need a hammer and chisel to break it.  🙂  It sounded an unlikely combination, but believe me, it was delicious.  I might try making it at home!   🙂

After lunch it was back on the bus for the ride, once again, to the airport for our 2-hour flight to Beijing.  We rode through the bustling streets and pulled up at the airport terminal, with our luggage following in the van behind.  After checking in as a group, we received our boarding passes and went into the departure lounge to await our flight.  At this point I was very tempted to start up a sweep, to see if anyone could guess how many minutes (hours!) the plane would be late.  🙂

Joking aside, the flight was late once again.  Despite our frustration and tiredness (all the early mornings and lack of naps were catching up with us) all we could do was wait.  It wouldn’t be so bad if the airline or airport kept us informed, but it was just a case of sitting it out and holding on to our thinning patience until, eventually, we were called to board, about an hour and a half late.

We got on the A320 aircraft, watched the safety briefing which we almost knew by heart, then taxied to the runway and finally took off.  The overhead TV screens showed “Shaun the Sheep” (again!) and a gossip programme about the top 10 celebrity divorce settlements (again!).  Dinner was…. do you really want to know what dinner was?  Pork and rice or chicken and noodles.  Or it might have been chicken and rice or pork and noodles, along with watermelon chunks.  I think we ate the bread and the watermelon and that was about it.

I spent the two-hour flight playing Plants v Zombies on my Nintendo DS, reading my magazines and trying to nap.

Eventually the sign came on to fasten our seatbelts for the final approach and landing, as we touched down on the runway in Beijing.  Then it was the usual palaver of collecting our cases and waiting around until everyone was assembled and ready to get on the bus for the ride to the hotel.

Eventually we were on our way, and after about 40 minutes we pulled up outside the Dong Fang hotel, which was situated out of the main city in a slightly run-down area.  One thing we noticed (so did many of the Brits!) but that there was a mini-market and off-licence directly opposite the hotel!   🙂

As I’ve mentioned before, booze seems quite thin on the ground in China, so a lot of our party were off the bus and straight into the “offy”, even before we’d gone into the hotel!  I bought a bottle of white wine and Trevor got a couple of cans of beer.

Once we were in our room, about 10.00pm, we cracked open the drinks and enjoyed the air-conditioned comfort of our room while watching the London 2012 Olympics on the TV.  We laughed because four years ago we were in Britain watching the Olympics in Beijing; tonight we were in Beijing watching the Olympics in Britain.   🙂

Finally we crawled into bed and, looking forward to whatever tomorrow would bring, we slept soundly.

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