China 1999

Written by Al Wong (Write to me)

This is my experience in Beijing, China in the Summer of 1999. If you came to this webpage first, it's better if you start from the beginning of the story.

Monday, July 19th
Ancient City Wall, Terra-Cotta Factory,
Huaqin Hot Springs, Terra-Cotta Warriors!
Tang Dynasty Dance Show!

Today was an incredibly busy day. We visited five different places! I think this is the most we've ever done in one day.

Didn't get enough sleep last night. I wrote yesterday's entry and was up past 1am doing it. Then traffic noise was keeping me up. My room's window faces an intersection and cars keep honking their horns randomly to warn pedestrians, other cars, etc. Then there's the occasional motorcycle without a muffler passing by. This kept waking me up. And we had a 7am wakeup call too. I think I slept about 4 hours max.

Today's activities include:

    [Sign for City Wall]
  • Ancient City Wall. The city of Xi'an orginally was enclosed by a 12 meter high wall to protect it against invaders. This wall is still standing. We went to visit the South gate which has been most recently renovated. President Bill Clinton made a recent visit here too.

    Although we didn't get to walk the South gate itself, we walked part of the wall near it. It was impressive but there wasn't much to see on the inside of the enclosure. There was a little gift shop.

    I thought it was neat a moat surrounded the wall as a further defense. I want a moat for my castle too!

    [Top of City Wall] [Yard in City Wall]

  • Terra-Cotta Factory. Next we went to a terra-cotta factory where they presumably make the official terra-cotta warrior duplicates for sale to the public. This factory makes terra-cotta warriors of all sizes and prices. I didn't know you could bargain here so I paid full price for my little general figurine. (In my experience, factory prices are usually fixed.) If I get a chance, I'll go back and get a bigger statue!

    The factory also mades pottery and colored tiles. They also have chops for sale and handmade rugs. I wish we had more time to shop here. I should have gotten a business card for this place.

  • Huaqin Hot Springs. This is the place where the emperor and his concubines retire to bath for their health. There were several rooms with bathtubs connected to the natural hot springs but the water was not coming up to them for some reason.

    [Concubine Statue] Prominently displayed in the hot spring was a beautiful female statue. Presumably, this is a faithful image of one of the emperor's concubines. I have never seen a Chinese woman's body built quite like this. Very nice and also very curious. Her body is more like a Renaissance sculpture of a European woman.

    I struck up a conversation with our tour guide, Huang xiao jie, and, among other things, asked if she knew there were any cyber cafes within the area of the hotel. She didn't know but said she would find out.

  • Lunch Time. We had lunch at this local restaurant and tried the local cuisine. I liked it but some other people in our group thought it was so-so. There was a caramelized potato dish called ba si tu dou which was very good.

    I noticed some people in my original student tour group were keeping their distance from me. I had been sitting with the teachers during the meals lately and haven't been talking to them lately. I'll say for the record, there's nothing personal here. I sit with the teachers because:

    • I get to listen and speak more in Chinese. Practicing Chinese is one of my main reasons for being in China.
    • We get more food.
    • I can learn the names of the various Chinese dishes and their history.

    So lighten up people.

    [Terra-Cotta Museum Admission Ticket]

  • Terra-Cotta Warriors! This is another reason why I decided to go on this trip. I wanted to see the terra-cotta warriors! I remember reading about them when they were first discovered. It caused quite a stir in archaeology around the world.

    [Site 1] There are three digging sites. Site 1 is the oldest and most impressive site. There are several terra-cotta warriors restored on display here. This site was originally discovered by farmers trying to dig a well! So far, about 1,000 statues of an estimated 8,000 statues have been excavated. We visited all three sites. Site 3 had people actually excavating.

    The only disconcerting note is that taking pictures and videos of the terra-cotta warriors are not allowed. Our tour guide explained the reason. Over the years, the camera flash has faded the paint on the warriors. They wish to preserve what little color is left on the statues.

    [A General] So the two pictures of the terra-cotta warriors here are scans of the local postcards. Hey, I would rather scan my own pictures but I'll take what I can. The pictures here are representative of what I saw there.

    I also saw a Circle Vision type show where they describe the history and rediscovery of the terra-cotta warriors. I also bought some postcards and need to mail them out!

    We come back to the hotel and are given 30 minutes to prepare to see the show tonight. About 10 seconds after I was in my room, I hear my front door bell ring. My laundry came back! The charge is high but I got same day service. I pay the laundry bill. Great, now I have clean socks to wear!

  • Tang Dynasty Dance Show! This is a dinner and show place. In my experience, a business should concentrate on one or the other. Trying to be both in the food business and in the show business just dilutes the quality of both.

    I didn't care for the food. The portions were small and were comparable to airplane food. I did try their rice wine just for a taste. Didn't like it. On the plus side, their service was great and the two little pastries for dessert were good.

    One of the girls in our group, Crystal, had her birthday today and there were two birthday cakes for her! She was very happy. One of the performers in full Chinese dress of a guard with a spear, wanted Crystal to cut the birthday cakes with his spear. Crystal went for it. This was another Kodak moment of the trip and I didn't have my camera!

    [Tang Dynasty Dancers] The show itself was very good but not what I was expecting. I expected to see a Tang Dynasty show in the classical tradition. This show was modernized and westernized for general consumption. I didn't bring my camera to the show but include a scanned picture from their brochure.

    A highlight of the show was this man who played a flute instrument. The flute instrument dates back over 3,000 years. This guy was good. He imitated orioles(sp?) singing.

    The show costs $395.00RMB per ticket! At this price, I think it's too expensive for what you get.

  • Room Change. I made my room change that night. They moved me to an higher floor and in back of the hotel away from the street intersections. I can still hear the traffic noise but it is reduced so I count my minor blessings.

    This whole exercise also demonstrated how frightfully efficient this hotel is:

    1. I go to the front desk to get the room key to the second room. Then I take the elevator to the second room to see it first. I wanted to see if it was just as noisy as the first room. Or quieter. It makes no sense to move to a room thats just as noisy.

      I'm not even in the room yet and the floor lady (Each floor has front desk with a lady behind it. She closely watches the goings on of her floor. I call her the floor lady.) asks me if I want hot water for tea! I tell her no. I just want to see the room.

      So I'm in the room for a few minutes and decide it is quieter and that I should move here.

    2. So I go to the first room to pack. Less than 15 seconds later I hear my front door bell ring. It's the floor lady for this floor wanting me to settle up the bar bill. I took one bottle of water from the mini icebox earlier today. I settle my bill.

      She also mentions that I am changing rooms. How she found out so quickly, I don't know. But it's spooky. I ask her how she found out so quickly but she just laughs.

    3. So now I'm back in the second room. Not 20 seconds pass when the phone rings. It's the front desk. They want to know when I'm going to bring back the room key for the first room!

    Did I mention the hallways also have close circuit cameras? So either the room key activates a computer monitor to say whether you're in or out OR someone is closely monitoring the close circuit camera and telling people where you are. Talk about Big Brother!

    I moved to a room on a higher floor and this room is slightly nicer than the one I left. I understand the higher the floor, the better the room. This room has bed covers on the beds. The other room did not. The study table is much longer in this room giving more table space. The air conditioner is whisper quiet. Also, the laundry bags are made of cloth. I was thinking of taking one but, considering how efficient this hotel is, I'm not going to chance it.

    I guess it's safe to leave my laptop computer out. I'll take the power adaptor though so no one will be able to run it. God knows how efficient they are in reading from foreign computers!

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Last updated : November 8, 1999
Copyright 1999 Al Wong, Los Angeles, California, USA
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