Hello blogworld, it’s nice to be back online after too many months of inaction and stultification. During my slight hiatus, I have finished my first semester at the University of Petroleum, enjoyed nearly a 2-month long break, and visited a few places in my spare time. The one unifying thread through my travels would have to be the walls – the prominent Great Wall of Beijing, the restored city wall in Xi’an, a modest wall around Pingyao, and a weathered one in Datong.
During my last week of teaching, my dad visited me, and after the laborious final exams had finished, we traveled to Beijing for the weekend. Unfortunately, the city itself was wrapped in a thick blanket of smog, but the Great Wall was far enough outside the city to avoid the pollution and provide a splendid panorama of the valleys beneath us. It was a crisp, clear morning when we arrived at the wall, and after reaching one of the highest watchtowers, I could have easily shedded my winter coat. After we soaked in the raw beauty of the wilderness, my dad and I reluctantly plodded down the wall, entered the bus, and reentered the seething metropolis of Beijing.
We then decided to visit the Forbidden City. While we were walking along the eastern side toward the main entrance, a Chinese pedicab driver (like a motorized tricycle) told us he would take us to the entrance for a fee of 10 RMB. After we hopped into the back, he promptly turned around and then veered into a hutong neighborhood. Suddenly two other pedicab drivers came alongside our driver, and we were told that because of our weight, we had to go separately into two different pedicabs. After this maneuver, the drivers began to weave through several narrow alleys, pointing out occasional buildings like a hospital, and going nowhere close to the Forbidden City. At this point, I imagined us passing through a dark alley where some muscled, angry Mafia would surround us, take our wallets, and beat us unconscious. We did pass by some dark alleys, which thankfully lacked a Mafia presence, and then stopped at an intersection where one of the drivers displayed a laminated card that said Tour around Hutong: 300 RMB. Now, I may be dense at times, but I think that we had just been shamelessly conned. My dad paid his 300 RMB, refused to pay for me (which I strongly supported), and we quickly left the drivers, eventually exited the hutong, and found the Forbidden City.
I was glad we hadn’t been mercilessly beaten or worse, but my dad wasn’t too happy about being conned out of 300 RMB. I guess if you took a more positive approach, we most likely personally financed a month of meals for those men and their families. The unsuspecting philanthropist. Needless to say, we didn’t go on a pedicab again or consider viewing any other hutongs during our brief visit to Beijing.
Shortly after my visit to Beijing, I was once again leaving Qingdao with Vanessa and Mae-Mae to visit Xi’an. After arriving in Xi’an, we eventually found our hostel, which was located in a nondescript alley, found our rooms, and explored the city. Apparently, ancient Xi’an had once been the capital of China ruled by a monarch who ruthlessly killed Confucian scholars and forced thousands of laborers to build a monumental tomb replete with thousands of life-like soldiers who would usher him into the afterlife. I guess benevolent dictators were somewhat of an uncommon breed at the time. Because of Xi’an’s status, a wall had been built around the city to protect its citizens from any invaders. After walking aimlessly through parts of the city, we decided to visit the city wall. Once we reached the northern gate, we climbed up the steps and had a decent view of the city proper from the top. With walls between 20′ and 30′ high and watchtowers at each of the gates and corners of the wall, it seemed to be a fairly formidable defensive structure. On the wall, there are bike rentals where you can bike on the wall for a minimal fee. We decided to rent some and spent nearly an hour and a half biking on top of the wall. It basically felt like riding on uneven cobblestones, and occasionally you had to avoid a sunken section of the wall. Overall, though, it was a thoroughly enjoyable ride.
Another day, we traveled by bus to visit the famed Terracotta Warriors. I thought it was close to Xi’an, but it’s actually about an hour’s drive into the country from the city wall. When we arrived at the entrance, we passed through a ticket turnstile and entered the main complex which had three separate buildings. The largest one was in front of us, and the other two were towards the right of the big building. The first one on the right was basically a welcome center that described the history of the site and noted several generous donors. Behind that building was another one that housed a pit with various body parts of the Terracotta Warriors piled together. I was mildly impressed, but once I entered the central building, I was astounded. Underneath this vaulted ceiling was a pit larger than a football field with orderly rows of hundreds of Terracotta Warriors. Their condition steadily deteriorated as you looked down the line, but the enormity of this work was incredible.
As the story goes, a farmer was digging a new well in his backyard and happened on a few pottery shards. Those shards happened to be remnants of a Terracotta Warrior, and he had a couple thousand of his friends buried with him underneath the farmer’s field. Since then, archaeologists have conducted extensive digs around this site, and they still haven’t found the tomb of the ancient despot. Egyptian pyramids may win the prize for the most outlandish imperial tomb, but I think the Terracotta Warriors come in a close second.