Saturday, July 30, 2011

Our Final Chinese Trip

On our way home from China to Utah we decided we needed to make one last trip through China. We hadn't seen the main things we had wanted to see, such as the Great Wall and Terra Cotta Warriors. I think we would have really regretted leaving China without seeing these historical things. We planned a very fast short three day tour through Beijing and Xian before we left back to the US.While waiting in the Shenzhen airport for our flight to Beijing, the restroom had a very clean western toilet but the sign on the door said it was for the "weak only". I guess we are weak because there was no way we were going to use the traditional Chinese squatters.

The airlines was a domestic Chinese airlines so of course we were privileged to be served Chinese food on our last Chinese flight in China. It was 8:30 in the morning and this is what was served. Actually it wasn't that bad but of course Gavin was very leery about eating it with his experience with Chinese food and the various issues it causes after he has eaten it.
Rachel just being her cute goofy self with an orange in her mouth.
We arrived in Beijing around 1:00 in the afternoon and after getting checked into our hotel, we walked to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. We were fortunate to find a hotel that was cheap and only a few blocks away.
This is Tiananmen Square where the massacre occurred in 1989.
At the square they had these communist statues. The kids were imitating the people in the statue.
The Forbidden City in the background is right across the street from Tiananmen Square. It was very sunny but really didn't feel very hot because it was not humid like Shekou.

The Forbidden City is one of their oldest historical sites but has sadly become very commercialized. We walked in through the courtyard and were hounded by vendors. It was rather annoying. You had to pay to actually go through the city but we got there too late to be able to do this.
This is in the courtyard in the Forbidden City. Behind the kids is the paid entrance for the other part of the city that we weren't able to see.
The same night we arrived in Beijing we arranged for an overnight train ride and tour of Xian where the Terra Cotta Warriors are. We had booked this several weeks in advance but were informed that we were only able to get the two upper bunks in three separate rooms. The rooms were rather comfortable and clean for China but we were a little irritated that we were being split up.
Jonny and Rachel were fortunate that the couple in the lower bunks were an older French couple. They just read and listened to their ipods before going to sleep for the night.
Nicole and Coree were placed in a room where two Chinese men were sharing with them. That was very unnerving. Gavin and Vika were sharing with two other Chinese men who asked if they could trade rooms with Nicole and Coree so they could drink and party with the other men. The trade was gladly made so it worked out but could have been a very uncomfortable situation.

The train left at 8:00 at night and arrived in Xian the next morning at 7:30 so we played games and just slept for most of the trip.

We arrived in Xian where we were met by our tour guide for the day at the train station. Breakfast was included with the tour and we were taken to a very dirty Chinese buffet at a nearby hotel, which was not a good situation. We politely but rather sternly requested they take us somewhere else. The bowls and chopsticks were greasy and not clean at all, along with other unsanitary conditions. The tour guide could tell we were quite upset. The sad thing is that the room was filled with other western tourists who were just putting up with the situation but since we had lived in China for three years, we were not going to put up with the dirty conditions. We eventually told the guide to just take us to the closest McDonalds and we would pay for our own breakfast which they did.
Our first stop in Xian was to the Muslim Temple. Muslim is the third largest accepted religion in China. There are numerous Muslim's who live in this area. The Great Mosque is one of the oldest Mosque's in China. It was built in 742 and has been renovated several times over the years and is still used today by the local Muslim's in Xian.
The buildings and structures were amazing with lots of intricate details.
They even had Master Uguay from Kung Fu Panda, at least that is what we told Vika.

This is the prayer room that holds nearly 1200 people who can come to pray 5 times a day.
The gardens in the Mosque were amazing with lots of character.

The building roofs all had animal faces around the edges. We asked why and the guide said that there is a different animal face depending on which direction they are facing.

After visiting the Great Mosque, we walked over to the Drum and Bell towers in Xian. The drum tower was built in 138o during the Ming Dynasty. It was used to alarm the people of danger and also at dusk to signal the passage of time. It isn't used today but now holds the largest drum in China which can be seen in the picture.
Near the Drum Tower are these beautiful gardens filled with flowers.

Across from the Drum Tower is the Bell Tower. The Bell Tower is the center of the city with four major streets going in each direction from the tower. It was built in 1384 by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang as a way to warn the people early of attacks by rival rulers. We were also told that the bell rang every morning to wake the people of the city up.
Of course they have modernized the area around the towers. We had this picture taken in a large courtyard near the towers that was surrounded by modern shops. Isn't the purse backdrop cute? Coree didn't even notice it until she saw the picture after.
The girls just being silly with a statue near the towers.

After the bell towers, we went to the City Wall that surrounds the inner city of Xian. After the Ming Dynasty was established, Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang in the 1380's renovated the old city wall that was originally built during the Tang Dynasty in the 700's. He wanted a higher larger wall built around the entire city to provide more protection. It is the most complete city wall that has survived in China and the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world.

When we arrived at the wall they were putting on a show in one of the courtyards. They had many large drums playing with dancers representing the warriors who protected the city.
The wall stands 40 feet high and is 40-46 feet wide at the top and 50-60 feet thick at the bottom. It is 8.5 miles in length around the inner city with a deep moat surrounding it. The government has required that buildings within the wall in the inner city cannot exceed a certain height to try to keep the historical feel of the ancient city. The outer city buildings of course were all sky scrapers and more modern.

All along the wall and at each corner were buildings where the ancient guards were posted to protect the city.
We decided to rent these tandem bikes to ride on top of the wall around the entire city.

The bike ride started out really fun with the kids going crazy and riding fast but towards the end after riding over 8 miles, we ran out of gas and just wanted to get back to the beginning. It was still pretty cool to be able to ride a bike on top of the wall.
After the wall we were taken to a very nice and clean Chinese buffet for lunch. I guess the guide got the message and made sure we were taken to a nice place this time.

After lunch we headed for an hour drive out to the Terra Cotta Warriors. On the way out to the site the guide told us the story of how the warriors were found. A local farmer was digging a well in 1974 and found the Terra Cotta head of one of the warriors. He was frightened and didn't tell anyone right away but eventually told a professor about it. They later excavated the area and found thousands of warriors. They associated this find to the Qin Dynasty. The first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, became the emperor when he was 13 years old. He was very concerned about his protection and wanted an army of 6,000 warriors to be buried around him upon his death. He initially wanted live warriors to be buried but was advised that that would not be a good idea so he then had life sized Terra Cotta warriors created. Each warrior was created with unique individual characteristics based on live people.

It took over 11 years for these warriors to be built. They were then set up in strategic positions surrounding the emperors tomb.

We asked the guide if the farmer was still alive who had found the first warrior. He said "Yes, he's usually around the museum in the gift shop." We didn't believe him until we got to the site and again asked if the farmer was around. The guide pointed to a building and said he sometimes is sitting in there. He acted like it was no big deal. Again we didn't really believe him but walked into the gift shop and there he was. We were able to get a picture and a signed postcard. Amazing that this one farmer discovered this incredible historical site and is just sitting in the gift shop like it is no big deal.
The first pit of warriors is twice the size of a football field and has over a thousand warriors. It was amazing. The details put into making the actual warriors and then setting them in was incredible. It was like a little boy was playing with his army soldiers but these were actual life size toys.

The above picture shows the arms extended out from some of the warriors. There were wooden chariots in front of them with the warriors holding the reins of the horses but because the chariots were made of wood, they had deteriorated to nothing. Some of the warriors were also holding weapons in their hands which also were made of wood and are no longer visible.

The sign in the lower right hand corner of the picture above is the site where the farming was digging the well.
This picture is of the "hospital" where the warriors are restored.

The second pit was smaller and deeper. The heads are missing from these warriors because they were stolen before the site was secured.

The picture above and pictures below are close ups of actual Terra Cotta Warriors. There were several different types made from the young 16 year old boys who were placed in the front lines, older warriors, generals, and the emperor.

Pit number three shows how many of the warriors were originally found before renovation. They have stopped the renovation and are waiting for better technology in order to preserve the site.
After our visit to Xian we boarded another overnight train back to Beijing. We only were in Xian for the day and boarded the train at 8:00 pm and arrived back in Beijing the next morning at 7:30 where we were met by another tour guide to take us to the Great Wall.
On the way to the Great Wall we passed the Bird's Nest stadium built for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

There are several different areas of the Great Wall to visit but since we were short on time we chose to see one of the more touristy parts that was a few hours drive outside of Beijing. This part of the wall was in the mountains and you had several options on how to get up to the wall section. You could take a gondola, walk, or a chair lift. We chose the chair lift which normally wouldn't be bad if it was in the US but this was a Chinese chair lift which made quite the unnerving ride to the top.

The chair was like an old vinyl chair with slats in it that who knows how old they were.

At the top we had amazing views of the mountains where the wall was built all along the top. Amazing how they would even had gotten the materials up there to build such an enormous structure.

We were able to walk all long the top of the wall which was rather difficult at times because of the uphill climb.

The wall had little buildings where the guards would stay who were protecting China from outside invasions.

It was rather hot so we only spent about an hour walking around the top. We had chosen to take an alpine slide down the mountain to the bottom which is pictured below.

Waiting our turn for the slide.
On our way down on the slide. It was really fun but because Gavin and Vika were in front, the kids couldn't go as fast as they wanted to.

We are all lined up in our slides behind Gavin and Vika.

After spending most of the day at the wall, we returned to our hotel for a short rest and then went to a Chinese Acrobatic show at night. The show was amazing. On our way home we were soaked by a heavy rain storm and then spent the rest of the evening relaxing.

The next morning we headed off to Tiananmen Square again where Rachel wanted to see Mao Zedong's body. Mao Zedong is considered to be the father of communist China and died in 1976. His body was preserved and is entombed in a glass case in a museum in Tiananmen Square. We left the hotel at 7:30 in the morning because it opened at 8:00 but were surprised to see a rather large line waiting to get in. We started to get in line and were told by the security that Rachel couldn't go in because she had flip flops on. We also didn't have our passports and you needed proper id to enter the building. We all went back to the hotel and then only Rachel, Gavin, and Nicole went back to see his body. Pictures weren't allowed so they weren't able to get any but they said it was a little strange.

After seeing the body, they headed over to the National Museum where they were disappointed to find very little actual artifacts but were able to take some cute pictures in the gardens near by.

Typical Chinese transportation? Not really but a cool little bike.

After a morning of site seeing, we headed off to the airport to board Asiana Airlines for our trip to the US.
These are our final Chinese departure cards. Happy to be going back to the US and on to another adventure in Saudi Arabia but a little sad for the kids to be leaving their friends in China. Although it has been a hard, interesting three years in China, we are leaving with some very good memories of friends and have been able to have some amazing adventures in Asia.

Good bye China....