On the eve of our visit to the Terracotta Army, the ills of shared accommodation reared its ugly head once again. A singular man wrought such despair and destruction upon his fellow traveller that it compromised all notions of right and wrong. He just would not stop snoring. Long, loud and deep he raised hell amongst us deep into the night. One desperate, demonic gasp for breath after another filled the room until it pierced the soul and drove the mind to lunacy. At first, I pondered ways to stop him, make some noise, shake his bed, tap him awake, but then, as time passed and every fibre of my body shook with vengeance, I began to plot ways to kill him. Suffocation by pillow seemed best. I would have had the backing of my bunk mates. The murder would have been deemed just.
Fortunately, the morning came before I was driven to do anything too drastic. We got up early, groggily; tired but excited to be visiting the Terracotta Warriors, regarded pretty much unanimously by travel companies as one of the best sights in China. Though supremely frustrating the day before, our mistake in queuing an hour for the tour bus instead of the metro the day before meant finding our way would be easy. It was and the queue was much shorter so we boarded quickly.
In our confusion about where to get off, we were lucky enough to strike up conversation with Kaja, a Norwegian photographer who was out in China to take photos but also spend time at a Kung Fu retreat. Certainly not your average Joe. She had arrived in X'ian during the early hours of the morning and planned on leaving later that night but we had the pleasure of her company for the remainder of the day.
To turn the Terracotta Army into a worthwhile day trip, they had attached a museum and various exhibition halls to explain the historical, social and economic context surrounding the sculptures. At first I tried to show an interest and engage with what was on display but there are only so many bowls and plates you can look at in the name of understanding a culture before you call it a day. We were there to see the Warriors and it seemed pointless to drag out the day.
We proceeded to hurry through the exhibitions and made for one of the pits which contained the warriors. First of all and for no reason, we went to pit 2. Stepping inside I felt a wave of anticipation disapitate into disappointment as far below us lay nothing more than an enormous pile of rubble, with the odd chariot wheel sticking out every now and again. We couldn't believe what we were seeing. Or rather, not seeing. Despite our efforts, there was nothing to be salvaged from the sight and we had to accept our feelings.
We moved onto pit 3, much more tentatively now, and found it to be marginally better. There were actually warriors standing up in this one, which was something. But most were missing heads and they were positioned in small, unimposing groups. Far from the image we were sold in the travel guides and brochures which suggested there would be endless rows of warriors standing at eye level.
Pit 1 turned out to be the main and most impressive section in the end. Here we were actually met with lines of warriors that filled most of the pit that contained them. However, it still didn't have the impact we had hoped for. They were far beneath us and those that were closest were separated from the rest of the pack and marked with numbers, which ruined the sense of authenticity. Pit 1 saved the trip and made the place worth a visit but to compare the Terracotta Warriors to The Great Wall, as some travel guides had, is ridiculous. Perhaps we failed to engage with their context as 3000 year old sculptures found by accident and built for no discernible reason, but still, for me they are nowhere near the same league.
We had told Kaja about our bad experiences with food in China so far and after we were finished with the warriors she directed us through the various foods on offer at some nearby stalls. Bouyed by her experience we tentatively tried some things at random. I opted for a sweet potato, (nothing crazy there), a pomegranate pastry of some sort, (really good), and dumplings (only okay).
After we were done, we invited Kaja to spend the afternoon with us, eager to show her around the Muslim Quarter, which we were sure she would enjoy. So, back in the centre of X'ian, we spent some time looking around the sensory shocking food market. With it being a Monday, we were able to get closer to the food this time and, for better or for worse, subject them to closer scrutiny. It was fascinating if disturbing at times and we actually tried some of the ' treats' on offer. They actually tasted a lot more ordinary than they looked but I still won't be looking for any when I'm back in England.
Once we were finished with the Muslim Quarter, we all returned to our hostel and chatted over dinner until all too soon it was time to walk Kaya back i the metro station and say our goodbyes. Hopefully, we'll see her again in London some time in the future.