Thursday, 19 February 2009

Xi'an and the Aircraft Egg: Part 1

Sometimes you do something stupid without realising it. Today was my turn and the location was the plane carrying me from Shanghai to Xi’an. For some reason at this time, on this day, the half a hard-boiled egg sitting in front of me on the in-flight food tray, despite being slightly brown, heavily salted and a bit crystallised, looked perfectly fine and I ate it.

We arrived in Xi’an and boarded the next coach. Our new guide was clearly crazy. He told us to call him Spencer. He had picked this because his old English teacher couldn’t pronounce Chinese names and made all the children in the class pick new ones. After the long story which relayed the origin of why it was Spencer he picked (after Spencer for Hire), we asked what his Chinese name was. He told us it was Jimmy.

It was exactly twelve hours after eating the egg that I regretted it. 3am and I had food poisoning. I spent four hours being sick before it finally subsided. This may not sound like a ringing endorsement for the city or the company I went with, but the Hotel was excellent in getting me extra water (you can’t drink tap water in China), and the Travelsphere rep looked after me very well. It’s always nice to know that should something go wrong on holiday that the people there to help you actually know what they're doing.

The alarm went off at 8am and I was not in the best shape. However, I was determined not to miss seeing the Terracotta Army due to half a hard-boiled egg. I managed to get to the coach and was then mothered by just about everyone else I encountered that day. We were heading for the warriors in the afternoon but our first stop was the ancient Xi’an city walls.

It was early and freezing. I struggled to get up the steps to the wall and became increasingly frustrated with my lack of energy. I never normally feel the cold but here I was finding it difficult. It wasn’t fun but the walls were so impressive that I’m glad that I managed to climb them. Anyone visiting Xi’an shouldn’t overlook the city walls, as they are unique and quite beautiful in their way.

After managing to climb the steps to the wall and the pagoda on top of it, I then had to get all the way back down so the coach could head for the main event. Today was clearly going to be an endurance test as when we arrived at the site it was a half hour walk to the main buildings. After passing through two security checkpoints we finally arrived at the main dig site.

I have seen pictures of the warriors before but it was truly astounding just how many of these soldiers there are. It was like walking into the Indiana Jones warehouse where they keep the Lost Arc. I stood there trying to take it in.

The Terracotta Army, all with unique faces and subject to pain stacking reconstruction, stretched out into the distance. It crossed my mind that this was the largest domino display in the world waiting to happen.

As well as the main dig site there were also other buildings that contained the more unique statues that were found. Archers, horses and a lone crouching warrior are all on display here. There are also bronze works and an amazing bronze chariot to see. It is unlikely that these pieces will ever be allowed to leave China as they are so valuable.

While walking around the site the usual junk sellers appeared with boxes of replica soldiers. This started a game between everyone as we all tried to get them for the cheapest amount. The price started at 100 Yuen (about £10), three steps away from the seller and the price had dropped to 60. My girlfriend gave in and bought some, two more steps and another member of the group picked them up for 30 Yuen. By the time we had finished our tour and reached the coach the price was down to 10 Yuen for three boxes.

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