|Another day, another overnight train. This seems to be the theme of late. Not that they aren't a lot of fun, especially with the group we have. As one of the guys in the group said, the whole thing feels a little like a multi-day high school field trip. Yet, this is really not just another day; it's a special day. In fact, it's hump day. The point at which we have completed the first half of our journey (at least from a planning point of view). Yep, as of 8 am today, we've been on the road for exactly 9 months.
It's been so long that babies have been born (Marnie & Mark's, Angela & Graham's), and other's will be born before we're done (Catherine & Kelvin's). That fact alone makes us think that we really have been away for quite a while now. And even though we are homesick from time to time (especially for stupid little things like Hawkins Cheezies, or President's Choice white macaroni and cheese, etc.), it really seems to have whizzed by and the finish looks closer than ever. Yet there are many more months to come. People to meet. Alleys to explore...
Which brings us to Xian. The pronunciation is actually "Shee Anne", and like many Chinese words, the two individual monosyllables have been combined into a single word for English. It's funny to watch a lot of people walking around saying "Ex-I-Anne" all day long ;). Actually, Chinese geography is pretty simple; things are either in the north, south, east, or west. Most places are named after directions. "Xi" means west. "Bei" means north. "Dong" means east, and "Nan" means south. The city itself is not that special, but it is surrounded by an enormous (and intact) wall that is over 13 km long all the way around. This is Xian's second star attraction after the terra cotta warriors. We spent our first morning (immediately after getting off the train) cycling around the top of the wall. It was really fun, and gave us a great perspective of just how big the place really is. Later on, walking around the town, we were able to see how rich the city really is. Whatever notion you have of China's cities being old and broken down, this is just not the case. Xian is packed with things like Channel, Dior, Louis Vutton, Rolex, Tag Huer, and the list goes on and on. These folks have the cash.
The next day we were off to see the famous terra cotta warriors. As usual, our preconceived notions were blown to bits when we got there. You see, when you are going to see historical sights in many other countries, you're sort of expecting things to be a little be raw, still in the rough, showing their age so to speak. And most of the time, this is the case. Well, not in China. Don't get me wrong, the warriors (and the story behind them) are pretty special, but true to form, the Chinese have pretty much built themselves a Disney park atmosphere to encompass the entire site. This ranges from having built gigantic enclosures over the "pits" where the warriors are being unearthed, to having giant "Mickey" warriors that you can stand beside to have your Kodak moment. I kept looking over my shoulder for a ceramic Donald duck, but one never showed up...
Actually the story is quite unreal. One day in the 70's, a farmer digging a well happened upon the very south east corner of one of the pits - he was very lucky to have struck it, because he very nearly missed! Anyway, the government in their wisdom saw fit to give the guy a permanent job in the now present gift shop signing picture books in about 25 different languages. We were told he doesn't even get paid! Ahh, China - where fame is, well, with the collective. In the final analysis though, the whole terra cotta warrior story is actually quite a highlight, and the excavation of the site continues in earnest - it is suspected there are many more plots to discover in the area. Of the many photos above, one is not actually a warrior, but simply a record of the group's visit to a western Pizza Hut for the first time in a long time. Can you guess which one it is, or have I fooled you all???