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China

The Terracotta Army!!

Terrocotta warriors, Shaanxi Museum & Big Goose Pagoda fountain show!

As one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th century we were all super excited about seeing the Terracotta Army. Dan and I had been to see the few that visited the British museum a few years before but to be in the actual place and to get a gauge of the sheer size and vastness of the site would put it in perspective.

The site that can be visited by tourists consists of 3 pits which have been excavated to reveal the warriors and then had impressive buildings built over the top to keep out the elements, so you would not expect what's inside. It is really touristy here with hoards of people, stalls and even a subway. It was quite a shock though when we saw what appeared to be cat skin scarfs on several of the stalls along with wolf skins which could also have been Alsatian!

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The Terracotta Army was part of the tomb of the first Emperor Qin Shinhung. He believed they would protect him in the afterlife and it took 38 years for 720 people to build the army and the tomb. The tomb is located between a river which has gold and a mountain that had jade so it was selected as the perfect resting place for an Emperor. The tomb itself has been left unopened out of respect for the Emperor but also for safety as it is meant to have a mercury river inside and is also said to be booby trapped. All the workers who knew about the traps in the tomb were locked inside when it was closed so they died taking its secrets with them. They were not the only ones trapped inside as the 1000 wives of the Emperor and some sacred animals such as cranes and deer were also sent to join the Emperor in the afterlife. Quite impressive commitment but I have to say I don't think I'd follow Dan by being buried alive in a tomb with him but I'm not sure the Emperors wives had much choice!

The first pit we visited was the largest with 2000 warriors uncovered but an estimated 6000 are thought to be buried in pit 1 alone, along with horses and carriages too! It definitely surpassed expectations and even standing there it was still impossible to fathom the sheer numbers.

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Majority of the warriors had been broken as the roof of the pit was built from wood and over time the roof decayed and collapsed and so it is quite a pain stacking task to piece them back together.

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The detail on each warrior is incredible from the hair to the finger nails and each one has its own unique face.

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A couple of terracotta warriors had been found several times in the past but no one realised their significance or the vast scale until the discovery made by a lucky farmer in 1974, with the largest pit being uncovered in 1976. When the warriors were discovered they were painted vibrant colours but over time the colour has faded and so now they are not uncovering more warriors to preserve them.

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We looked around some of the stalls after lunch before heading to the Shaanxi museum. I ve become a bit obsessed by all the kites in China and which means "Lets go fly a kite" from Mary Poppins is constantly in my head, although it doesn't always stay there! I also love my Kung Fu Panda t shirt!
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At the Shaanxi museum we learnt more about the different dynasties and how the Silk Road developed resulting in the sharing of cultures from east to west and vice versa. There was some really cool stuff in there including a small craving of a tiger which was split in half, the Emperor kept one half and his second in command had the other half. Commands could only be given to and accepted by the army when both halves had come together, to prove it was a decision from those in charge. I also liked this Gold Monster that represents an angel with longevity.

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The final stop of the day was the Big Goose Pagoda. It got its name because a monk who went to India to get more texts of wisdom about Buddhism to bring back to China got lost in the desert on his way home. As it got to the point of despair a flock of migrating geese flew over head and lead him back safely. The Pagoda is famous for its fountain and light show which happens every evening, which we crammed in with the crowds to watch. It felt like Christmas with all the lights and music as we huddled together in the cold night air.

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Tomorrow is Panda day!!!

Sxxx

Posted by doyledan 05:13 Archived in China Comments (0)

Tour of Xi'an City and Karoke night!

This morning we all felt refreshed and ready for the next excursion having had a free day to recharge and sort out odds and ends. With an early start we travelled into the centre of Xi'an with the intention of seeing the City wall, Bell and Drum Tower and Muslim Quarter.

First stop was the City Wall which is 14km long and was the protective wall for this ancient capital of China. I hadn't realised before but we were going to be cycling along the wall which I was looking forward to, having mainly walked everywhere it would be a nice change. It was a cold morning and I was happy to see a coffee vendor was open as we entered the North gate, the rest of the group was too so we all purchased our hot drinks. Luckily for us in the interim a performance was being prepared which represented the traditional mixture of drumming and acrobatics that the original guards of the city would perform for the emperor as part of the morning service.

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When we finished we made our way to the cycles and was pleasantly surprised to find out that they had tandem bikes. We paired up and were on our way with Ronnie our guide who was an intern for I-to-I. The views were not particulary spectacular but the size of the wall meant we had plenty of time to joke around and take a few select photos. With the occasional interspersed race between bikes, attempts to take a timed action photo with Sarah trying to run as fast as she could to get on the bike before the time ran out and the groups attempts to outdo the Chinese acrobatic show it was a fun morning and we worked up an appetite for lunch.

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Before we left the City Wall we saw a couple who look like they were having a wedding photo. In China the bride traditionally wears red instead of white, Sarah was able to take good photo of them which I think would rival any wedding photographer.

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The next sightseeing opportunity was the Bell Tower which is centrally located within the City Wall and offers great views of the busy streets. Looking out at the city it was clear that westernisation had taken over the main part of Xi'an with shopping malls and Starbucks and KFC on the main pedestrian areas. The tower in ancient history was used much like Big Ben in London as a indicator for the time. It would strike every three hours in the daytime and the Drum Tower would be used during the evening to indicate the time as well.

Inside the Bell Tower we watched a traditional musical performance and dance, The instruments included were a sit down like guitar and one string standing violin instrument as well as bells for percussions. Sarah and I were able to identify our Chinese calendar animal as the scrolls of each year decorated the wall space. Sarah's was the rat and mine was the Ox, which apparently are quite compatible.

The Ox
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The Rat
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Unfortunately the Drum Tower was not open so we went on to the Muslim Quarter which takes it's name after the travelling Muslim's who trekked across the Silk Road to trade goods with the Chinese would set up shop within these small streets. There were all kinds of souvenirs, t-shirts, bags, jewellery on offer for you to bargain the best price. The common practice for bargaining is the seller will offer a price which is normally ludicrously over priced and then you make an offer that is quarter of that and keep feigning interest until you get that price or near to it. It's a bit of bitch process when you just want to grab something on your way through. My advance, leave time and know the exchange rate of what you are prepared to pay for it.

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We were all ready for dinner by this point and we decided to buy our own food in and I offered to cook a stir fry for everyone. Luckily our guide Peter was happy to help in the market to get the food and then he offered to help me cook it. So I prepared the food and he cooked it. To be fair to cook for 9 people is tricky at the best of times in your own kitchen but in someone else's it would of been quite stressful so I was thankful for the help.

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Earlier we had gone to the supermarket with the intention on getting a bit of alcohol to boost the inhibitions as it was Karaoke night. Unfortunately it didn't go to plan as our guide told us we bought rice wine which I can tell you does not go down well even with a mixer..!!

The karaoke was such a laugh. We were taken to this lavish building that had loads of separates rooms with a sort of alcohol kiosk in the main reception where you could by imported drinks.

At first Jackie took the reigns and showed us her skills singing Hey Jude, aptly chosen for Jude who was on our trip (something many people before have made the connection between the two of them, which we joked about the next day) it was a great start as Jackie had a great voice and we all sang along doing the standard Na Na Na Na Na's and waving our arms in a BBC Proms night fashion. As the night went on we swapped around taking turns to have a go. The library wasn't very eclectic, made up of mainly pop songs but there was enough for us to be entertained and even our guide's Peter and Ronnie got involved. At one point Katy Perry's firework came on and the girls were all dancing, and later Sam, Peter and I danced around to a Asian version of The Beatles Yellow Submarine. Sarah and I performed a song by the boy band 'Five', I selected it thinking it would take us back to our teenage days for a good laugh.

Peter and Sam became bad bro romancer's after singing into each other's faces Lady Gaga's Bad Romance which was hilarious to watch. It was a great night and one to remember.

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Tomorrow would be our trip to the Terrcotta Warriors.

Stay tuned for more tales.......

Dan

Posted by doyledan 03:39 Archived in China Comments (0)

Welcome break in X'ian


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When we arrived last night in X'ian it was a welcome surprise to find out we would be spending our time here in the volunteer apartment with all the comforts of home...TV, DVDs, washing machine and sit down toilets!! It was good to chill out with some noodles and a movie, Ted is awesome! Watch it if u haven't already particularly if you grew up watching Flash Gordan.

The next day was free to relax, stock up on supplies, laundry and a bit of sewing!

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The Chinese hot pot comes from X'ian and in the evening we went to have one. We each had an individual burner to heat our stock and once it was bubbling away we added slices of beef, mushrooms, noodles and greens to cook which we then fished out (some more successfully than others, mushrooms are slippery particularly with chopsticks) and dipped in either a garlic or peanut sauce. Yum! Yum!

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The only way to let such a great meal go down was obviously to relax with a foot massage! Some parts were more relaxing than others and the girls seemed to take great pleasure in making Dan and Sam squirm a bit and pummelling their feet! There were some interesting techniques and mine used her ponytail to brush my hands which was a bit weird!

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We were definitely ready now to explore X'ian in the morning!!

Posted by doyledan 06:28 Archived in China Comments (0)

Longman Grottos and travel to Xi'an


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Today was our last day in the province of Hunan which we were told was the most densely populated of all with the population being 94 million people!

Before we left we were taken to a beautiful river called Yi River that had along its banks the longman grottos. These grottos were carved out of the rocks to house different budda's from many dynasties in China's history. Before the tour began the girls wanted to show off the Kung fu stance despite the aching legs!

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As we walked along the riverbank we were blessed with sunshine and a cool breeze and the postcard pictures were easy to find.

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The grottos were really fascinating and Shelley our guide told us that how to identify which dynasties each budda originated from as the grottos spread across many different eras. We were told that being fat was a sign of wealth and considered attractive which is represented by three chins on the budda. The sheer number of grottos was something to marvel and each one had varying sizes of budda's carved into the rock ranging from a few cm's in height to 6 to 7 metres high.

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One of the grottos was famous because it contained 15,000 individual budda's

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We passed a famous rock in which was called the lotus rock named after their national flower and it was a perfect opportunity for a group shot.

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The best was saved to last as we climbed up the 40 or so steps to see the largest budda of them all standing 17 metres high. The Fengxiansi cave was cut by Li Zhi of the Tang Dynasty and was originally coloured when it was first made. Over time the colours had faded but every evening a light show would be projected onto the rocks to show the original design. Sadly the picture we got was not ours but a photo plaque, but you get the gist.

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And to top it all off Jo got stung by a bee and we travelled on our first bullet train which were all glad to take as it cut our travel time down by 4 hours.

Next stop would be Xi'an and we still had terracotta warrior's to come!! It's been a whirlwind tour so far but we have had a great time and we as a group have been getting on really well, so no excuses of shyness for karaoke night!!

Posted by doyledan 06:19 Archived in China Comments (0)

Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting...

Shaolin Temple


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We had a day of travelling from Ti'an to Zhengzhou with most of our time on an 8 hour train ride. In the morning the haze had cleared enough for us to see the mountain in Ti'an that people come to climb.
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It takes 6 hours to climb to the summit but each year they have a race and the fastest person reached the top in 59 minutes!
We'd stocked up on snacks, managed to find our seats on the train and settled into the trip.
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We past the time playing cards, much to the locals fascination as they tried to work out what games we were playing sitting at very close quarters to get a good look, personal space seems to be an unknown context. The train soon became rammed with people, kids, sacks and bags of all shapes and sizes and each station they somehow managed to cram more on. Luckily we had reserved seats although Dan was sat opposite a kid who coughed in his face for the whole journey!

The next morning we went to the Shaolin Temple, the home of Kung Fu, where we would get to see the pros in action as well as take a 4 hour Kung Fu lesson ourselves!

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We arrived early enough to see the training sessions taking place which was an impressive sight. What seemed like 100s of boys/men in formation practicing different skills and techniques were around every corner and you could hear their cries and shouts and the resounding stamp of their feet as they carried out their moves in unison.

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They start their training from as young as 3 years old to build up their flexibility and strength and it was incredible to see them doing back flips and splits on the stone floor of the training ground.

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We were also amazed by the show that was put on by the Shaolin monks, after we battled the crowds to get our seats first!

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The Shaolin Temple itself had several unique features compared to the other temples we had visited. One impressive one was a tree which had been used by the monks to practice their Kung Fu moves. The holes in the tree had been made by their fingers as they struck it over time!

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At one point practising Kung Fu outside was banned by the Emperor and so the monks were forced to practice inside and dips have formed where they repeated their moves on the same spot each day.

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Pagodas of the monks were also in the grounds and could have up to 7 levels depending on how many followers they had and the wisdom that they had imparted. One of them was of a modern monk and his pagoda had symbols of a car and computer on the side!

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It was now our turn to try to learn some Kung Fu!!!

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Posted by doyledan 23:34 Archived in China Comments (0)

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