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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