Since the last blog, for the first time since Hong Kong we have actually been very busy with sightseeing. Our best friend here named Ann, a fellow teacher from Australia, had her parents come in for vacation with her aunt and uncle. She was taking them out to Inner Mongolia which I had to skip with everyone last time thanks to the previously explained food poisoning spell. We tagged along for the quick day trip and had several stops along the way...
The first stop was at the real Great Wall of China. This part of the Great Wall is the original structure, designed to keep the invading Mongols out of the country. Due to the fact that the wall is located in an area of no tourism, the wall has not been renovated. It was very interesting to see the wall in its original form however. Even to this day the wall still stands at over 8 feet tall and is at least 4-5 feet wide. Erosion of the wall was taken its toll in places, however it stands firm for the most part. We had our pictures taken from on top of it several times and were fascinated by watching the wall go up and into the Helan Mountain Range. The wall is located directly in the middle of it, which made the sights seem very beautiful as well. Another great thing about the day was that it was possibly the clearest day that we have had in Yinchuan during our entire stay. Visibility was at a very far distance as opposed to other days when I can't see more than a 1/4 mile.
Our next stop on our trip was to Bayanhot, a small city in Inner Mongolia. While in Bayanhot we explored a Buddhist monastery. We took many pictures of the area, but due to the massive amount of construction in the area left without seeing too terribly much. Due to this fact however, the monastery was completely free of all other tourists and we basically had the place to ourselves.
After a quick lunch we were on the road again, this time to a large monastery village in the foothills of the Helan mountains. The compplex was quite massive, but the buildings were quite spread out throughout it. After exploring a few of the buildings, we came across one of the main buildings where we met a Tibetan Buddhist monk who spoke Mongolian, Mandarin, and English! I was so excited when he could explain some of the history of the complex with us and I could understand it. The monk explained that every building on the complex was quite new. He displayed a picture to us of what the village looked like at one time. There were clearly hundreds of buildings and dwellings shown, all of which were destroyed by the Chinese during the Cultural Revolution. Why these people thought that destroying thousands of years of history was a good idea I simply cannot understand. However, this was the case across the entire country. After exploring the buildings, we walked up a long train into the Helan Mountain Range. The trail was incredible. I was blown away with some of the sights from climbing the mountain and got a little picture happy with the camera also. After returning from the mountain, we returned back home for dinner and rest as everyone was quite exhausted.
After the day trip, the rest of the week was spent preparing for my final adult classes of the term and for the children's classes on the weekend. This weekend was the parent's meeting for each class to review their midterm grades. Most of these meetings went well, however some did not of course. I knew one class would be terrible as the students overall did not do well. The parents complained to me that the book was too hard and that there was too much material to learn. Obviously, there is only so much I can do about that. After this class was my favorite class. I was excited to teach this class as the last meeting was terrible and now I had students who did great. Of course, one parent had to ruin everything. Even though her son had a 98% in the class, she obviously did not think that it was good enough. She went about 15 minutes into the lunch break expressing her problem to the Chinese teacher, at which point I finally had enough and left to eat lunch. The Chinese teacher came into the break room a couple of minutes later and explained the problems. First, I took off ONE point because her son often does not pay attention in class. Now, I have to sign a paper each week to show that he is. The other point was for pronunciation, and the parent wants me to have him do an oral dictation each class. This is simply not going to happen. This is the way things work here though. If you have money and power, you get your way. Period. Above all it is my main problem with the school that I teach at.
After Saturday had finished, we were looking at the week ahead. I teach adults on Monday and Wednesday nights, but they were off for this week for a mid-term break. For the first time, Liz and I had 2 days off together in a row. We decided not to let the opportunity pass and made arrangements to go to Xi'an after school on Sunday. This meant packing and doing laundry in a hurry to be ready to go. Sunday classes ended at 5:15 and the train left for Xi'an at 6:30 so there was no time for hanging around after school. We made it to the train station however in plenty of time and I then had the pleasurable experience of the train for 13.5 hours. Thankfully, it was overnight and I could sleep through most of it. We had a soft sleeper cabin, which consists of 4 total beds, 2 on top, 2 on bottom. We had the bottom beds. We were also lucky that one of the other people in the cabin could speak a little bit of English. It was an enjoyable ride, and we arrived in Xi'an at 9:00 on Monday morning.
Walking out of the train station, we ran into a lady holding Liz's name on a sign like you would see at an airport. We both felt too important. The lady walked us to the hostile that we reserved for the 2 days there which happened to be quite close. After checking in and looking at our room, I was quite happy. The hostile was only about $30 per night and the room was quite nice. The hostile also had a huge bar area and outdoor patio under some trees which made it enjoyable. We put up our things, arranged a tour for the Terra-Cotta warriors for the following day, and then set out to walk around the town.
As soon as we started walking, we realized one big difference between Xi'an and Yinchuan. Humidity. It was in the 90's and very humid (yeah, I remember that place...) while walking around. It didn't take us too long however to find the center of the city. The city center is a giant pagoda called the Bell tower. Just next to it is another called the Drum tower. In between the two pagodas which are over 1000 years old is Starbucks, McDonald's, and a giant mall. Nothing says China like that... After having our first hamburger in months, we continued down the street and visited the Muslim quarter of the city. Due to the fact that our city is surrounded with mosques, we found this to be kind of boring. We then returned to our hostile to rest for a while as the sun was taking its toll.
In the afternoon/evening we continued our walk through the city, looking for a western foods supermarket so we could take some things back with us that we would want. We were unsuccessful this time, however we did fond something I definitely did not expect to see in Xi'an. Papa John's Pizza had an enormous restaurant in the mall we were in and a menu to match it. Where is the last Papa John's that you went to where you could order a steak? We however stuck to the pizza and were pleasantly surprised as it tasted just like the pizza back home. It was a wonderful treat for us and we left feeling quite pleased. We continued our walk around the city and found a Belgian bar selling Belgian beer and decided to have one before retiring for the night.
Day two in Xi'an meant a trip to the Terra Cotta Warriors. We paid to take a tour with an English speaking tour guide to try to understand more of the history, and we weren't the only ones to do it. Our tour group consisted us from the US, an Australian who just happened to be an auditor (Liz had much to discuss), a student from Holland, and other tourists our age from England, Chile, and Germany. It was quite the diverse group which made the 1.5 hour car ride each way enjoyable. The first place we arrived to was a factory where the replica Terra-Cotta warriors are made. The people there explained how the warriors are made of clay and then roasted in a 900 degree coal oven to complete, and later cooled for 2 weeks. We purchased a small replica statue and continued our journey to the actual site.
Once we arrived to the complex, it felt we were at a National Park. The place was enormous, with buildings everywhere, tons of shops and restaurants, theaters, an art gallery and more. Having no time to see most of these, we continued to the main site. The warriors have been found in three very close areas. Each large area is called a pit. Pit 1, the largest pit, also happens to be the 1st pit that was found. For a quick history summary, let me explain. The Terra-Cotta warriors have been dated back to the time of Christ, approximately 2000 years ago. The Emperor of the Dynasty had these clay lifelike statues of his warriors made and placed into a typical battle formation of the time period. The statues were then buried under the ground to preserve them. In 1974 a Chinese farmer in the area was trying to find water via a well that he dug and came across something he didn't expect to find. Since '74, the area has been thoroughly excavated. Three pits have been found, however the first is definitely the largest of them.
We entered the 1st pit and I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of each of the statues. The tour guide began to explain the battle formations of the warriors. The people in front of the formation had no armor or weapon. He explained that these people were the poorest people, but were considered the bravest for entering combat without and defense. Others behind them included, infantry, archers, cavalryman, charioteers, and generals. Some had armor on the front only, while other had it on both, symbolizing a different rank. When the warriors were unearthed, they were also painted in traditional Chinese colors. Oxygen however has taken its toll on them and the paint has wiped away from all of the statues. Near the rear of the pit we could see the archaeologists at their work. The original soldiers have been crushed by the 2000 years of erosion. These scientists must log each piece of pottery found, its location, and then try and piece it all back together into a giant statue. This is no easy puzzle either. Seeing the way that they are in the process of reconstructing these however is very interesting.
After seeing the entire first pit, we continued to the second. The second was also quite large, and the building was air conditioned (a welcome relief) and therefore more tolerable. The first pit had fans, but due to the heat and the number of visitors it was almost unbearable. The second pit was almost as big as the first, however it was not as scenic. From the top, you could still see the tops of the battle lines that had been excavated. The warriors however remain buried. The tour guide explained that excavation has stopped completely, as the government and scientists both want to wait to see if a new technology is created that can preserve the color of the statues that are still under the ground. While neither I nor he thought that this would happen, he also stated that in 100 years if the technology had not been found, the site would be excavated in its entirety. I find this number to be quite arbitrary but who am I to say otherwise. On the walls of the museum were pictures of the statues with their color, and they are quite amazing, so I can't say that I blame them for trying something.
The third pit was very small, yet also interesting. The third pit is commonly referred to as the command center. It had the commander of the army in the middle along with a few high ranking archers, charioteers, and cavalrymen. Due to the small size of it I left the pit unimpressed just because of the sheer size of the other two pits. After the third pit we toured a small museum and then proceeded to the burial ground of the Emperor of the Qin Dynasty. The Qin Dynasty was China's first more unified dynasty, with the country stretching fro Shanghai to Beijing, and from Xi'an to the coast. The country was more unified than ever and has grown obviously since. The tomb built for this emperor seemed to resemble that. The tomb looked like a giant Indian mound, much higher off of the ground and the emperor buried much deeper. The tour guide stated that the emperor is estimated to have been buried about 10 meters into the ground. Today however, due to erosion from the mountain next to it, the emperor is buried almost 35 meters below the surface. The government had at one time accessed this tomb, however, for reasons stated above, have now sealed it off for the time being. After seeing the tomb, we returned to the bus, and then to the hostile for some rest.
The final evening was spent at a nice Italian restaurant with some wine and two filet mignons. A trip to the Western foods supermarket followed and after loading up with goodies we returned to the hostile for some drinks at the outdoor patio of our hostile. The next morning we had to take a taxi to the airport and return to Yinchuan. We were both excited to see Dallas win over Lebron and the Heat at the airport, and then returned quickly. Now it's time to prepare for the upcoming weekend's lesson plans and to teach. Until next time, goodbye everyone!
For a great VIDEO of the trip, go to the following link: http://s1209.photobucket.com/albums/cc397/uconnhuskies99/