Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Road Less Traveled

Getting around Xi'an is a trying experience. Currently the roads are being dug up to build the subway, which apparently will take at least another decade to complete as periodically they will discover something of archeological importance and then everything stops. Meanwhile, above ground, buses and cars have to manoeuvre around these giant pits. Oh and good luck trying to find a taxi as there doesn't seem to be enough of them around.

It was these logistical challenges that made my visit to Han Yangling almost not worth the effort, but I'm glad I went anyway.

As I've already seen the terracotta warriors of Emperor Qin Shihuang, my Beijing colleague suggested I check out Han Yangling, the tomb of Emperor Jing of the Han Dynasty. While it's only an hour's drive east of Xi'an near the airport, it took my local colleague and I over two hours by public transport.

At 8:30am we set off to a nearby bus stop that would take us to the outskirts of the city, bus 207, but it took almost half an hour for it to arrive. Luckily we managed to get seats as we were riding it all the way to the terminus.

Our bums sore from sitting on hard seats for about an hour, it was nice to finally get off, but then we waited another long stretch for the you 4 bus. You means "tour" or "travel". My colleague, unsure of the situation, asked some locals at the bus stop of this was the place to wait for the bus, and we started getting conflicting reports.

It was all confirmed when bus 4 did come... and though we tried to flag it down, it sped right past us.

So we had to walk further on in the heat to where others had suggested we go. Luckily not too far down another bus 4 came by and we got on the empty bus that we had all to ourselves.

The bus attendant explained there are actually two bus 4's, one that takes people from the city into the outskirts, and then the second one that takes passengers all the way to the Han Yangling Museum.

We asked her why the bus had passed right by us and she said the route had changed, and changes constantly depending on traffic and construction of the roads. Talk about an unpredictable bus!

She said this bus route was a money-losing one, even though the government had mandated that this route be open to the public to take them to the museum. She said few people used this bus or knew about the museum that was opened in 2005.

As soon as we got there, we didn't even take a bathroom break, but plunged right into the museum and caught a guided tour.

Emperor Jing isn't as well known as Qin Shihuang di, who was infamous for his dictatorship, ruthless ways and many accomplishments, the most important being unifying China, along with a set of laws and even calligraphy style that were practiced throughout the land.

Qin also spent a lot of time building his tomb with lifesize terracotta soldiers, horses and chariots, and when he died, everyone else had to be buried with him -- alive.

However, Emperor Jing was the polar opposite.

Apparently he was influenced by his mother's interest in Taoism and was more benevolent to his people, giving them tax breaks and had a general policy of non-interference.

Also he was known to be thrifty, which is revealed in his tomb at Han Yangling. What's neat here is that after we put on blue plastic covers for our shoes, we can shuffle down into the pit and walk over certain parts of it. You can look straight down into the pit and see things pretty much as they were found, unlike the terracotta warriors which have been fixed up and dusted off.

Here thousands of small statues -- armless as their arms were made of wood -- lie on the ground, probably because they fell as the tomb was filled. Each of the faces and limbs are slightly different. The museum also showed tiny pieces of copper fashioned into coins and cups, bowls and bells. It's as if they were made for children, not an emperor.

He also had many animals with him, including horses, dogs, goats, pigs and chickens, a motif that is repeated many times.

Unfortunately the pit opened to the public didn't offer that much to see and then that was basically the end of our visit there -- in just over an hour.

While it was really neat to see the tomb presented in this way, why does it have to be so difficult to get there? That probably explains why so few people bother to go.

Thankfully our trip back into the city didn't take as long, but we were stuck in traffic near the bell tower or zhong lou, again because of subway construction... which at this rate, will never end.


ks said...

2 years ago for 500 rmb we hired a suv and a driver who took us around xian for a whole day. we were spared of all these hardships. when traveling time is precious. dont save a cent and lose a dollar. time is money, money time. buy time with money when you travel.

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