|We arrived in Xian at 6.30am, following yet another overnight train (am I turning into a train spotter?) The Chinese trains are slightly different to the Russian and Mongolian ones in that they are 3 high rather than 2 high and the compartments are open rather than being closed in. As a self confessed 'traino' I offered to take the top bunk, a service I will not be offering again. There are no bars to keep you in, meaning that you spend the whole night literally fearing for your life, and if you do manage to nod off will be woken at 5am regardless using the traditional Chinese light and audio torture techniques. This involves a 3ft strip light which is approximately, oh, 10 cms from your face, being repeatedly flicked on and off, on and off, on and off......whilst the speaker (approximately 20cms from left ear) blares out 'Chinese Opera' aka the wailing women...As much as I tried to put it down to a "cultural experience", I will be fighting for the bottom bunk for the rest of the trip. (That way your only risk is being irreversibly scarred by a Chinese local as they walk past with their breakfast bowl of noodles..)
Anyway, Xian..it's much smaller than Beijing which can only be a blessing and although it's pretty enough it is widely viewed as just a stopover on the way to see the terracotta army. I'm very excited about this one, have read all about it in my book (Thank you Ingrid!) so am feeling prepared and regale the group with my knowledge of Chinese dynastical (yes it is a word!!) history... Anyway so we get there and to build up the tension we decide to go to the 'pre show' introduction. This involves a standing up 360 degree cinema experience (remember Cinema 180 at Thorpe Park where they used to drop big spiders on your head and take you for a death defying rollercoaster ride..?) which gives the history of the Emperor who commissioned the Army -Qin Shi Huong's life (take note factoid 23!) and how he managed to come as close to any as 'unifying' China in about 230BC (you will be tested on this) When I discovered he was the same emperor who also ordered the construction of the Great Wall, he ascended into my top ten favorite people in history (he currently occupies the number 3 spot after Lenin and Karen Carpenter) The army itself took 40 years to make (did they have nothing better to do?) and when you see it, its no wonder. To me it was truly amazing. The vaults themselves are like aircraft hangers, they are so vast and although a lot of the army still has not been excavated it is still an awesome sight (remember I've been americanised). There are 3 vaults in total, the biggest being the first where all the soldiers are in battle formation. The figures themsleves comprise everything an actual army would have, from charioteers, horses, cavalrymen, crossbowmen, and generals to command them...and all to protect the big man himself. (Not sure if he realised that they were made of stone and couldn't move..)
One of the most memorable things about the whole army thing is that when you see where the whole of the site is, right in the bottom left hand corner of it, you can see the spot where the chinese farmers who discovered the army were digging for their well. Basically, the point is that if they had dug even 3 feet to the left or below they would not have discovered any of it and as the army is not mentioned in any Chinese history, we would have been none the wiser about its existence....In the words of Sarah Welch.. Now that's deep man....