It took us almost two months of living in Xi’an to finally make the trek out to see the Terracotta Warriors. The warriors are what most tourists come to Xi’an to see, although there are a lot of other fantastic sites in Xi’an. This field trip involved just two bus rides: a city bus and then a bus from the train station to the warrior site, about 30 minutes outside the city. We were the only non-Chinese on both buses because we were traveling to the warriors on a Tuesday, not a popular tourist day.
Maybe it was because I had heard too much hype about the warriors. Maybe because I was traveling with a nine-year-old, but instead of ancient wonder, it felt a bit commercialized.
The warriors are billed as “The Eighth Wonder of the World.” It makes me wonder who decides these things? Discovered in 1976 by farmers digging a well in the middle of a field, designating them as a “wonder of the world” is a relatively recent moniker. I tried to imagine the scenario:
Farmer with drill pole: (chink, chink, chink) I think I have hit something.
Farmer standing by with well-making materials: What is it?
Farmer with drill pole: I don’t know. Maybe the eighth wonder of the world, like the Great Pyramid of Giza, only a few thousand soldiers carved out of baked clay?
I also tried to think of what North America could offer as the Ninth Wonder of the World. Dolly Parton’s boobs? Steven King’s publication record? Donald Trump’s comb-over? Little Richard’s hips? France could offer Surya Bonaly’s split back flip for sure (and her gluts for extra measure). But what could we offer?
In order to gain access to the warriors, you have to wind your way through a rather large bazaar selling all sorts of things they think tourists will buy for outrageous prices. It was clear the moment we stepped off the bus, the main event for Zephaniah was going to be the bazaar and not the warriors.
Me: I think we get tickets over there.
Z: Can we go to the bazaar? I want to look at stuff.
Me: We can look later. We are here to see the warriors.
Z: That’s boring. Can I buy a wooden sword?
Me: No. Here. Now. Tickets. Warriors.
A fresh faced guide in a blue blazer: Hello! May I help you? Do you need a guide?
Me: No, we are just going to buy tickets.
Fresh Faced Guide: Oh, certainly you need a guide. You have come all this way with your child. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You need to know about the two-thousand year history. You don’t want to come all this way and not have her (always “she/her” for Zephaniah) know the story.
Me: Clearly you have never traveled with children. My son would sooner pitch himself into a pit than listen to the details offered by a guide. We. Just. Need. Tickets.
Z: Mom, can I look at the bazaar while you are buying tickets.
Me: (snarl, roar, chomp).
We made it through the bazaar, sans guide, without Z losing an arm to me yanking it out of his socket, finally arriving at the warrior pavilion. The pavilions are surrounded by a lovely garden with mountains as the backdrop. There are three “pits” in various stages of excavation with different warriors in each pit. The warriors are amazing, but after a while, they all look the same (although one of the purported reasons they are a wonder is that each one has unique facial expressions and poses), especially if you are nine, more focused on the looming purchase of cheap toys made out of rough-hewn pecan wood in the nearest bazaar.
Me: Wow! That’s amazing. That is the site of the original well where they found the first warrior. Isn’t that cool?
Z: Can we go now? How much longer do we have to stay here?
Me: Oh, look at the chariot driver and the horses over there. See how all the horses have a little bit different stance?
Z: Just out of curiosity, what is my budget for the bazaar?
Me: (ignoring that question with feigned enthusiasm) Come over here and stand. Look down the rows. Isn’t that fascinating? That they are all different, yet they look so much alike? Can you imagine being the artisans who created each one? They have to be uniform enough to be in exact rows, yet each an individual upon closer inspection?
Z: Are you almost done? Why are you taking so long?
Me: Oh, I don’t know. Probably because this is considered the eighth wonder of the world.
Z: How many more of these pits do we have to look at before I can go to the bazaar?
Me: (wondering why the hell anyone bothers having children or, once having made the grave mistake of having them, trying to educate them) If you ask me even one more time about that freakin’ bazaar I am going to pick you up like a shot put and hurl you into that group of Chinese tourists over there and you can find your own way out.
Z: That would be preferred to this.
Me: (gritting my teeth and knowing that somewhere on my head a vein is popping out like a bad omen) Could you at least pretend to be interested? This is a once in a lifetime experience.
Z: Stop speaking in hyperbole. You know I hate it when you exaggerate. We are probably going to come here again with Aunt Dona in November. Correction: You are coming here with Aunt Dona in November. I am staying home.
We made it out of the pits without killing each other. Z bought a pecan wood cross bow with rubber-ended arrows. We ate some over-priced street food from one of the stalls and were accosted by numerous women trying to convince us to buy pomegranates the size of baby heads.
On the bus ride back into Xian, we stopped at the Hua Qing hot springs.
It felt great to sink into hot water up to our chins. Not having a bathtub in our apartment, we had been missing that sensation. Because Z has no expertise at shower taking, I was quite certain there was some ingrained dirt on Z’s body that finally soaked off in the hot springs.
Getting clean in a shower, as opposed to soaking in a bathtub, has been a learning curve for Zephaniah. I hadn’t thought much about “teaching” him how to get clean in a shower, but after we had been here for about three weeks, Z and I were snuggling in his bed before lights out and I said, “What is that smell?”
Z: “I dunno.”
Me: “You took a shower, right?
Me: “Shampooed your hair?”
Z: (getting indignant) “Yes! Mom! Jeez!”
Me: Washed with soap and a wash cloth the rest of your body, head to toe?
Z: Mom! Come on! The shampoo washes down my body when I rinse. Isn’t that enough?
Me: Hmm. You don’t mind if I do a little, you know, quality control sniff around some key body parts?”
Z: Oh, for crying out loud!
I hit pay dirt when I got to his feet (and regions a bit north). Holy smokes. So, back to the shower we went with a detailed step-by-step to washing oneself. He has greatly improved over the past few weeks, but we are still working on it. There are quality control checks every night before he steps out of the shower. At some point in the not-so-distant future, his roommates and sweethearts will thank me for these lessons in shower protocol. Or even the people he sits next to in class.
Tomorrow is another “Pretend Sunday is a Friday” because we are coming up on National Holiday. National Holiday is a three-day holiday where every one of China’s 1.2 billion people gets three days off. People are asking me, “Where you are going for National Holiday,” closely followed by “Don’t go anywhere for National Holiday. Too many people.” I am taking the advice. We are going to stay here and see some places around Xi’an. Maybe go on a day trip into the mountains.
Because of the Moon Cake holiday and “make-up days” (what is the point of having a holiday if you have to make up the days off on a weekend?), there were nine days in a row of school last week. I took Z out of school one day to go on a Xi’an field trip to the Small Goose Pagoda. When his teacher asked him why he wasn’t going to be in school, he said, “Because my mom thinks if I have to go to school nine days in a row my head will explode.”
Two student stories: In my First Year Oral English class there are only a few students who go by English names, but one of them is JackBob. When he told me his English name on the first day, I thought, “Who was your high school English teacher that assigned you that name? Granny Clampett?” I kinda liked the idea of a “JackBob” in my class. He’s a smart one, so I call on him a lot. “What do you think, JackBob?” and “Great, JackBob. Tell me more.” Last week, as I was reading over their first papers I came across a paper by a student named Jacob. I thought, “I don’t have any Jacob’s in my class. Who the hell is Jac. . . OHHHH!” The depressing thing for me is the realization that even when a student throws me a bone of an English name, I still can’t get it right. I had grown very fond of JackBob. Now I have to get used to Jacob.