A Travellerspoint blog


Xi'an's Terracotta Army

rain 18 °C

Two thousand two hundred years ago Qin Shi Huang became the first Emperor of a united China at the age of thirteen and during his lifetime some 700,000 craftsmen were employed to prepare for his death. An entire full-size city was built for him to occupy in the afterlife – complete with city walls, palaces, temples and, apparently, a hundred faux rivers flowing with mercury. No ancient royal court would be complete without government officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians, and no emperor would be safe without his guards, so, the builder’s of Qin’s Shangri-La provided him with a personal entourage and an entire army…
Following Qin’s death and burial the vast city was covered with huge wooden roofs and layers of woven blankets and then buried beneath an enormous manmade hill where most of it remains today. But in 1974 a farmer digging a well a mile or so from the underground city unearthed some interesting pottery shards and when the site was excavated Qin’s army of terracotta warriors was discovered…
It is believed that there are more than 8,000 life-sized terracotta soldiers, each with a unique face, but only a few hundred have been unearthed so far…
There are also some 770 full-sized terracotta horses with the remains of 130 real wooden chariots and more are uncovered each year.

Xi’an was the epicenter of the Qin dynasty and must have been a huge city two hundred years BC. But it is no small potatoes today. It doesn’t loom large as far as Chinese cities go, with a population of only 8 million, but it has some of the most upmarket shopping malls we have seen so far. It also has a frenetic downmarket shopping area where stores are stocked with everything imaginable - much of it fake. But the market area is best known for food, especially its huge selection of fruit and nuts. Dried persimmons, pineapples, kiwis and dates of all kinds are heaped on the stalls while fresh pomegranates are squeezed in a just a tick...
But it is walnut time in China and every nut emporium has an old-fashioned walnut dryer on hand to capture our attention…
We weren’t fooled into thinking that they were actually drying the nuts – none of them had fires – but it was fun to watch. It was also fun to watch these two guys with huge mallets energetically smashing peanuts into a delicious form of peanut brittle…
We love work – especially when someone else is doing it - but now we too have to get to work and hop on a plane to our next stop – Shanghai.
The deadline for entering the exciting competition to win a postcard from China ends on Saturday - so don't miss out. And foodies - we haven't forgotten you. We have had many incredible meals in China and will be doing a food special in the next few days.

Posted by Hawkson 06:02 Archived in China Comments (4)

Beijing Postcards

sunny 15 °C

All cities have postcard shops but we have never seen one quite as elaborate as this…
But we have seen so many wonderful sights in Beijing that we thought we would create our own set of postcards just for you...

The New Beijing

Old Beijing – a hutong in the rain

Preparing for the 18th National Congress in Tiananmen Square

Flowers for the President at The Gate of Heavenly Peace, Forbidden City

Coal for winter fires, Beijing

The Birds Nest Olympic Stadium, Beijing

Chinese lanterns in the hutong

New Friends in Beijing

Now we are en-route to Xi’an to see the terracotta warriors so we thought it was time for a quick quiz about Beijing – with real prizes.
So - what on earth do you think these Chinese warning signs mean?
Give us the correct (or funniest) answers and we will mail a real postcard from China to anyone you nominate. Just imagine the fun you will have when a friend or relative receives a postcard apparently from you in China.
Disclaimer - This competition is absolutely free to enter, (Wow!), and you will not receive solicitations to purchase any products or services – Honestly! Just give us your answers in the comment section below for a chance to win one of these valuable postcards.
We will choose 6 winners and email for details of the recipients, together with personal greetings, and will pop the postcards in the mail ASAP.
Good luck.

Posted by Hawkson 02:29 Archived in China Comments (8)

Beijing Twitters

snow -2 °C

We let the Twittersphere pass us by in the belief that it was a new-fangled innovation appealing only to the cyber savvy. But then we visited China’s Forbidden City in Beijing and discovered that we had deceived ourselves. There is nothing new about Twitter. It has been around for nearly a thousand years and here is the proof...
These ancient stone tablets are inscribed with mundane bits of information in fewer than 140 characters. For instance this one says, “Hunting season over. Xiancong Qin killed a lot of game.”
Whereas this one says, “Heavy rain stopped hunt. Waded across river and took boat back to palace.”
Each of these stones weighs a few tons so pressing “send” isn’t likely to get them very far, but now we know that twittering is actually an ancient Chinese invention we don’t feel bad about using it. These stones, called drums, are in The Forbidden City along with many others and we thought we would have a go at translating them for you. These, for instance, could be the tweets of Emperor Zhu Di the Yongle Emperor of the Ming Dynasty:
"May 1st 1406. Burned down Mogul city today. Planning the biggest new city in history – we’ll show those damn Moguls LOL…"
"June 27th 1413 Three hundred buildings finished. How about this for a roof? Bet the Moguls never had one like this..."
"March 4th 1418 Seven hundred and seventy nine buildings finished – one to go. Let’s make it fit for a great Emperor like me…"
"April 3rd 1419 Gardens coming along. Need a mountain or two – so let’s get creative and build them…"
"April 20th 1420 New city nearly complete, I shall call it Zijin Cheng, (The Purple Forbidden City). Million workers now unemployed. Maybe they could build a drum tower outside the gates…"
"Sept 26th 1420 Everything finished. Now I am bored. Hey – I've an idea. I think I’ll have a new Great Wall."

And now for some of our own 21st century tweets, (not carved in stone).
In 1860 the Brits and French stormed the City during the 2nd Opium War.
In 1912 The last Emperor, Puyi, abdicated and was finally evicted from the Forbidden City in 1924.
In 1949 The Communists were going to destroy the Forbidden City but Zhou Enlai sent the army to stop them.
In 2000 Starbucks opened a coffee shop inside the city but was eventually forced to close it under pressure from the Chinese. LOL.
Today, Nov. 4th 2012, The Forbidden City is deep in snow – pretty, but feels too much like Siberia so we’re heading south ASAP.

Posted by Hawkson 04:36 Archived in China Comments (3)

China's Greatest Wall

sunny 15 °C

The hundreds of skyscrapers and other cavernous buildings of modern Beijing, that have miraculously sprouted over the past 25 years, pale into insignificance when compared to the architectural masterpieces created in China’s heyday during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). For instance, this single Ming construction is comprised of nearly 12,000 buildings…
It is of course The Great Wall of China and, whilst it is certainly the most recognizable structure in the world, no photograph, film or description can hope to capture its awe-inspiring enormity. If Everest had been built by man, or the Grand Canyon dug by hand, they would not measure up to a wall which once stretched unbroken for nearly nine thousand kilometres (5,500 miles) from Hushan to Jiayuguan…
It is a truly breathtaking sight to see the wall snaking across the mountaintops amidst the autumnal trees before finally disappearing into the mist…
The greatest majority of tourists in Beijing at the moment are Chinese and many have posed alongside us while their photos are taken. Mr. and Mrs. Wong – a couple old enough to remember the rise of Mao and the Cultural Revolution – were as delighted being pictured with Sheila as they were with seeing The Great Wall…
And here is Sheila with our friend Christine who has joined Blissful Adventures for a tour of China…
The wall we see today is only the last re-incarnation of the third Great Wall. In the past two thousand two hundred years the Chinese have built three Great Walls to keep out the Mongol Hordes and other potential invaders and have repaired and replaced sections of each many times. It is estimated, (by our guide Amy), that altogether they have built fifty thousand kilometers of wall. This is Amy…
A ski-lift took us up the mountain to visit the wall, but coming down the luge track was much more exhilarating for daredevils like James…
The Wall is just one of the amazing architectural achievements in and around this city of twenty million and we are already suffering from Beijing Knees – a well documented medical condition. So, don’t be envious. Sit back in your armchair and let us do the walking. Check back tomorrow to visit The Forbidden City.

Posted by Hawkson 06:50 Archived in China Comments (6)

Beijing - A Tale of Two Cities

sunny 14 °C

It was the best of times: it was the worst of times… Nowhere else on earth is the contrast between the haves and have-nots so great as in China, and nowhere is the division more starkly observed than in the capital, Beijing. The growth of Beijing has been truly phenomenal since Sheila rode her Flying Pigeon bicycle through the streets here in the early eighties, but a few iconic buildings remain. This is the Beijing Hotel – once the top spot in China…
But today it is eclipsed by numerous palatial joints like the super snazzy Legendale Hotel…
There are many mega-rich in China today so it’s not surprising that the streets that used to teem with bikes are now flooded with Bentleys and Beamers and the stores are chock-a-block with luxury goods from all over the world – with five Rolex stores on Wangfujing street alone!
But hidden behind the gleaming facades of the office towers and five star hotels; facing away from the ultra-wide tree lined boulevards...
...decorated with fabulous floral displays…
… are the hutongs – the narrow lanes of old houses where life for the poor has barely changed in a century or more...

To determine the relative difference between rich and poor we apply what we call the Starbucks Equation. Wherever we go we equate what the average man in the street can buy for the cost of an American coffee? For instance: In Beijing a small latte at Starbucks costs 30 Yuan, ($5 Cdn or about £3.50), and there are no shortage of takers. But that’s rich even for us. So what have we bought for the same price?
How about a complete dinner for two, including a large beer, at a restaurant in our apartment building offering such interesting items as…
Though don’t ask us for the recipe.

And for the same $5 we bought a basket of shopping including a dozen eggs, a papaya, a kilo of clementines, a loaf of bread, four custard tarts and a package of serviettes.
What about a trim…?
Actually we both needed tidying up after six weeks of travel, and James’s beard was completely out of control. Both haircuts, and a beard trim, cost the same as just one large latte – 40 Yuan (Less than $7 for both).
So, while life at the top may be rich and getting richer, for millions of poor Chinese a cup of Starbucks is something to dream about. Sheila lived here for three years in the early eighties when almost everyone was poor, and cabbages were a staple winter food, so this young television reporter in Tiananmen Square was very interested in getting her views about the amazing revolution that has occurred in this country...
Stay tuned, dear blog reader, and you will be as astounded as we are at this fascinating city.

Posted by Hawkson 06:37 Archived in China Comments (5)

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