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Posted on: Aug 4, 2008

Excursion to Xi’an

Sunday was a day off for all of the volunteers, and I traveled with a small group to Xi’an (pronounced She-on). Xi’an is just under two hours from Beijing by air, and is home to the Terracotta Warriors.

We left blue skies! of Beijing around 6am and took a cab to the airport. Without luggage we easily made it through ticketing and security. We had arrived very early – just in case – so we had breakfast at the airport. The only place that was open in our terminal was KFC – that’s right – Kentucky Fried Chicken. The menu was a little different … I ended up having potato stix and a mini burger, which was a small chicken patty sandwich with peppers and “stuff” mixed into the patty. Breakfast of champions, I’m sure.

Before leaving Beijing I almost had my first encounter with the Eastern toilet (see Flickr), but luckily found one Western stall.

On the flight to Xi’an, Air China served a full breakfast, so we ate several times. I selected the “Western” breakfast which was egg, broccoli, tomato, a sausage link, roll, jam and fruit.

We landed safely in Xi’an and needed to figure out how to get to the Terracotta Warriors about an hour away. We stumbled on a travel kiosk immediately and arranged to rent an air-conditioned van and an English speaking driver for 8 hours at a cost of 900 yuan. That’s about $130, and we divided that among the six of us. Cheap! Within less than 30 minutes from landing, we were on our way to see the Terracotta Warriors.

Tickets to see the Warriors were 90 yuan (about $13 USD) and (including tip) we spent 20 yuan each (just under $3 USD) to have an English speaking tour guide.

The Terracotta Army is amazing! What are they?

Around 246 BC Emperor Qin ordered the construction of a necropolis and army to help him rule in the afterlife. About 700,000 workers built the city and army out of clay – including horses, chariots, generals and soldiers. The finished soldiers are all life-sized and intricately detailed – each one is said to resemble an actual solider of that time. The soldiers are lined up in military formation according to rank, and were originally armed with real weapons.

The city structure was made of wood and sealed after it was completed. Qin had all of the construction workers killed, the plans burned, and the burial ground covered in two meters of terracotta. So, very little is known about the entire Army.

It is suggested that an attack on the army shortly after the Emporer’s death caused a fire and collapsed the the roof and damaged many of the warriors. At that time, the weapons may have also been stolen. Only one soldier survived the attack and time completely unharmed – a kneeling archer.

The army was discovered in 1974 by local farmers who were trying to dig a well. Because of the two meters of terracotta covering the army, the land wouldn’t support growth and was seen as a sandy wasteland.

Modern structures have been built around the army to protect them and to allow archaeologists to reconstruct some of the soldiers. Three pits are currently open to visitors.

Pit 1 is the largest and contains the charioteers and infantrymen. At the eastern end of the pit, there are also three rows of vanguards and then the main body of the battle formation. The outer rows of soldiers face south, north and west to protect the sides of the army.

The soldiers are pale now, but were originally painted in very vibrant colors. Six minutes after being unearthed, the soldiers lose their color. So, most of the soldiers will remain buried until archaeologists learn how to preserve the color.

We left the Army and went to see the Xi’an City Wall, about an hour from the Army location.

The wall was built in 582, in the second year of Emperor Kaihuang’s reign of the Sui Dynasty. It is 12 meters high, 12-14 meters wide across and almost 26 kilometers long. It has a moat, sluice gate, arrow tower, main tower and corner towers, and was designed to create a strict and complicated defense system for the city.

Today you can walk or bike along the wall, and it presents a striking juxtaposition of history. A bustling and major city has erected around the ancient wall.

Xi’an is also home to much of China’s Muslim population. We walked through the markets and down Islamic Street where vendors were selling fresh fruits and snacks – including grasshoper.

I passed.

But we did eat at De Fa Chang, a place famous for its dumplings. We had a 20+ course meal of traditional Chinese “appetizers”, 18 different dumplings and two kinds of soup. Some of the dumplings were artistically arranged to look like, well, what they were – fish, duck, chicken, etc.

We left very, very full and drove another hour back to the airport. Our return fight was delayed about 45 minutes, but we landed safely in Beijing around 11pm. And then straight home and straight to bed.

Volunteer “work” officially begins on Monday with the soft opening of USA House. Luckily, I have the night shift, which begins at 3pm until opening ceremonies. I’m not setting an alarm.

A full day of photos is here. I’ll add comments to them later.


  1. Very cool

  2. Melissa, The other evening Grandma Sandy and I watched Samantha Brown on Travel Channel on her viist to China. We followed her to Xi’an, and she followed the same route as you did, although from Bejing she took a 12 hour sleeper car train ride. And at night in the market area she tried a deep fried Starfish, and liked it. That is so cool that you got to go to the same places, and after watching the show I am even more jealous of you. Now get to “work”. Uncle John

  3. Holy cow, that guy had 700,000 workers killed after he created his monument? That seems a little excessive.

  4. That’s what our tour guide “Anna” said…