26 July 2007

Warriors, Pandas, and Photos...Oh, My!

The Great Wall exhausted us, but there was no rest for the wicked. The next morning we were scheduled to leave for a three-day excursion to Xian and Chengdu, so off we went...

When we arrived in Xian, we booked a car for the day. It was the only option that was really feasible since we were only allowing ourselves 8 hours before flying on to Chengdu. Our driver, Lee, was sweet and moderately conservative in his driving. I think he was the only person I rode with in China who used an indicator.

Anyway, we were on a mission to see the Terracotta Warriors to their fullest extent. Emperor Qin had an entire army cast out of terracotta as part of his tomb around 210BC. Each warrior is life-sized and slightly different, so they really appear to be real people. Qin was buried with the army of warriors, but the overthrowing empire destroyed many of the warriors when it found the tomb. The tomb was only discovered in modern times in the 1970's when someone was drilling in the area.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there are three buildings with separate pits. Archaeologists are still actively working in two of the pits. I found the largest one the most interesting. At one end, reassembled warriors and horses have been placed in formation. In the middle, archaeologists are clearly still recovering debris. At the far end, visitors can see the steps taken to reconstruct the warriors and horses. There are bins of hands, busts, heads, etc. along side parts of warriors with reconstruction material exposed. It was very cool, and the grounds have been beautifully laid out and maintained with local flora.

We made a quick stop in Xian and then dashed back to the airport to catch our flight to Chengdu.

In Chengdu, we stayed at a wicked cool hostel called the Loft. (Can you tell I just spent 10 days with a New Englander?) It's an old printing factory converted into three floors of rooms and a floor of common space. The way they integrated the indoor and outdoor spaces brought back fond memories of places like the cloud forest of Ecuador.

The Loft helped us accomplish our next mission: PANDAS! Early the next morning, we went to the breeding research station just outside Chengdu. The first hour was disappointing as all the pandas were sleeping. And then came feeding time! We happened to be in the area with 10-month old panda cubs when the keepers came out to wake them for feeding. I scored a front row, center stage spot for the "show." The pandas chased their keepers up and down slides and around the grounds. They practiced climbing trees and attempted to climb their keepers in the name of food. They were very, very cute. Unfortunately, Tracy and I were not able to handle the pandas as we'd been told. For some strange reason, there was no one at the area for petting despite the large amount of money we were willing to pay.

The next day, we went to the local plaza and Mao statue on our way to the airport. Tracy was truly the star for the day! She stepped up for me to take her picture by the statue, and suddenly a crowd formed. She had her picture taken with probably 20 people. One proud father even had his young son pose with her. She was a real trooper!

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