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.
Everybody knows that Terra Cotta warriors and suffocated, terrified concubines are da bomb in the next life.
Random observation: How does “Hole digged for stealing relics” translate from two Chinese characters when “Morden well” (Modern well? More than well?) translates from four? Something’s rotten in Hangzhou, I do believe.
…stuffed our alphabet into a blunderbuss and fired it at the wall…
Reminds me of the signs I used to see in Italy about 10 years ago featuring such phrases as
Not Trinkable Water and
These dispatches have been some of your best posts to date … keep up the great work!
Sweet Heyzeus, this is one of the funniest things I’ve ever ever ever read. You made me drool and snort and now am hiccuping. Wow. Thank God I’m alone.
You’re absolutley brilliant and I’m excited I’ve stumbled on to your home on the interWeb. So excited that I joined the TypeKey club JUST SO I CAN COMMENT!
I am looking forward to becoming a regular haunt…
with much respect,
I kind of hope you get to come back to civilization (i.e. 21st century plumbing, menus comprised of non-domesticated animals, etc.) soon, but I also kind of hope that you stay over there much longer for my own selfish reasons. These posts have been a bright spot in my pampered western hemispheric mornings!
This is great. I’m going to see Xi’an very soon and am now more prepared. Can I put your blog link on my site so people can check it out? I reach a good sized audience.
This is hysterical. What a flashback it was to read this, I felt that I was there all over again. I especially love your term, G.A.S.P., we gave in but heck what a deal to buy trinkets for kids, and they are going to break them anyway!
I just visited the terra cotta wariors site and left with 2 facts.
1. The workers were all killed, and
2. the faces of the warriors looked very real.
I formed a theory based on these facts. I speculate the faces of the warriors were actually those of the workers. The detail of the warrior faces suggest they were likely made from a terra cotta mold of the individual worker faces. Even if the workers knew they would be killed upon completion of the Emperor’s tomb, they would continue to work because it gave them a sense of immortality similar to that of the Emperor.
If so, where are the workers buried? The most likely place is in the earth separating the rows of soldiers. Has anyone looked for human remains in the adjacent earth or elsewhere? And if human remains were found, say DNA linking the faces of the warriors and workers, would the Chinese Government suppress this information from the public?
I am interested in comments of my theory of terra cotta warriors.
I’m am half white and a goon
thanks for all the info i am doing a big report and this guys and this really helped