Sleeper Trains & Terracotta Warriors

Friday evening, we hopped on the sleeper train to Xi’an and to see the Terracotta Warriors. I had some reservations about the 16-hour journey; my thoughts were that the train would be extremely dirty, we’d end up with a couple of obnoxious drunks in our cabin, and that I would not be able to sleep. I am pleased to say that we experienced none of the above.

Our car was split up into 10 – 12 cabins with four bunks in each. Bill and I had the two bottom bunks, which were basically like single beds and comfortable. They were a bit shabby, but had clean sheets, blankets, and pillows. Two brothers were in the upper bunks; one a policeman. They spoke some English and were pleasant and friendly. The policeman had a girlfriend in the next cabin who came over and spoke with Bill in English for quite a while. After she left, all four of us pretty much fell asleep to the rhythm of the rails and woke up after the dining car had closed for the evening; no supper for us. Luckily we had some fruit and munchies on board with us and that was just enough to make it through the evening.

We arrived in Xi’an around 8:00 am and were met by some friends of a friend from Changzhou. Proud owners of a medium-sized Buick, they drove us to a restaurant just outside of town where we had a huge breakfast of fish soup, sardine salad, mushrooms, and vegetable dumplings. I was so hungry I ate about twice as much as I usually would have, and was very satisfied. Then, we headed off to see the Terrracotta Warriors at the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, China’s first Emperor.

Qin wanted to recreate the imperial palace in which he lived to protect him in the afterlife so he had over 8,000 soldiers along with horses, chariots, and other figures – all out of terracotta (“baked earth” in Italiano} clay, and each one unique in its characteristics. Apparently, over 700,000 workers, most of them prisoners and slaves, toiled for years to build the figures and surroundings, with many of them dying in the process. Very high levels of mercury have been measured in the area and the conjecture is that shimmering rivers were simulated using the toxic liquid metal. There is still much of the mausoleum that has not been excavated, so many surprises still await discovery. It’s truly fascinating; you can find out more about it at these sites: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terracotta_Armyhttp://whc.unesco.org/pg.cfm?cid=31&id_site=441, and http://www.china-family-adventure.com/xian-terracotta-army.html.

After the warriors, we were dropped off at the Xi’an airport for a trip back to Bejing. We got back to Bill’s apartment quite late (after a rather wayward taxi ride), grabbed about two hours of sleep and shower, and then returned to the Beijing airport for the trip back to the US. I had a few tears in my eyes when I left them; it was such a special and wonderful experience and it reminded me all the reasons I left my sales rep job a couple of years ago after a very similar experience in Vietnam.

Traveling and sharing music, the English language, and American culture to people around the world, learning about other’s cultures and countries, and making new friends is truly what I wish to be my life’s work. At the age of 56, I feel I have at least 20 years left in which to pursue these dreams; stay tuned . . .

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