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Monday 12 Jun
Xian, China

A 2000 year old army.

Xian's premiere tourist attraction is the 2000 year old army of terracotta warriors. We took the overnight train from Beijing. As Mum and Dad were still with us we went 'soft sleeper' (Chinese top class train travel). We had a plush four berth compartment with comfy beds. Each bed had it's own TV and they even provided us with slippers. Now why can't we travel like this more often?!

We didn't really know a lot about Xian other than as the home of the terracotta soldiers so we were surprised at how modern the city was. It's even more modern than Beijing, with state of the art shopping malls and huge billboards advertising Christian Dior perfume overlooking the main square. The women are incredibly stylish, and my zip off walking trousers certainly aren't cutting it here.

In contrast to the shiny new capitalist city there's an interesting Islamic quarter with an impressive mosque , antiques market (much of it fake), and restaurants tucked away in the back streets. The back alleys are lined with various interesting Chinese medicine shops, numerous sellers of song birds in tiny bamboo cages flexing their vocal muscles, and restaurants serving weird jelly like substances and kebabs.

The day we visited the terracotta army it poured down. For such a modern city there doesn't seem to be any drainage or sewage facilities, so the streets were flooded in no time, and we had to drive through rivers of water to get there. We'd heard mixed reports about the terracotta warriors, some people saying it was a bit of a let down. Personally I can't understand how anyone can fail to be impressed. It's huge. They've estimated the mausoleum holds over 8000 life sized warriors and horses in battle formation. All with individual faces. They are divided in to ranks of archers, soldiers and officers and when they were originally built they wore the traditional weapons of the day. Most of the weapons were raided by rival groups at the time but there's still some on show in the museum.

It's even more impressive when you realise the army took 40 years to build and was finished in 210 BC, for Emperor Qin Shi Huang who wanted to preserve his power in the afterlife. I think Britain was still in the Iron Age making basic swords at the time. We certainly weren't designing life like terracotta armies.

The army was discovered about 30 years ago by a farmer, and the old guy still signs the history books in the museum shop today! Probably because the poor guy never got any money from the government for the discovery, so his family keep wheeling him out for the book signings. Most of the figures were destroyed in various wars but since their discovery rows of soldiers have been restored. Like much of China the mausoleum is still a working site, and it's as interesting to see the half unearthed soldiers as the fully restored ones. The archaeologists have recently stopped excavating some areas because they've found figures painted beautiful colours. The colour disappears after contact with air within three days so they don't want to uncover any more figures until they have the technology. It'll be interesting to see what it will look like in another 30 years.

We said goodbye to Mum and Dad in Xian as they were heading to the Yangtze River and we were getting on a train to Chengdu, to catch a flight to Tibet. I can't believe we're not going to see them for another six months. Our time in China together has flown by.

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