China pt 8 - To Buy or Not To Buy

Shaanxi Provincial History Museum

The Terracotta Warriors were a tough act to follow. But our last day in Xian was filled with fascinating things.

We started by going to the Shaanxi Provincial Museum. It features incredible artifacts encompassing the entire history of the region, from neolithic times through the Ming Dynasty. It is housed in a modern building with a spacious layout. Even though there were more people here than anywhere else that we visited in Xian it was still easy to view all of the exhibits. The primary displays were in Chinese but there was enough English that international travelers were able to learn about and enjoy them as well. Or at least I enjoyed them. Shannon would zoom through an exhibit. Then Sandy would join her. I would take my time and read everything. Finally I would finish an area and they would be waiting for me patiently. Well, usually patiently. But I could have spent a lot more time. There was so much to see and learn about.

Sandy checks out the neolithic jewelry display

They had a section on prehistoric humans in the area with a lot of artifacts recovered from the Banpo site we had visited the day before. One display showed how the first primitive markings on pottery evolved toward Chinese writing. There was a lot of bowls, pottery and tools. They even had a display of jewelry from 7000 years ago. I think that was Sandy's favorite.

Of course there was a huge display area for the Qin dynasty. One section featured very large bronze castings which highlighted the skill they had working with bronze over 2000 years ago. Making a chariot axle out of a single bronze casting certainly didn't look easy. I'm always an engineer I guess. There was some amazing gold artwork on display as well. There were lots of gold statues. One display from an ancient Qin tomb showed gold coins that weighed a quarter of a kilogram each. And there were at least 30 coins in the display (which came from a total of 219 coins that were found in the tomb). That is a pretty big pile of gold - not even counting its value as an antiquity. And of course there was a squad of Terracotta Warriors.

On the city wall with the Bell Tower in the background

They had a lot of pottery and statuary from the Tang dynasty too. But things that old usually look really old. Many of the items shown at this museum were brightly colored and looked new. I couldn't figure out from the description if they had been restored or had just been remarkably well preserved. It gave a different perspective. You have to remember that when you are seeing very old things that they don't look the way they did when they were new. Especially stuff that is over a thousand years old. But these vases were extremely beautiful.

By the time I got to the Ming dynasty artifacts I was getting pretty jaded. That stuff was only 500 or 600 years old. Big deal. There was so much amazing stuff in the museum that after a while my mind just couldn't absorb any more.

Kathy, Shannon and Sandy at the Bell Tower

After the museum we went to visit the Xian city wall. Xian has the best preserved defensive wall of any city in China. Many walls were built in or near Xian over the years that it served as the capital of China. The current wall was actually constructed after the capital moved to Beijing, 600 years ago during the Ming dynasty (yup, the same guys who did so much of the work on the Great Wall). The wall completely surrounds the central city and is in excellent condition. The perimeter of the wall is 11.5 kilometers and it encloses 15 square kilometers of the central city. The wall is 12 meters high, 15-18 meters thick. It was surrounded by a deep moat that is still in place on at least one side. Each of the four long sections of the wall has a huge gate in the middle. There is a modern four-lane highway passing through each of the gates (they're big gates) and these four roads meet in the exact center where the Bell Tower is located. Above each gate is a large defensive structure which served as a headquarters and a garrison for troops. Along the wall there is an arrow tower every 120 meters for its entire length. It is one of the best preserved examples of a complete ancient defensive structure in Asia.

We visited the South Gate. The south section of the wall has had the most restoration work. It is in incredible shape and is an imposing fortress. First we went inside the South Gate defensive building. There were tourist shops there and we looked for some of the items that we had seen but not purchased at the gift shop the day before (the folks we were mad at). We didn't find them. Then we went out onto the wall itself. The wall is quite wide and you can walk the entire distance around it. You can even rent bikes and ride around it. But after our Great Wall hike, we were content to take some photos. There is a beautiful view looking down the highway that passes through the gate and goes to the Bell Tower at the exact center of the city. Just outside the South Gate was an impressive looking traditional Chinese building with a restaurant and hotel in it. Kathy told us that itg was only a year old but had deliberately been built to fit the Ming style of the city wall.

Then it was time for lunch. We went to a restaurant near the city center. We had a variety of noodle dishes that I thought were pretty good. And once again, we had too much for us to finish.

Some terracotta warriors get a modern modeling gig

From there we walked to the Bell Tower. It is at the center of a huge intersection where the two major east-west and north-south roads of the city cross. There is a huge busy traffic circle which surrounds it. Reminded me a little of the Arch of Triumph and the Place Charles de Gaulle in Paris. We found a stairway that took us down to a pedestrian tunnel that went completely around the Bell Tower. On the opposite side was a huge pedestrian square completely below street level and invisible from above. And across the square was a Starbucks, where we went to take a break before our afternoon activities.

While we were there we had Kathy call the lady at the jade factory. Although we had really liked the screens we saw there the day before, after a lot of deliberation we had decided sleep on it. And when we got up this morning, Sandy said she had decided to pass. But during the morning the sales lady had called and said that they had a slow month and would sell at their cost. So we thought for a long time again. The screens were beautiful and different. We thought they would really look nice in our place in Singapore. But they weren't cheap. We decided we would make an offer and call the lady back. If she took it fine. Otherwise, we would pass. So while we had our drinks at Starbucks we had Kathy give her a call.

To be continued...

Additional pictures

A BIG lion guarding the entrance to the museum