Xi’An Dispatch: Warrin’ Terra

So basically you’re the Emperor and you’re obsessed with death, so you build an enormous army of terra cotta soldiers to defend you in the next world. Granted, there’s no proof there’s a next world, much less the ability to transform terra cotta into some supernatural bodyguard force, but what the heck. You’re the Emperor. You get to do what you want and you can have hot concubines and your wife can’t complain.
And the next time you think your boss sucks, imagine working to build a tomb for a guy who has you killed when it’s completed. What’s the incentive to finish on time? No wonder it took 36 years.
And the concubines? Buried alive with the dead Emperor. So the wife gets her revenge, as they always do.
But the Terra Cotta Army is impressive. Really, really so. Thousands and thousands of grinning soldiers with weapons and armor and individual details for every single one of them. They’re life-size too, though they seem smaller because 2,200 years ago people were smaller. And anyway, they’re Chinese.
The whole necropolis was discovered some 30 years ago by a farmer digging a well. Now it’s one of China’s prized historical sites. As a result they decimated the area, paved it with concrete, topped it with a museum and shelters for the excavations, and built a gimungous parking complex to accommodate the eleventy-billion tour buses that come daily.
Upon arrival our driver tells us “No hire guide. Uh, lie.” And lie they do. They’re licensed by the Communist Party, and they’re trained to talk about how awesome Chinese history is. “We were plating swords with chromium 2,000 years before the Americans and Germans!” gloats one official plaque in the museum. Whoop-de-doo. Two thousand years later, we’re using Google – uncensored. You can have the glorious chromium.
At some point you’ll tire of looking at thousands of terra cotta soldiers – impressive as it all is – and you’ll want to leave. Can you leave the way you came? No. You need to be directed to the Gauntlet of Aggressive Souvenir Peddlers.
The G.A.S.P. is the roundabout route to the parking lot that corrals thousands of poor tourists into a channel about ten feet wide. The distance between you and the parking lot is about half a mile, and that entire distance is filled with people who want you to purchase terra cotta figurines, postcards, chopsticks, guide books, tea sets, bracelets, necklaces and other items. The logic is thus: Ask a man once, he may say no. Ask a man three thousand times, and perhaps he wants your ceramically-challenged tea set.
Hallo! [insert product name] Good price! Hallo! Sir! [insert product name]! Lookee! Yes?
You’re like a lacerated hemophiliac in a gnat factory. They just keep coming. They don’t take no for an answer even if you can pronounce it the right way – which you can’t. Stay strong. One by one you’ll watch your comrades fall by the wayside. Christ! Okay! Give me the figurines. How much? But don’t be the one to give in. That’s why they keep trying. They know it works on the bulk of the tourists who are willing to spend $2 for five feet of silence. All you’re doing is making it worse for someone else.
Throughout our visit, one thing has become obvious: signage is futile. No one pays attention to signs. No one enforces them. The “No Flash” signs go unheeded as the Terra Cotta Army is lit up like a boobs-out Tara Reid stumbling down the red carpet.
Another thing. China needs an English proofreader. They have 1.3 billion people – someone has to have a grasp on translating. They have a very beautiful and ornate language that has issues when you try and convert it to English. From menus in places that serve donkey meat to official signs in official places, it’s as if they simply stuffed our alphabet into a blunderbuss and fired it at the wall. That’s why the airport art gallery is Famous Person’s Calligraphy And Painting Room Of Air Harbor. And why my son has a t-shirt that says Constant Y’Ador – Successive Weh? Weh?
If you’ll excuse me, I have to throw my shrimp chips wrapper in the “Unrecycle” bin.