The Vain Emperor, a Vast Clay Army, and Mercury-Laden Tombs

Of course, you must see the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi’An. I mean – why else would you go there on a weekend?

I smothered my alarm with a groan, rolling over and popping quickly into the bathroom to change into my attire for the day. When I came back, very cute German guy greets me with a sleepy “good morning.” Well, now it was!

I had breakfast in the hostel cafe downstairs, admiring the artwork of many visitors on the walls and ceiling. I met my tour group at the sister hostel down the street, and let me tell you – it was raining. Not just raining, but camels and horses kind of raining. The day was chilly, bone-numbing, and densely rainy.

We met in our van, rolling out to the warriors, which are a cool 45 minutes to hour away from Xi’An proper. Our first stop involved us getting out at a local restaurant, getting picked up by a separate bus, then herded through turnstiles with our tickets, then boarding another bus to take us to the Emperor’s tomb. We weren’t allowed all the way out there, and since the day was so rainy and foggy, you couldn’t actually see the tomb’s mound. Thus, we stood, shivering, barely covered by thin ponchos and umbrellas, to look at a mound of earth laden with booby-traps and mercury which we couldn’t actually see. The tomb had never been opened because of this. We wondered why we bothered coming out there at all, given the kind of day it was, but whatever. There was nobody else there. It was easy to see why.

Now, reverse the process above, and we were heading over to the Terra Cotta Warriors. Again, we walked and walked and walked and walked and maybe walked more before got through all the kitschy stalls selling fake warriors, Buddha statues, beads, and those weird wooden frogs that sound like they’re croaking when you run a stick over their bumpy backs. We reached one of the first pits of warriors, which meant that most of them were broken because the protective ceiling had caved in. Also, bazillions of people were there, so yeah – it’s hard to get close enough to tell what anything is.

However, there was a small museum in there with the best pieces, so I got to see the kneeling Archer, which is my favorite piece. Yesterday, I’d bought a small statuette of one – only to open it and find out that it was one I had to “excavate” myself from the fake stone surrounding it. Ain’t nobody got time for dat – so it’s going to become a Christmas present really quickly.

The second pit wasn’t very exciting either – again, some statues but mainly broken ones or ones being excavated soon. The last pit is the best one – with the most put together warriors that stretch end upon end. All at attention of the Emperor. They are all different, too, each one. Also, when the sculptor would finish with one of them, the Emperor had him killed. Now that’s a great work ethic.

You have to be very aggressive with the crowds, who will take the same picture over and over again or stand in the best spots with the selfie stick and adjust their hair a million times before it’s “perfect”, so be ready to throw some elbows and push into tight spaces. Also be ready to defend your territory against those who will quickly depose you of your spot given any chance to do so. I stood in my stop for ages despite the jostling crowds, as I wanted a darn good picture of this world treasure.

Once we survived the strangling crowds, we had a nice local lunch at a restaurant and started our journey back. It was still awful outside, but I went to the super-fun Starbucks in the city centre and had a hot coffee to warm up a bit. I wandered a little in the city, visited a mall just to stay dry, and eventually, the sun started to peek out a little bit.

Thank goodness for that!

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