Friday, August 20, 2010

Day 19. Disaster strikes

Luke had been partying until an ungodly hour, so I let him sleep until 9 am. I know, unheard off. It was cool and overcast when we got out of the hostel, but we were silly enough not to carry and umbrella with us. First we walked a couple of blocks to the corner where the breakfast vendors congregate. We had a pocket of noodles, a Chinese crepe, and fruit yogurt drink for about a dollar each.

We had decided to spend the morning at the Shaanxi History Museum (Shaanxi is the state or province where Xi’an is located), so we started walking toward the bus stop when a light rain started. We could have gone back for the umbrella at that point, but the rain was too light and we didn’t want to backtrack, so we decided to tough it out. Bad mistake.

The bus dropped us a long block from the museum, but by this time the rain had started in earnest and we were quite wet in a matter of minutes. Still, the day was young and we felt like this city was now ours so in good spirits we platched all the way to the museum. Then we saw the line and Luke almost went back. It was looong! It turns out that the museum is free, but in order to get a ticket you have to write down your name in a list, show your identification, and write your identification number in the list. Since there were some families with four or five family members the process was taking forever.

By the time it was our turn we had been standing under the rain (very light by now) for about an hour. Ah, the sacrifices a tourist must make.

The museum was magnificent. It turns out that this state, and the valley where Xi’an is located, have been heavily populated for a very long time. Fossils of Homo erectus have been found at a couple of localities, and as we had learned yesterday there were a number of Paleolithic and Neolithic villages sprinkled here and there. Their presence is richly documented by pottery, stone implements, and the first bronze implements.

Then come the different dynasties that made this city either their capital, or at least one of their main cities. Don’t quote me on this, but I believe the city was important in the times of the Shang (1600 to 1046 BC) and Zhou (1046 to 256 BC) dynasties, and became the capital of the Qin dynasty (which only lasted as long as emperor Qin was alive, from 221 to 207 BC), under the name Chang’an. I have told you about the terracotta army, and the museum had a very nice display about it, but there are also tons of artifacts and structures of this time that have been exposed throughout the city. Then we have the Han dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD), which was a time of considerable advances in technology and agriculture, but the golden age of China and the city come with the Tang dynasty (618 to 907 AD). Fabulous palaces were built throughout the city during this time, trade with the surrounding area and the countries of the Silk Road flourished, the court become most refined (with a superabundance of portly ladies that Luke and I dubbed "the ugly fat concubines"), and the goldsmiths, silversmiths, and statuary carvings reached their pinnacle.

Less than 20 years ago a hoard was discovered in the city, and the artifacts were being displayed in a special exhibition called “The Treasures of the Tang”. The crowning piece of the collection was a beautiful carving of a water buffalo in agate (as luck would have it, the museum had a reproduction for sale, but they no longer have it because now I have it, he, he, he :)

The final dynasty to call the city home was the Song dynasty (960 to 1279 AD), which perfected the art of the three colors glaze on pottery and terracotta statues (you may have seen reproductions in the form of horses or camels with an ochre, celadon, and brown glaze).

Luke lost interest about half way through the museum, but he was a good sport and didn’t complain aloud as I went from one exhibit to the next. All good things must come to an end, though, so sometime around 2 pm we left the museum, at peace with men and the world, and entered the first restaurant we saw for a well deserved lunch. Spirits were high, and we were thoroughly enjoying a quiet day in “our city” when disaster struck:

From the restaurant we walked a long block to a big park developed around a Buddhist temple with a tall pagoda. We were in no hurry, so we enjoyed the walk, Luke became acquainted with a traditional Chinese toilette (“Damn uncomfortable”, says he), and we did plenty of people watching on our way to the entrance to the temple. For example, we have noticed that people here sit on their haunches to rest, rather than sitting on a bench. So we get to the ticket counter, and I reach for my wallet, and . . . no wallet. Damn! Trying not to panic I casted my mind back, and concluded I must have left it on the table at the restaurant after I paid for lunch. We turned back right away and fifteen minutes later were at the restaurant, but without success. The waitresses seemed honestly distressed, and according to them no wallet had been found, but . . .

So I lost my driver’s license, my ATM card, two credit cards, and about 80 dollars in Chinese money. Not a tremendously big loss, but with it went all the ability we might have had to get money from the ATM. We have taken stock of our resources and count 100 yuan that Luke has, and 500 yuan, 50 dollars, and 100 euros that I have in my passport pouch. We should also get 100 yuan back from our deposit at the hostel. Considering that we only have three more days to go, we should be able to make it through without problem. Still, I am vexed that after so many years as a traveler I have made the mistake of leaving my wallet at a restaurant table (Tantos a┼łos de condesa y no saber menear el abanico!).

Rats, rats, and double rats!

PS. To celebrate our new found poverty Luke and I went to the movies tonight. It was some sort of psycho-thriller called “Curse of the Deserted”. A definite B movie, and some of the weird parts we definitely didn’t understand, but it was a new experience.

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