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20 May 2011

I never say that.  But we were sitting at a buffet lunch this morning with a bunch of travelers from Britain.  These were people we hadn't had time to chat with previously, but we were getting acquainted and Jill asked how many children we had.  I usually say "We had five" but it was obvious, since she was talking about how lucky she was because her children lived so close, that she was going to ask where our kids lived.  It was just easier to say "we have three."  And then I felt all teary.  But it just wasn't the time or place to bring up two dead children.  But for the record:  we actually had five, not three.

What another full day.  And I am cautiously optimistic.  We are having perfect (for me) weather.  Maybe no sunny days, but it remains in the 70s and today we even had some sprinkles, which I loved.

We started by checking out the Kampinski Hotel breakfast buffet.  I may not have much good to say about most of the hotel, but the breakfast buffet was huge. 

This is just the fruit and cereal section.  All over the room there are other stations.  I decided to pass on the fried squid balls (who knew squid had balls?) but Mike, who always eats from the local cuisine offerings, had some.  I've actually been kind of holding back on food after some "not quite right" feelings on the ship after the 2nd day.  I'm sticking more with yogurt, museli and cereal-types of things, though I did have a glass of watermelon juice (offered along with carrot juice and cucumber juice) and decided that I prefer to chew my watermelon!

After breakfast, the next big adventure started.  We drove to see the Terra Cotta Warriors.  I've been fascinated since Walt's mother saw them in 1984, ten years after their discovery by a farmer who was digging a well in his field.  If he had dug his well one foot in another direction, they may never have been discovered at all. 

location of the well

For his discovery of the 8th wonder of the world, the farmer received 1 bag of flour and was apparently happy with that. In China, the government owns all the land, so no matter what you find on your land, it belongs to the government.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this "8th wonder of the world" was created by Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China who came to the throne in 246 BC at the age of 13.  He only lived to 49, but in that time he united the warring tribes of China, built the Great Wall, established a unified language for the country, and had this amazing army constructed.  And on the 7th day he rested.  :)

There are 3 "pits," this one being the largest, and excavation will continue for years as they have only touched the tip of the iceburg.  I have seen this shot many times, but more interesting to me were the pieces which are lying in state waiting to be excavated and all of their pieces put back together again before being added to the army.

(grim visage of war...)

And I hope that my children (and perhaps Char & Mike's kids) know why I'm posting THIS picture.

The thing that surprised me the most was discovering that when the statues were uncovered, they were in color.  But after a day or two exposure to the air, 2000 years after their burial, the color faded.  But they have pictures of some of the original statues right after excavation.

I must add as an aside here that after taking this, our second trip with Viking Cruises and hearing of others' experiences with other cruise lines, I have no desire to go river cruising with any other company.  The attention to detail, the depth of knowledge, the eagerness to share their country with you, the fact that once you arrive in a country, you don't have to touch your bags until you depart and all in-country flights are handled by Viking, the troubleshooting, the meals in local eateries.  Everything is first class all the way.  I can hardly wait to take another Viking trip!  Next time, however, I want to do it somewhere that doesn't involve as much flying as we have done.  If you're coming all the way to China, you want to see all that we have seen (and will see) and the only way to do that is to fly to several different spots.  But I sure am tired of flying..and I have 3 flights left to go!

Viking is the only tour group that can park on the grounds of the Terra Cotta warriors (so we didn't have to walk as far).  We also arrived very shortly after it opened, so we had a relatively small crowd to contend with.  By the time we left, the place was mobbed.  It was also raining a little.

But we were back on the bus and headed back to the Xian airport, where we had a family style lunch at a restaurant before heading out to the plane. 

Lunch included this weird stuff.  I didn't try it, but Walt did. He couldn't figure out what it was either.

We are all so tired of flying, but there is no other way to get to see all this stuff.  But there are "moments."  As we were headed down to meet Jenna's group, Mike and Char got positively giddy finding this on display:

It's the original seismograph, developed in China.  Chang Heng, astronomer royal to the Han Dynasty, invented an accurate seismograph in AD 132 -- 1600 years before anyone in the West did. It was a large bronze urn with eight dragon heads gazing outward in eight directions. Each dragon held a ball in his mouth. Around the base of the urn, under each dragon, sat a frog with his mouth open.

A delicate inverted pendulum was hidden in the urn. The slightest seismic ripple moved it. The swinging pendulum tapped a mechanism that dislodged one of the balls. The ball fell from the mouth of the dragon into the mouth of the frog below. It landed with a great clang that announced the earthquake. Knowing which frog had been fed, you could tell the direction of the quake.

 Mike being a seismologist knows these things.  I just liked the frogs.

Today we ended up having dinner just a couple of hours after lunch because it was the most efficient way to get us from airport to the hotel, feed us, and get all that stuff done.  So we went from the airport to another family style restaurant in another hotel.

Then we made our way through the very congested streets of Beijing to our hotel.  My initial impression of Beijing is that it is a much more "Western" looking city than the others we have visited (at least from what little of it I have seen so far).  Jenna says that because it is a capitol city, there are stricter height limits on new buildings and older buildings are protected, so you don't see lots of high rises and they aren't tearing down as many old buildings as in Shanghai, Chungqing and other places we have visited, but it looks more like, say, downtown San Francisco instead of downtown Dubai!  We are at the Regent Hotel in the heart of Beijing.  Not only do we have a great room...

...but it has free Internet access!!!!!

Tomorrow we go to the Great Wall.  I have been stressing about this for weeks, knowing there was NO way I was leaving China without getting on the Great Wall, but fearing that I won't be physically able to make the climb.  Well, by this time tomorrow, we'll all know!  Hold the good thought!

I uploaded a third set of photos to Flickr but it apparently didn't upload them all, so I'm doing a patchwork fix on it, which will take some time, but just to let you know that I hope to get a few more sets of photos uploaded in the next couple of days.  (Morning PS -- it seems to not want to upload photos consistently, so I'm going to wait until I get home to upload the rest)

Flicker sets

  • Day 1 (flying and arrival in Shanghai) is  here
  • Lots and lots and lots of pictures from Day 2, Shanghai is here
  • Day 3, Shanghai, including the Bund and visit to an embroidery shop (amazing pictures!) is here


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