Monday 10 June: We were greeted at the Xi'an airport by our tour guide Ping, a card-carrying member of The People's Tourist Bureau. She spoke fairly good english and knew lots of little tidbits but was rather reluctant to take us to places off the beaten path. However, she was counterbalanced by our bus driver, whom we dubbed "The Drunken Cowboy". He spoke virtually no english but would take us to the front door of anywhere we wanted to go without fail, even (and often) if it meant driving over medians, sidewalks, or Party members.
The hour-long drive to the city took us through the countryside and past huge, unnatural-looking mounds. The largest are the tombs of emperors, (or maybe just one emperor, Qin). Xi'an was the original capitol city of China, home to 11 dynasties including that of Emperor Qin, the boy emperor who conquered all six of China's kingdoms and was the first to successfully unify the country. He also did all sorts of useful things like standardize wheel sizes, language and currency. The smaller mounds are the tombs of empresses, favorite concubines, state officials and noble families. One of the largest mounds belongs to Qin, who also had hundreds of terra cotta warriors buried with him.
The first thing we did was seek out and devour lunch, right after witnessing the first of several fatal or near-fatal auto accidents. We walked in past the stack of cages (fish and snakes mostly) and had a seat, praising the powers that be for air conditioning and dust filters. As Mom and Dad scanned the menu, Rich said, "Hey, is that...?" Solid proof at last: on the menu is "braised dog". Good thing Mom and Dad were with us or someone might have ordered it. Knowing my family, it would've been intentional.
After lunch we checked into a Sheraton. It was a little surreal -- a completely western hotel plucked from out of nowhere and dropped into one square city block of central China. However, with a history dating back 3,000 years, downtown Xi'an is actually fairly metropolitan, and I suspect the terra cotta warriors makes it one of the most popular reasons to come here.
Our room contained a "Notice To The Guest", reminding us that "Prostitution, whoredom gambling, drug taking, drug dealing and anything obscene are forbiden in the hotel" (sic). Later that evening I also noted that the bar had hired a karaoke band with two boppy little lead singers. They were giving a bar full of drunken businessmen a heavy dose of the macarena as we came back from dinner. As if braised dog wasn't enough.