Terracotta Warriors

For the last stop we flew to Xi’an, home of the famed Terracotta Warriors. Xi’an is a two hour flight inland, and it is fueled by the surrounding coal plants. As we were landing you couldn’t help notice the smog that shrouded the city. Our guide told us that in Xi’an they would rather breath the dirty air from the coal plants than die from radiation that would result in an accident at one of the many nuclear power plants around which Shanghai is built. Hmm…that’s an interesting choice.

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Coal plant in the city

In Xi’an we visited a large Buddhist temple, museum, and calligraphy studio before hitting the sack early. We wanted to be well rested for the main event tomorrow.

The Terracotta Warriors are located about a 90 minute drive outside of Xi’an. The huge archeological site was discover in 1974 when a farmer discovered the clay army while digging a well. Ever since, the Chinese government has been excavating the area and creating a popular tourist destination.img_9904

The short story behind the Warriors is that the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang began creating the clay army when he began his rule in 210BC. The army of well over 8,000 figures was created to protect him in the afterlife. The army consists of soldiers, officers, horses, chariots, and more were buried 23 feet deep. Since its discovery hundreds of artifacts have been restored. It is estimated that it will take over 100 years to fully excavate the area.

It was a long journey to Xi’an but seeing the Warriors and the massive pits in which they are buried was definitely worth the trip.

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Shanghai

Shanghai is everything you’ve heard. It’s cosmopolitan, bustling, and crowded. It’s tall, beautiful, modern buildings and jam-packed city streets.

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I love Shanghai

It is modern China. We only had a day and a half to explore and we could have spent a lot more time here.

Our evening cruise on the Huangpu River was a great introduction to the Shanghai skyline. At 6:00 every evening the buildings along the river light up at a cost of $400,000 each day. The Oriental Pearl Tower, the one with pink spheres is the central focus. Built in 1994, it is said to be the tallest TV tower in Asia at 1535 feet. The World Financial Tower, which looks like a bottle opener and the Jinmao Tower are other landmarks.

During the cruise we were again asked to have our photo taken with many Chinese. We couldn’t communicate beyond a smile, but we all had a great time.

Our second day in Shanghai started back along the waterfront to see the skyline during the day. The strolled along the Bund, which is the riverside promenade that draws thousands of tourists every day. In addition to watching the ships stream up the river, we also stopped to see the Bund bull, which is a reprisal of the Wall Street bull by the same artist, Arturo diModica.

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Shanghai Bull

This version, however, is said to be younger, stronger, and “redder” for the Chinese setting.

After our walk along the Bund, we headed to the Old City bazaar. We hadn’t had many opportunities to do real shopping in China and today was the day. We were turned loose for several hours to search for treasures. We bought a few gifts, a knockoff purse, and a stuffed panda toy for Mia our poodle. The bazaar was built with upturned eaves and lattice windows in the Ming style. While it had the feel of old China, it was actually built in the 1990s. In the bazaar there are two Starbucks and a McDonalds amid the souvenir shops.

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Old Market in Shanghai

Shanghai is known for producing world-renowned acrobats. We were lucky to be able to attend a show at the Shanghai Circus World. The production included juggling, contortionism, trick bike riding, and high flying acrobatics. When the show started we were exhausted and thought about skipping out and returning to the hotel to rest. It was a good thing we didn’t. ERA: Intersection in Time was spectacular, rivaling the best Cirque du Soleil show.

Our wake up call the next morning came super early as we caught a morning flight to Xi’an for the next phase of our Chinese journey.

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Suzhou, Wuxi, and Hangzhou

After busy three days in Beijing we flew to Shanghai and immediately drove two hours to the beautiful city of Suzhou to begin our swing through three historic cities. While we hadn’t heard of these places before our trip, we learned that they are UNESCO World Heritage sites, and each are home to millions of people.

Actually, this part of the trip was as much about the propaganda shopping as it was about the sightseeing, but we knew this was part of the bargain when we signed up for this tour through Groupon.

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Silk Sales Presentation

Our theory is that these bus tours are underwritten by the Chinese government. It was pretty inexpensive, and the low price is subsidized with stops at “factories” where we are given a presentation about a traditional Chinese product (jade, silk, tea, pearls, etc.) and then offered deals that are really not deals at all. Many in our group spent a lot of money but we didn’t buy a thing. Still, the presentations were interesting and helped us understand a little more about this mysterious place.

In addition to our factory tours we visited some interesting places. In Suzhou we loved the beautiful Lingering Gardens.  The private estate is now a tourist attraction and shows off the opulence of old China.

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Lingering Gradens

After a 90 minute drive went arrived in Wuxi, the home of the Lingshan Grand Buddha. This large park honors Buddhism’s history in China and contains some beautiful art and artifacts.

In Hangzhou we went to a theme park based on the 900 year old Song Dynasty. It was pretty wild to mingle with thousands of Chinese, who were enjoying shows, games, and attractions that didn’t make any sense to us. The main attraction was “The Romance Show of Songcheng.” Through dance, acrobats, and theatrical effects we learned about the history and legends of Hangzhou.

After three days, we headed back to Shanghai.

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