Susan's Shanghai Blog - Week 75

This week and next week's blogs will be for a weekend trip to Xi'an. This may not be a well-known place for many people, since it is not one of the major sites. It is the capital of the Shaanxi province and is one of the oldest cities in China (more than 3100 years of history). Prior to the Ming dynasty, it was known as Chang'an and is one of the four great ancient capitals of China (along with Beijing, Nanjing, and Luoyang). It is known for being the eastern end of the Silk Road and the home of the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang (the army is the subject of Week 76's blog). It is small compared to Shanghai although it still has over 8 million people.

After a short flight, we arrived at the Xi'an airport and we were met by our tour guide. This was one of the few guided tours that we have done, but since we wanted to just do a weekend, we felt it best to have a private guide and driver. As we headed towards Xi'an, we stopped at the Hanyang Tombs, which is the mausoleum of the Western Han emperor Liu Qi and his empress, Empress Wang. It was built in 153 AD and covers almost 5 acres.

This hill that you see in these first pictures is actually the burial mounds, one for the Emperor and one for the Empress.

Here is a layout of what it looks like. You can see the outer wall with the gates (which do not exist) and then the burial mound in the middle. It "looks" like a pyramid here but it is really the hill/small mountain that you saw in the previous pictures. You can also see the pits on the outer edges of the mount, which were filled with all of the things that would be needed in the afterlife.

In the various mounds, they found pottery figures which are approximately 1/10th scale. There were warriors that would form an army as well as servants, singers/dancers, painted pottery, weapons, utensils, animals, etc. The pottery people would have had clothes and wooden arms which have decayed and are no longer there. The pictures are not great (sorry) but they had very dim lights and didn't allow flashes. If you look closely at the first picture, you see the people figures, but then look below them. You can see the wagon wheels that were for the chariots.

Another picture with them, you can see a couple pottery people and then if you look at the very top, you can see something that looks like a horse.

Rows of the pottery army, all standing in lines.

These pictures are what they would have looked like in the time of the emperor. You can see that the pottery people have arms and traditional clothes, along with the wheeled chariots and horses.

I mentioned arnimals as well, so here are a few of the animal pits.

It was an interesting start, and it gave us a bit of background prior to going to the Terracotta Army on the 2nd day (next week's blog).

Then, we headed into town and stopped for lunch. We had told them that we wanted "typical, local cuisine" and sure enough, the place he took us was a little odd-shaped restaurant where he requested that we get a little private room for the two of us. We started with boiled peanuts and pickled celery.

A bit blurry but we did a sizzling cabbage with bacon and hot peppers (right) and a local rice dish which has a bunch of different veggies and a few things we had no clue what were. The third picture is just the whole table setup, with the pot of chinese tea, as well as two bowls of soup noodles and the Pepsi! Nobody spoke any English and the menu was all in Chinese .. thank goodness our tour guide ordered for us and came back every 5 or 6 minutes to be sure everything was okay and if we needed anything else.

The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda or Big Wild Goose Pagoda is a Buddhist pagoda built in 652 during the Tang dynasty. Originally it only had 5 stories but was rebuilt in 704 to add 5 more stories. In 1556 it was damaged by an earthquake and it was reduced down to the current 7 stories. The legend that our tour guide told us was that the name and location comes from the fact that a flock of geese were flying overhead and a "giant wild goose" died and fell to the ground, and it is at this spot that they built the pagoda. An no, the pictures are not leaning .. the pagoda leans several degrees to the West.

The entrance has the drum and bell towers to the right and left.

Next up Xi'an Imperial Fine Arts center. Initially, I really didn't want to go there, but once we went there, we found it quite interesting. It started with a guy explaining Jade to us, and obviously, we knew almost nothing about Jade. He explained the difference between what he called "river jade" (which I believe would be Nephrite) and "mountain jade" (which I believe is Jadeite). River Jade or Nephrite is what I think of Jade, with the green color and Mountain Jade (Jadeite, the harder of the two) comes in all kinds of colors, inclduing blue, purple, pink, white, and green. He's Tom with his new-found friend, a Jade warrior (remember this stance, the armour .. you'll see this in terra cotta in next week's blog).

The city walls was next. The city walls in Xi'an are one of the oldest and best preserved city wall complexes in all of China. These walls were started in 1370 by the Ming dynasty, and are 39 feet in height and range between 49 and 59 feet thick. It encircles 5.4 square miles of the city and is a complete wall measuring 8.5 miles in length. The top of the city wall is wide and flat, and you can walk or bicycle the entire route. We did a bit of cycling on it, although due to time, we didn't go the whole route.

So we grabbed our mountain bikes and headed around

As you go around the top, you get these small buildings as well as the openings where the army on the inside could defend the city from invaders.

There was a serpent/snake sitting up on the wall at one point, which was kinda cute.

Next is the Great Mosque and the Muslim quarter. We've been to many mosques and this one just didn't look like a mosque .. it was more of a Buddhist temple. It was founded in 742 and is one of the oldest mosques in China. It is not only a tourist site but is still used by Chinese Muslims for worship. The mosque is completely Chinese in architectural style without any domes or the traditional minarets. Really the only thing that would indicate a mosque is the Arabic lettering here and there (which you can see over a doorway in one of the pictures).

We headed out of the mosque and down one of the wider merchant streets (we had gone through the bazaar earlier on the way in, although it really reminded me of almost every market in China).

We had asked to go to the Stele Forest although one of the tour companies said that it wouldn't be interesting unless you read Chinese. We found it quite interesting and there was alot of descriptions in English!. It is at the site of an 11th century Confucius Temple and is a museum for stone steles and stone sculptures. There are close to 3,000 steles, most dating from the Tang Dynasty, and is the largest collection in China. As we've seen before, they like to put the stone steles on the top of a stone tortoise called Bixi. The tradition of mounting the stelae on top of a tortoise originated in the late Han dynasty.

We also saw lots of funerary stele's that were topped with two inter-twined dragons, a design that was very common on such steles dating into the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

These are supposedly horse hitching posts. He said that the more elaborate the animal on top, the higher ranking you were. You can see the shiny (dark) areas at his legs where you would hitch the horses to.

And of course, the temple bell.

Dinner was a dumpling banquet. It was at the Tang Dynasty restaurant, which also has a dance/music show. We had thought about the show but since we had such an early flight, we were afraid we would sleep through it, so we just did dinner.

After bringing out the a set of sauces and oils (at the top of the plate), we started with an assortment of 8 different appetizers. Some of them we recognized while others we had no clue what they were. All of them were pretty tasty.

First up in the dumplings were 12 different varieties of steamed dumplings with different fillings and shapes.

Then a set of homemade dumplings

and a bowl of dumpling soup (mushroom soup with little tiny tiny dumplings).

Then two different types of fried dumplings

and two different types of baked dumplings

Then we got this set of dumplings which look fried but weren't really on the menu...

And some sweet dumplings .. then followed with the seasonal fruit.

No wonder Tom sometimes calls me "dumpling-girl"!!!

On the way back to the hotel, we caught a nice pictures of this lit building.

And then at the hotel, they had these "dinner" warriors at the restaurant. Here is the spoon warrior and there was also a fork warrior.

Continue to Day 2 in Xi'an