Stop 1: Terra Cotta Warriors Factory & Site
When we woke up it was pouring, so we hopped on the bus for the long ride out to the terra cotta warriors without further ado. Before arriving at the actual site of the tomb and surrounding pits where the warriors are located, we stopped at a kind of tourism-terra-cotta-warrior factory. All the tour groups stop there before the site, and workers are there creating reproductions (of all sizes) of the warriors and horses. You can even have a warrior bust made with a reproduction of your head on top! I chose NOT to purchase…
Next up was the actual warriors, housed in huge airplane-hanger sized buildings over the original dig sites. The actual tomb of the emperor is 1.5 km away, and has not been excavated in any way out of respect. The sheer number and detail of the warriors was amazing, but I found myself wondering what else would be inside the tomb, especially if the warriors are simply what guards it. Even our tour guide joked that if the warriors are the unofficial 8th wonder of the world, perhaps the inside of the tomb will someday be excavated and become the 9th.
Stop 2: Bei Lin: Forest of Stele
The Forest of Stele was our next stop, partially because it’s mostly covered, but also because it was pretty damn cool. A ‘stele’ is a stone tablet or monument, in this case inscribed with religious and academic texts in various forms of Chinese script. This temple housed the most complete version of the record of all Chinese characters – a large room full of huge stone tablets covered in tiny characters. The sheer number of characters and the time it must have taken to carve each one so perfectly was hard to fathom. In the rooms displaying tablets with buddhist texts, poems, and pictures, workers were covering the stones with paper and patting on ink with large round sponges to create prints for tourists and devotees to purchase.
Stop 3: Muslim Quarter for Dinner
Xian has a large Chinese Muslim population, and our professor helped us to locate the Muslim Quarter in the city for dinner. We ate one of the local famous dishes, a hearty beef or lamb broth with filled small pieces of bread. It definitely wasn’t my favorite food option so far, but very filling. Wandering through the small smoky streets of the neighborhood did a number on my lungs, but it was worth it to see all the different traditional foods and wares that were being sold – I personally purchased one of the palest (the seeds were almost white) and most delicious pomegranates I’ve ever had.
(Unofficial) Stop 4: Very Weird British Bar
On the walk back to the hotel, our group (sans professor) decided to stop at a bar to check out the nightlife in Xian. We climbed many flights of stairs to a weird British-themed spot that included a special bar where you could order neon drinks in an IV bag and drip them into your glass, or, presumably, your mouth. As tempting as that was, we opted to head back to the hotel and play some ping-pong instead.