Xi’an, China

We are back in Lanzhou, said to be the most polluted city in the world — but I suspect other places have surpassed it. Here is the view from our window — the air is bad but we’ve seen/smelled worse. I have never slept so near to a nuclear reactor.

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We take the day train to Xi’an. They sell more tickets than seats, so people have to stand during the eight hour ride.

At the Xi’an Train Station, we buy tickets for Chengdu so that we can be sure we will have “hard sleepers” — second class beds. They sell out if you don’t get reservations a number of days ahead.

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We eat lunch at a “fast food” restaurant — we stand in line, place our order, then pick up our food when it is ready.

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Here are our lunches.

This is what the smog looks like from our 14th floor hotel room.

We go to the Great Wild Goose Pagoda, built to hold the scriptures that the famous monk Xuanzang brought back to China from India in 628 CE after his 17 year overland journey. He carried back 657 Sanskrit texts and translated them into Chinese.

I visited this pagoda in 1986 but everything has changed (in the old days, everyone was poor). We walk through a park with many souvenir shops on our way to the pagoda.

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The pagoda was constructed to be fire-proof so that the scriptures would be safe.

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Most Chinese are not religious and their tour guide tells them about Buddhism.

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We see a statue of the Buddha.

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There is much Buddhist artwork, such as this mandela showing the nature of reality.

I watch a lady, holding incense, bowing before the Buddha.

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Xuanzang was the ultimate backpacker, a professional hiker. He had many adventures and much folklore has developed regarding his travels. He hung an object before his eyes to remind him to focus on meditation.

We climb the pagoda stairs (both entrance to the pagoda complex and the pagoda itself require tickets). I see a video portraying the life of Xuanzang, a statue of the Buddha, and the view out the window.

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I look out from the top floor of the pagoda.

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View from top, alternate direction.

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We see a statue of Xuanzang in front of the pagoda.

The next day, we visit the funeral art of the first Chinese emperor — Emperor Qinshihuang — who had (perhaps) 8000 terracotta warriors constructed in the third century BCE. He believed these troops would be useful to him in his afterlife.

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This building shelters pit number 1 — the place where the most excavation has been completed.

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The terra cotta army included more than 8000 soldiers, 130 chariots, 520 horses, most of which remain buried. Each face is unique. The figures are life sized, but vary in height, uniform, and hairstyle in accordance with rank and function.

The figures were first discovered in 1974 by local farmers digging a well. The dry, polluted air of Xi’an damaged the pigments used to color the figures. As a result, the archeologists decided to leave most of them in the ground in order to preserve them.

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Each figure is unique.

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The image above shows a fallen-down warrior statue, his feet pointing to a chariot wheel. Many figures are fractured and the archeologists must carefully reassemble them.

Only a few sections of pit 2 have been excavated.

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The museum exhibits well-restored figures.

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The figures were originally painted with bright pigments.

The terra cotta figures are regarded as the “eight wonder of the ancient world” yet, in a way, it seems puzzling why people are so fascinated by this display of absurd egotism. There is no reason to think that Emperor Qin is doing particularly well in the afterlife and he might actually be doing very poorly (no one considers Emperor Qin to be virtuous). Writen texts suggest that hundreds of thousands of workers were executed, or perhaps sealed up under the ground, preventing them from talking about the site — so future people would not disturb the emperor’s terracotta army.

The emperor’s tomb has yet to be excavated — and it undoubtedly contains many treasures.

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On the way back to Xi’an, our bus passed the gateway to Xi’an Polytechnic University, the college where I lived and taught in 1986. So much has changed since those days. I have changed.

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I feel like Xuanzang, the great backpacker, but unlike Xuanzang, I do not bring you scriptures. I bring the results of my inner journey, but no scriptures. Simplicity, patience, compassion, but even one word is too much.

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