Last night we left Beijing for Xi'an, where we'll be staying until Sunday night. If you recall from my previous post, this was met with much excitement on my part, as most things usually are. :) We took an overnight train from Beijing to Xi'an, and this was my first experience with an overnight "sleeper" train, which was immensely exciting.
We got to the train station about twenty minutes before the train started boarding, so most of us students wandered around for a bit. There was both a KFC and a Mcdonald's in the station, and I was tempted to cave in and buy some, despite the fact that Western food is way more expensive than Chinese food here. (A value meal will set you back 20 RMB, roughly 3.5 USD, as opposed to a big bowl of noodles, egg, and tomato for 4 RMB). I ended up not buying anything, although I had a few of Asta's french fries; they were good, but still a little bit different.
The sleeper train was, as previously mentioned, exceptionally exciting. We were in what are called hard sleepers, which means it's a little room with bunk beds 3 high on each side, and leads directly to the main hallway (no door or private bathroom). I was on the tippy top, so I had a nice view of the ceiling, though you couldn't see anything outside of the window, anyway. Overall, it was about a 13 hour train ride, so being able to sleep was great, and travelling with so many other people from UChicago is lots of fun (we watched a bit of Star Wars on the train).
We got to Xi'an about 9 am, and went to our hotel and checked in. Unlike the dorms, we're sharing rooms here, which is absolutely fine, since I don't hate anyone (yet, anyway!). The hotel and the rooms are really nice - it's apparently a 4 star hotel, although I think the standards are perhaps a bit lower here. At first glance, it was impressively swanky: free slippers/combs in the rooms, free internet, a pool and gym, and a restaurant on second floor. After returning from sightseeing, however, I discovered the slightly more ghetto side of it: the television doesn't work, the lighting isn't fantastic, and only one electric socket works (which means I can't have my laptop and the lamp plugged in at the same time). I don't mean to complain, though - breakfast is included, and it's a good hotel. Goodness knows I've stayed in worse. (coughcough, Mount Tai, coughcough).
After getting lunch (nothing too exciting, but delicious baozi, which are like bread dumplings), we went to see the Terracotta soldiers, one of the things China is most known for. Similar to the ancient Egyptian's beliefs, the soldiers were constructed to aid Emperor Qin in the afterlife. They were discovered in 1974 by a farmer digging for a well; had he dug four feet to the left, they would never have been discovered! There are three 'pits' that have been - and are still being- excavated. The first is the largest, containing an estimated 6,000 soldiers, though only 1/3 of those have been unearthed. The other two are smaller, though still containing an impressively large number of the life sized figures.
That place was insane! The soldiers are all about 6 feet tall, and there were just so many of them; it's crazy to imagine all the work that must have gone into getting them into the underground tombs. I think what I found most interesting is that they're still in the process of excavating; it isn't just some old soldiers people found awhile ago and put on display. While we spectated, there were archeologists dusting off pieces and trying to piece soldiers together again; or, as I put it, "putting together part of the world's largest puzzle". It was just so crazy to think about how much work there is still to be done - there's still at least 4000 life size soldiers waiting to be put together, plus horses and chariots. It's also hard to believe that the construction of the tombs and soldiers took roughly four decades. Basically, no sooner had Emperor Qin united China then he said, "Ok, time to get started on my tombs, I guess...".
Sorry for such a long post, but just a few more notes: We had discussed in class the concept of invisibility surrounding the emperor. The Forbidden City is so huge in part so that no one ever knew for sure where the Emperor was, something that is also seen in the tombs - to this day, no one knows exactly where in the massive tomb structure he's buried. Just an interesting fact for you. :)
On our way back we got stuck in a traffic jam, apparently caused by an accident. It was interesting that after about three minutes, all the drivers shut off their engines and jumped out to talk to each other. The groups of drivers just standing around chatting reminded me of the news story a few months back about a nine day traffic jam outside of Beijing - they're so used to it that it doesn't bother them, it's just a chance for socialization. Thankfully our traffic jam was much shorter, only about thirty minutes.
Sorry that my posts are more like epistles than just updates, we're headed to museums tomorrow, landmarks and tombs on Sunday!