Day 4: Xi’an/Suzhou
Still feeling tired, we leave our room in search of the HNA Hotel breakfast buffet in Xi’an. Not interested in the fried rice, sautéed vegetables, or lo mien this morning, I pile honeydew onto a plate and scoop what I incorrectly think to be oatmeal into a bowl. Upon closer inspection, I realize I have chosen watered down, soggy rice. I revisit the buffet and pour hot milk over a bowl of Rice Krispies. After a quiet breakfast, we return to our room to pack our bags. Spending less than twelve hours at the hotel, it’s time to check out and pile into our private van to begin day four in China.
Today, we have four hours to explore The Terracotta Warriors, one of China’s greatest archaeological discoveries. More than eight thousand clay soldiers, horses, and chariots forced to serve in Emperor Qin Shihuang’s army in his afterlife stand on guard. The Terracotta Warrior Museum consists of three excavation pits, an exhibition of ancient weapons, and a bronze and chariot exhibition room. It’s about an hour drive to the parking lot of the museum. Following a winding sidewalk through a large grassy area, an enormous terracotta statue at the entrance of the museum comes into view. Paul, our G Adventures CEO, purchases our tickets and leads us inside.
We shake off the rain and follow the signs to pit one. Arriving early enough to beat the crowd, our group is able to claim a spot along the railing with a great view. We are amazed at the overall size of the first pit discovered in nineteen seventy-four. Endless rows of terracotta statues stand in lines separated by dirt walls streaked with ash.
Many of the soldiers have curved hands grasping a missing weapon stolen during the raiding and scorching by Xiang Yu. The soldiers stand facing east at five foot and eleven inches high. Molds were used to create the warriors’ heads, arms, hands, legs, and hollow torsos. After the heads were made, artists used clay to create a unique expression for each warrior. Taking advantage of the tourist photo opportunity, we smile and stand in line among the terracotta army replicas.
Leaving the first pit, we walk to the second vault still undergoing excavation. Here, cavalry and infantry soldiers, kneeling and standing archers, and chariots were found. The kneeling archer being more compact, was able to withstand the pressure and is the best preserved of the warriors.
Labeled warriors patiently waiting for their head, arms, hands, or legs to be found are scatted throughout the site. Moving on, we walk to the third pit, the command post. This is the smallest pit and is also still being excavated. Piles of legs, arms, and torsos lie waiting to become whole again. Satisfied with our first touristy photo, we decline the second opportunity and head towards the weapons and bronze and chariot exhibitions.
Several well preserved warriors are on display for an up close look. The layered armored sleeves, thin mustaches, a chipped horse hoof, and studded armor carved from clay look almost lifelike through the glass case. At one time, the warriors stood vibrant with color; but as the warriors are excavated the paint reacts to the air vanishing the color almost immediately. Scientists continue to search for an answer to preserving the colors of the past.
We continue to the weapons exhibition where weapons surviving the raid, once clutched by the terracotta warriors are displayed. Scientists were stumped to find the weapons showing no sign of corrosion. Further discovery revealed the swords contain a protective coating of chromium ten to fifteen microns thick. The chrome plating technology protecting against corrosion was used in China two thousand and twenty years before it was “invented” by the Germans in nineteen thirty-seven, and then again by the Americans in nineteen fifty. We pass through the bronze and chariot exhibition. Most of the bronze has faded to green over time.
We quickly browse the gift shop, meet up with the rest of our group, then walk back to our van. After a short drive, we stop for lunch at a local home. Finding a seat at one of the large, round tables, we hang our raincoats on the back of our chairs to dry. Plates of sautéed vegetables, shredded potatoes, white rice, asparagus, spicy pepper relish, and Mandarin pancakes are brought to the table. For dessert, caramel coated potatoes are brought to the table. It must be eaten quickly but carefully before the molten caramel cools into a hard, tooth breaking shell around the potatoes. It’s an interesting combination of caramel and French fries. After a filling meal, we wiggle into our raincoats and walk to the Muslim Quarter, a bustling web of vendors, restaurants, and shops.
The rain doesn’t discourage visitors as we fight through the stream of umbrellas passing vendors selling silk pictures, Chinese dresses, umbrellas, scarves, t-shirts, jewelry, statues, jade, and local food along the stone street.
The aroma of noodles, deep fried crabs, scorpions, and shrimp, lightly fried potatoes cut perfectly into a long spiral ribbon of potato chips on a stick, pretzels, rice snacks, fruit, soup dumplings, mystery meat, and bread fills the air. Having one hour of free time, we excitedly begin to explore. After sampling some rice crisps, we purchase a couple of bags to add to our snack collection.
We stop and watch as thick white dough is stretched by hand, and candy is pounded with large mallets. After passing several glass coolers of mouthwatering, brightly colored frozen treats, Mitch purchases a pink strawberry Popsicle. Taking advantage of Mitch’s momentary Popsicle heaven, we browse several of the clothing stores before I purchase scarves and a light blue, silk Chinese dress. After diminishing our small cash fund, we slowly wander back towards our meeting point forgetting about the rain.
Due to the rainy weather and limited time, Paul advises against cycling the city walls. Not wanting us to be disappointed, he still ensures we get a great view of the entrance to Xi’an. On the way we pass the Drum and Bell Towers. Similar to Beijing, the Bell and Drum Towers were used to communicate the time to the city with morning bells and evening drums. Small cartoon statues line the steps to the tower. The architecture is so ornate even a hotel looks like a historical attraction.
We walk across the moat surrounding the brick city walls. A watch tower is located at each corner of the nearly eight and a half miles long wall surrounding the old city, accessible only by one of the four gates. After touring the entrance to Xi’an, we walk back to our private van.
Tonight, we take a hard sleeper to Suzhou. The fear of the overnight train lurking in the back of our minds has become the focus of the conversation as we nervously ride to the train station. Paul begins passing out tickets revealing our bed and cabin arrangements in bold Chinese text. After some negotiating, I trade a roomy bottom bed in a cabin of strangers for a middle bunk in the same cabin as Mitch. Trying to remember our arrangements, we exit the van onto a chaotic, crowded sidewalk.
We struggle to stay together carrying our luggage as Paul leads us through the first ticket check. After entering the train station, Paul finds a less crowded corner of our terminal to store our bags while we search for food. Passengers spill into the main hall from the overcrowded terminals. The station has two stories of restaurants and convenience stores. We find a staircase to the upper level where it is less crowded amd search of dinner.
Many of the restaurants don’t have an English menu. After seeing all of our available options, Mitch leaves in search for a Chinese hamburger. I point to picture of dumpling soup on a menu and take a bottle of water from a cooler. After receiving a steaming clear bowl of soup, I find an empty table and wait for Mitch. Seeing me, he sits down with a smile and a steamed fluffy bun filled with stewed pork looking more like a taco than a hamburger.
As I eat my soup I see thin red fibers floating in the broth. Unconcerned, I continue eating the delicious dumplings. As I lean in for another bite, a small, fully intact shrimp floats out of the dumpling onto my spoon. In horror, I slowly hold up the clear container of soup and make eye contact with a layer of tiny shrimp along the bottom of my bowl. I let out a small squeal. Mitch excited to have a side of dumpling soup with his hamburger finishes the rest as I sit in fear there are shrimp eyes stuck in my teeth.
After dinner, we go downstairs to meet our group and wait for the train. As we stand in line, a small girl sitting on her father’s lap takes pictures of us with an IPhone while her father points and laughs. As the line moves along, we nervously take our luggage and step into the narrow hallway of the train. Due to limited space, it takes several attempts to get all of our luggage into our cabin. Luckily, there will only be two strangers with us, and our group members have the bottom beds. There is not enough space to sit upright on the middle and top bunks. With only a small folding table and two seats attached to the wall outside our cabin, there are few places to sit.
We divide and search of the bathroom. Two open side by side sinks are across from a door containing a squat toilet. We find most of our other group members throughout the other cabins in our car. Being better than expected, we begin to relax and enjoy a fourteen to sixteen hour slumber party with our new friends.
Preparing for the lights to go out at 10:00pm, we attempt to make our beds with the provided sheets and blanket. Mitch climbs up and rolls into the right top bunk. Following, I swing up to the left middle bunk. The narrow bed is about twice the width of my backpack. I am glad I brought a Delta blanket with me from the plane as I settle into my bed with my Therma-Rest Compressed Pillow and kindle. I see the dim light from Mitch’s IPad glowing above me. Shortly after the four of us are settled, the two strangers in our cabin come in from the hallway to settle into the bunks across from Mitch and me. Growing tired, I turn off my kindle and soon the gentle swaying of the cars and rush of the wind rocks me to sleep.
*For more information on our tour check out: G Adventures China Express.
- Day 1: Fly into Beijing
- Day 2: Beijing: Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square
- Day 3: Great Wall Mutianyu and travel to Xi’an
- Day 4: Xian: Terracotta Warriors Guided Tour and travel to Suzhou
- Day 5: Suzhou: Master of the Nets Garden Tour and overnight train to Shanghai
- Day 6: Shanghai: Orientation Walk of the Bund
- Day 7: Shanghai: Carte Blanche
- Day 8: Fly out of Shanghai