Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Terracotta Warriors

Our final day in Xi'an quickly appeared and we were ready to again try our luck at visiting the Terracotta Warriors. This time we went public transportation all the way by catching a bus near our hotel. Upon getting dropped off at the same "starting" point as Wednesday, we managed to pick up two additional backpackers. They also wanted to visit the stone army and were much more clueless than us. Our warning of the wrong bus on the day before did little to shake them off our path. This time, we began asking the bus monitors for Bus 306. Fingers continued to point across a large, brick square that we finally crossed to see a few signs indicating the correct bus. We were en route!

The visiting area is massive and not at all as Krista remembers from 15 years ago. In fact, we walked for an extended period before reaching the space that the bus let her out during the last visit. Now the walk-up is populated by restaurants, knick-knack stores and lots more new construction. The day featured hazy skies but the mountains in the distance were still visible.

The complex is divided into multiple buildings containing a pit, or archaeological dig. We visited in an order that seemed to be showcase / modern to old school. (Personally, I liked the older pit the best.) 

Our first view - this building was climate controlled and not fully excavated.

Some rows were falling out.

Hanging out in a glass box.

Remember, this is all carved in stone.

Fully excavated and set-up as it was likely intended.

Working together for a better view. 
The army pours out...

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Bus gone south = great exploration

"Let's make sure we visit the Terracotta Warriors on Wednesday so we something doesn't happen and we miss going."

As it turned out, these words came packed with a good dose of advice. On Wednesday, we popped up and tried to find a cab ride up to the train/bus station where we were told a bus would whisk us away to the warriors. We walked and walked and walked but due to dividing medians, safety barriers and full cabs nothing pulled over for us. Coming up to a bunch of tuk-tuk taxis, we took one for the one rip-off of the trip. The local accent makes 40 sound a lot like 10 and it wasn't clear until we got out that he meant 40 yuan for the ride. Anyway, we were deposited at the station and began going into entrance after entrance looking for some sign as to the bus we needed. Seriously, people from all over the world come to see the terracotta warriors and there was not one sign or indication in the area. All we knew was that we needed bus 306. Finally, we found a reference on a monitor as 5(306). Did that mean bus 5 would also take us? Bus 5 showed up, we hopped on and were soon heading down the road.

Yay! Here we go to see the warriors! Umm, the warriors are located to the east of Xi'an and the early morning sun was not shining in our faces but to the left. We were heading south and soon exited the city walls. Something was wrong. We got off at the next stop and began walking back towards the old city. As it turns out, we were close to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda that we visited the day before.

Returning through the city walls, we found a stairway leading to the ramparts so up we went. The morning haze / pollution had not yet blown out but was rapidly clearing as we wandered along the wide lanes on top of the walls. Few others were also on top though a bike or two would periodically zip by.

Our walk was taking us in the direction of a museum we wanted to see. The collection is of large stone inscriptions from buildings or other monuments / art from around the country. Called the Steele Museum, it was nice to wander about, see the inscriptions and watch workers make rubbings (the girls both passed out as we entered the museum).

Opening courtyard

Old, big bell
Making rubbings of the inscriptions

The detail in the stone carvings is amazing!
The Steele Museum opens up Xi'an's art district, which is nestled along the south wall of the city. The streets were lined with vendors selling brushes, pottery, paintings and lots more. We were again lucky as the streets were fairly empty.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Xi'an - The Muslim Quarter

The Drum and Bell Towers of Xi'an make a southern border of the Muslim Quarter and we enjoyed a stroll through this active area each night. Nestled inside the tight passages of the Muslim Quarter is the Great Mosque. The mosque was founded in 742 and is known to be the oldest mosque in China. I was a bit surprised as we toured to not find any minarets as all the other mosques that I have visited. The layout was beautiful and it was amazing to find so much calmness in the middle of a busy city.

Entering into the mosque area.

Beautiful blooms filled up the courtyards.

The girls loved roaming about. By chance, we showed up around the same time as the 5:00 prayer but it was quickly over and they ran about.

Old Well

Many vats held fish and I believe the girls inspected each to make to see if any were swimming around.

Long corridors lined both sides of the the courtyards.

This blurry image is of the windy, vendor-filled corridors of the Muslim Quarter.

Monday, March 31, 2014


The week leading up to Spring Break found us messing around a bit with XO. Asking if she wanted to go visit Xi'an would result in a puzzled expression. What do you mean, go and visit? As Monday approached, our excitement rose a bit. This would be our first trip since arriving in China and we were ready to get moving and see how the girls would do. They both decided to sleep in on the day we needed to get an early start but quickly sensed that something was up as we scooped them out of bed and into the waiting car. In less than 20 minutes, we were walking across the airport floor in search of a ticket counter. Game on!

The flight was a short one and we then had a surprisingly long journey from the airport into the heart of Xi'an. Traffic was relatively light but it took over an hour to get in. We found a nice spot to stay for the week within a short walk of the Drum Tower and Muslim Quarter.

Drum Tower with beautiful blue skies as a back drop.
We wandered about the Muslim Quarter for quite a bit, sampling different foods and seeing all of the people heading about. Spring Break is not nationally celebrated so crowds were quite low which gave us front row views of some fun happenings. Such as...

Scooter-meat delivery

The pounding out of a peanut-based sugar-rich snack. A peanut mixture served as the base material

It then received quite the beating to get formed into ultra-thin sheets of goodness.

Typically, Xi'an has relatively poor air quality and it could be due to the constant burning of coal in the area. We lucked out - was it great wind or the recent Michelle Obama visit that cut back on local production? Here, street vendors cook it up hot! (Coal on the street and flames shooting out of the vent.)

Every drum tower needs a bell tower and here is Xi'an's, located in the middle of a busy intersection. All in all, we scored big on the air quality with so-so mornings giving way to clear and warm afternoons.

Late afternoon naps allowed us to stay out a bit past normal bed times. Here, the girls sample a summer-like evening of ice cream cones as they gaze at the lights on the drum tower.

Monday, February 17, 2014

When I am a Mom...

“When I am a Mom. . .” I had these thoughts frequently before actually becoming a parent. Frank and I planned for the wee ones’ arrival and had all sorts of conversations about what kind of parents we were going to be. I planned birthday parties in my head, holiday celebrations, and soon to be newly formed family traditions. Once the girls arrived, everything seemed to fall into place. We balanced the blending of three cultures-French, Chinese, and American with a schedule discussed in advance. We hosted a fantastic Thanksgiving with a homemade turkey and twelve other expats. We had a Christmas with a family card done not only in advance, but actually mailed out. We celebrated Easter-with American and French traditions upheld, Valentine’s Day, St Patrick’s day, Chinese New Year, Dr. Seuss Day, Halloween, National Adoption Month, the girls’ birthdays, the list goes on and on. This year however, reality has slapped me in the face. XO’s party went off without a hitch, National Adoption Month was hardly a blip on the radar, Christmas barely was pulled off and poor Sagey’s birthday was only celebrated with us and the girls, while I’m still hoping to do something for Lantern Festival-perhaps next weekend. . .

Enter Valentine’s Day. Last year we made these awesome conversation heart cookies. They turned out fabulous-not only did they look good, but tasted amazing.The mess was kept to a minimum and each girl had exactly one cookie apiece-it was perfect. This year did not proceed as planned. I received an amazing note (written at 4:30 am as it is the only free time we seem to have) from the hubby which was the best present a girl could have received. Other than that, Valentine’s Day came and went with hardly a notice as all energies were focused on the girls (fyi, two two-year olds running around is a lot!). On Sunday, I decided we had to do something after all, “When I am a Mom .. . “ kept replaying through my mind. So, friends were invited and a quick run to the store for supplies was made. The cookies would not be as colorful as last year, and we didn’t have enough heart cookie cutters for all involved, but darn it all, we would have cookies. Everyone was set up around the table and then it happened. . .the kids wanted to make their own cookies with no assistance of any kind. 

The batter wasn’t laid out at ¼ inch, the cookies weren’t cut all the way around-the colors were even mixed together, oh and two heart cookie cutters I did have. . .well, let’s just say they weren’t the favorite. So this year we had heart cookies, star cookies, snail cookies (which I all along thought were whale cookies), star of David cookies, letter cookies, and even a braided cookie. They were nothing like I had planned and yet, they were perfect.

As our friends were leaving, I was holding a plate of cookies. My daughter ran up and asked for one-I told her they were for her friends. The next thing I know, she’s at my feet with a rickety three legged stool. Upon reminding her that the cookies were not for her and besides, that stool with only three legs wasn’t the safest thing to climb on, she nodded yes and quickly ran off. A few seconds later, she returned with a much sturdier step stool and a hopeful gleam in her eyes. She was so happy with herself and her ingenuity, with her imperfect lop-sided cookies, her day with her friends. For her, Valentine’s Day -or two days later- was not only a day where she got to make her own cookies with her favorite people and discover the joys of finding the proper tool to help with a task, but it was a day that I will remember because it is the first day I’ve seen my girls in this light. It was the day that I stepped back and allowed my girls to take control and make the “holiday” be whatever it was for them.

Once they went to bed, I had one of their cookies. It tasted the same as the ones last year, but this year, I smiled and let go a little. This reminded me, “When I am a Mom I am going to allow my girls to take risks. When I am a Mom, I am going to encourage them to think for themselves. When I am a Mom I am going to allow them to be whoever it is they are. When I am a Mom I am going to let them be messy and at times, fall down. When I am a Mom, I will let my girls make whatever shape cookies they want and I’ll eat them with a smile and a full heart.”

Friday, February 7, 2014


This morning, a dusting of snow greeted us as we descended the stairs. The girls looked out of the windows and tried to make meaning of the white covering on familiar objects in the yard. The early morning darkness slowly gave way to grey skies but the snow kept falling. We had to get out!

Sage's first snowball

Just before the car came a honking at us. Get outta the street!

The snow was a dry, fine powder. It continued to fall as we played. They experimented with taking off their gloves, their boots and catching flakes with their tongue. At the end, a couple of chilled but happy girls came in for a pot of hot chocolate to warm up. Yay snow!