Honestly, I just don't know where to start.
We've been home from China for a week now and I'm at a loss to convey the experience. I took 670 photos. Usually I have no problem pulling a post or two from my travel pics but I've sat here the last few days, challenged to organize my thoughts. China was just as described to us, yet it was so much more. It's raw. Pulsating. Chaotic. Rude. And endlessly fascinating.
I guess I'll just have to jump in.
We spent most of our two weeks in Shanghai, where our son and daughter-in-law live. We arrived at Pudong Airport in the evening and the 35 minute ride into the city from the airport was mesmerizing. The city is huge. Huge! What struck me was the almost surreal sizes of the apartment complexes along the highway, one after another, after another. Groups of 50 or more identical buildings clustered together, 40-60 stories high, stretching out to the horizon. Almost a little creepy. Science fiction-ish. The above photo is about half of a 1:500 scale model of the downtown area of the city that fills the top floor of the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center.
After a few days in Shanghai, decompressing from our trip, we all traveled north for a long-weekend visit to Xi'an, the first capital of China and the last stop on the Silk Road. Xi'an is a large city of over 8 million, located in the northern central plains of China, up toward Mongolia. Within a short time there, it became clear that although it aspires to be a first-class destination (due to the discovery in 1974 of the famed Terracotta Warriors), it has a little work to do.
Here is where we stayed ~ the Xi'an Grand Noble Hotel, lovely in every way. Highly recommend!
And here is how we got around the city...in motor-cycle driven tuk tuks, because taxis are almost impossible to hail if you are a foreigner. This is a relatively high-end model. It has doors! And a bit of legroom. And a foot-long piece of old clothesline rope dangling from a crossbar to hold on to as you careen in a driving rainstorm through oncoming traffic, the wrong way on one way streets. (Breaking out in a cold sweat just remembering that ride...)
On our first morning, we boarded a local bus for the one hour ride out to the Terracotta Warrior site. Our fare was around $1.50 and when we arrived, the bus let us off on the side of the highway, which we were left to dash across in the rain, dodging four lanes of traffic. No crosswalk, lights or walkway. In fairness, these would not have made a lick of difference. Crossing any street in the cities we visited was a leap of faith. Chinese traffic may have inspired the phrase, 'He who hesitates is lost'. Keep moving, even as a city bus is barreling right at you.
We spent most of the day out at the site, which was positively fabulous. Unseen for 2,200 years, this lifesized army was buried near the tomb of the first emperor of China, Emperor Qin, to protect him in the afterlife. The treasure trove was discovered in 1974 by a local farmer who was digging a well on his property.
He's signing autographs these days. :-)
Can you imagine? If he'd dug just a few feet to the side, this may never have been discovered!
There are actually three pits, all in different stages of excavation and restoration.
There were throngs of people here, one of China's most famous destinations, but because it is so enormous, it seldom felt really crowded. Most pressed in to capture the best views of the pits but several approached my DIL to get photo with her, something that happens regularly when she's out and about. She had mentioned that being blonde, she sometimes feels as odd as a unicorn in China. Throughout our visit, we noticed people taking her picture from a distance or walking deliberately near her while a friend waited to capture a shot.
Though the actual site had some of the restored warriors on display, we thought the best views were found at the Shanxxi History Museum, which we visited the next morning.
Here the exhibits are in plain view, not behind glass, so you can more easily examine the staggering detail.
Each of the thousands of figures are different! Warriors, horsemen, archers, soldiers, each with individual stances, facial features, clothing details.
The figures were originally painted, but exposure to air have caused most of the polychrome finishes to disintegrate. What a magnificent sight that must have been for the last workers who closed up and buried the army at its completion!