Across Continents

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Troublesome tourist

November 17th, 2010

I wasn’t being a good tourist. Not even mid-morning and I’d be politely, but firmly, rebuffed for not paying proper attention. To the amusement of my fellow English speaking travellers. Then there’d been the various souvenir shops. Hadn’t spent as much as a single Yuan. As much for reasons of practicality as pure taste. Hadn’t really got room in the panniers for a replica Terracotta Warrior. And jade’s not quite my thing. Doesn’t go with any of my outfits.

Kelly - web

It had started with a late night phone call. Said her English name was “Kelly”. I’d heard about these sort of things. Did I speak Chinese, she enquired. A brief pause. “No” I replied. She wanted to meet. Eight thirty next morning. In the lobby. She’d be my tour guide. I was relieved.

Tour group - web

We were a small group. Jesse from Delaware, US, Clive and a friend from the UK, and a French couple. All seasoned travellers. Jesse spending time in Taiwan learning Mandarin. Languages, I discovered as the day went on, were definitely his thing. Fluent French, impeccable accent. Later he’d admitted to a smattering of Spanish. You just knew this’d be an ever so small understatement. Clive had travelled to China by train, meeting up with his friend, an old work colleague, in Hong Kong. And the French couple on a research exchange with a Shanghai University.

There’d been a visit to the Big Goose Pagoda, Banpo Neolithic village, a jade factory, and a pretty decent lunch. But I think what we were really interested in, intrigued by, was the Terracotta Warriors. And we weren’t disappointed.

Terracotta warriors - web

The vast majority of the Warriors are housed inside “Pit One”. It ressembles a large aircraft hangar. Not just the shape. But also the size. The largely natural lighting casts an almost mystical hue over the arranged army. Discovered by chance in 1974, not a single soldier intact, their restoration a testament to patience. Foot soldiers. Generals. Horses.

The General - web

[Author’s note: Xi’an is tourist territory, and prices reflect this. A full day tour, including transport, lunch, and entry tickets for sites such as the Big Goose Pagoda and Terracotta Warriors costs about £40. But, despite my natural reticence to part with cash, worth it. You could make your own (cheaper) arrangements, but then you’d miss out on a guide, and quite a bit more as a result.

Replica Terracotta Warriors – in various sizes – are readily available. Full size, including shipping, comes in at about £1000. Excluding the six litres of Superglue you’ll need to reassemble it….]

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