Tiny Little Eunuchs and Beautiful Muslim Dancing Boys
I know it is my fault for not learning enough (tell the truth, any) Mandarin before coming to China, I know, but sometimes I get frustrated by the language barrier. Case in point - since the day we arrived here (3 days now) we have been telling the women at the front counter that we want to go on the tour to see the Tomb of Han Jing.
"Yes we know that there needs to be a minimum of 3 people to go, but another woman has already put up a note saying she wants to go, but oh maybe she doesn't want to go and we should check in again tonight, oh it is night time now, can we go on the tour, oh check in again in the morning, good morning, can we go on the tour, damn it is cancelled, well how about tomorrow, you will see if the driver will take just the two of us? OK thanks for trying."
Half an hour later we are sitting in the cafe, awaiting a leisurely breakfast (only leisurely because if you order the mexican breakfast it appears someone has to take a quick flight to mexico to get it for you - no one else's eggs take over 20 minutes to arrive.) when in comes the driver, looking panicky, wondering why we aren't at the front waiting for him. We try hurrying the breakfast up and the woman at the counter gets snarky with us for being late for the tour (do not even try to explain why it isn't our fault - just smile and nod), finally the no-nonsense tour driver barges into the kitchen and starts yelling in Mandarin, breakfast arrives immediately, including the undercooked potatoes.
Grumbling aside, what a pleasure the tour was. Way less crowded than the terra-cotta warriors, way nicer buildings, more informative in most every way. Good times for all 3 of us on the tour (yes indeed the other person signed up did want to go). Han Jing was an Emperor of the Han Dynasty. He was a Taoist who made plenty of reforms to the army, judiciary and bureaucracy. He and his Empress are buried in the gigantic plot of land about an hour outside Xi'an. So far mostly just the burial plots outside of the two main earthen mounds have been dug up. Thousands of 40-50cm tall terra-cotta figurines. Male, Female, Eunuchs, Soldiers, Workers, Bureaucrats, tiny little clothes and furniture and weapons. It is like a giant ancient death-defying doll house really. When you enter the excavated burial pits you walk into this hole out in the middle of a field, down down down into this totally modern, fancy-ass, climate controlled museum. You even have to put little shoe condoms on the protect the environment. The signage, and the electronic tour guide were well done (our tour guide hooked us up and then just grunted directions at us). Just the main museum was worth the price of the tour, but then we went and saw the rebuilt southern gate (Big wall enclosing the grounds with gates on each side, most of the walls and gates totally destroyed by time and looters.) and another museum full of all the little bits and pieces that have been dug up. Little tiny arrows, mini belt buckles, and these terra-cotta figures that were built to be sitting on terra-cotta horses - very bow legged.
The ride to and from the Tomb was through the industrial outskirts of Xi'an, and that was a wee bit bleak, mostly because the air pollution today was the worst it has been so far. I would guess things become invisible at about 1km. But by 500m things were really hazy. As we drove through all the factory land (including a huge power plant belching out exhaust) it just seemed sort of hopeless. Like if Eeyore was an environmental state. I am wondering about lowered crop yields. Between the reduced solar radiation hitting the ground, and then the thick layer of dirt and grime on the leaves you have to think there would be some sort of effect.
Once we were back at the hostel, little Ms Energy Pants wanted to head right out. Just on the other side of the wall from our Hostel there is a little 5 stall food fair going on for the New Year. We ate this totally spicy noodle soup full of undercooked lentils, tofu, tomato, lettuce, and peanuts. All the dry ingredients are sitting out the counter in cardboard bowls, you point to the one you want and they dump it into this wire mesh basket and dunk it in a big pot of boiling water, then back into your cardboard bowl and add the salty sauce, the nutty sauce and the spicy sauce. It came with this slab of really pink bologna looking stuff, but Morag and I had it picked out. A few stalls down were these 3 teenage boys selling shish-ka-bobs and these big, flat, stale sesame breads, (really tasty when crumbled up in the spicy broth.) One of the boys in the bread and meat booth wasn't actually cooking or serving he was just shaking his booty. He was dancing to this beat heavy, eurasian sounding, indian sounding, loud loud music. He was really into it, and though when I complemented him he blushed, he didn't stop.
From there we walked a long long way to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. We had to walk about 5km ( i wanted to say "walked and walked" but poopy pants here said that was hyperbole, and simply not true, so fine, 5k.) We were definitely out of the down-town core. Many of the stores were still closed, but we passed a whole street of pet and aquarium stores (later we stood next to a boy on the bus who had got himself a mouse) The Pagoda Compound was surrounded by a big history and culture park, and a long, wide, series of fountains. Tons of people were just strolling around with their families. Plenty of tacky tourist/fairground junk for sale, lots of people staring at us, we got photographed by a whole gang 20 somethings and had a nice afternoon.
Dinner was back to the Muslim Quarter - delicious cold noodles and Ice Peak Orange Soda. Bought souvenirs, ate some peanut halva (like a crunchy bar without the chocolate) then back to the hostel.