Xi’An (III) ShaanXi Historical Museum

Shaanxi Historical Musem (陕西历史博物馆)

As I had been unable to organize for a “Western Tour” with a tempel and some tombs I decided to check out the well-praised Shaanxi Historical Museum, claiming itself to be the “first modern museum in China”, and rated by Lonely Planet as “one of the best in China”, promising some overview of Chinese history from Neolithic to Qing dynasty times. As I didn’t find a suitable bus I just walked the 20 minutes there. I had seen the building the day before, also praised by the CITS tour guide while passing by in our bus. But if I would not have seen it before it would have been hard to figure out which exact building it was. There was a stone with its Chinese title carved into it in front of the building, but no other sign whatsoever, neither Chinese nor English. Eh…do they want to attract tourists or not…? 35 RMB admission was quite OK though.

XA_20070621_103359.jpg: I certainly did the tour in its chronological order, starting with the Neolithic age. There was lots of pottery on display. Each individual item had a brief description in Chinese and English. There were about 2 or 3 introductory texts per room (4 rooms in total) in English. But all the other diagrams, looking like maps to locate the excavation places or sometimes even the movement of people, which would have been highly interesting, were Chinese only. That limited the knowledge gain somewhat. This tripod was one of the most beautiful neolithic exhibits in its cow-like shapes.

XA_20070621_104849.jpg: I have never been a friend of extensive pottery on display of a museum. I had expected to learn more about how people moved into and around the China area, a bit about how technology developed or the like… But there was nothing of that kind. So I concentrated on a topic I am finding increasingly interesting: Chinese characters. This here is the earliest piece on display (as far as I saw) with a reasonable amount of Chinese characters on (or better: in) it. (Note: I put a rather high-resolution version on the server…just in case anybody wants to study the details. ;)) The explanation reads: “Duoyou Ding, a Cooking Vessel / Western Zhou Dynasty (1046 – 771 BC) / Excavated at Xiaquan village of Doumen Town, Chang’an district, Xi’an, 1980”. So it is no less than 2800 years old and the characters are recognizable as Chinese even by me, though I can’t read many of them.

XA_20070621_105528.jpg: This one, same epoch as before, is just by itself not so interesting. I just found it an interesting example of explaining the shape of some Chinese characters. In Chinese, this thing is a 鼎 (dĭng). Now compare the Chinese character 鼎 and the shape of this cooking vessel: Four feet, two handles, and a rectangular main body…that’s it!

XA_20070621_112116.jpg: This was supposingly a ridge-tile, probably building material for a roof. It has the 12 characters “延年益寿与天相诗日月同光” on it according to its label. I have difficulties with the first ones…but the last four are indeed recognizable! (Remember: This is an ancient piece, so writing is right-to-left, top-to-bottom; the tile has 6 columns with 2 characters each.) So this is 2800 year old Chinese writing, and with a little experience you could still read it.

XA_20070621_113039.jpg: And now for something completely different: There were certainly a lot of coins on display in the typical round shape with square hole in the middle. But I found this thing more interesting: Coin mass production: This is a mold to make these coins, 42 pieces with each process.

XA_20070621_113319.jpg: Tja, well…this was exactly everything I could find about technology development: Two gearwheels in the Han dynasty section (202 BC – 220 AD). A table above it mentions something like an impressive proof for the advanced technology of that age. Great. An advanced museum would have told us how and for what these gears have been used. What a missed chance…

XA_20070621_121604.jpg: 2 board games were to see: A few pieces of a “Go” game from the Sui dynasty (AD 589) and this complete Chinese chess game of the Northern Song dynasty (960 – 1127).

XA_20070621_121840.jpg: Something arabic here, dated into the Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368): So-to-say the first Sudoku, a 6×6 square inscribed with the numbers 1..36 in a way that each line, column, and diagonal line sums up to 111. So, we are said to have introduced arabic numbers at some point in time in Europe, abolishing the mathematically unusable system of roman numbers? Look at this arabic plate! It’s hard for me to make out any numbers. Doesn’t really look like todays numerals.

XA_20070621_121909.jpg: Here’s the resolution.

XA_20070621_122313.jpg: The last interesting piece: A smartly designed water kettle, which allows to fill in whater from the bottom, then turn it around, without spilling water. This is due to an intelligent tube system around the entry hole on the bottom and the exit hole (the spout) on the side.

And all the rest was a lot of pottery: pots, vessels, kettles, buddhas, kneeling men and women…people interested in such things will love the museum, as the individual pieces are likely quite valuable. But the museum entirely misses to make use of these goodies to explain real history: How people and knowdledge moved around, what kind of technologies have been development when and how, how superior technology determined history.There were some few shy attempts of doing so, but by-and-large it was boring.

City Wall

Again it was raining. I took the chance to go for a coffee and then walked the entire way back to the hotel giving my expensive North Face jacket a chance to excel. I hadn’t yet looked at the city walls in detail, which are preserved (or more exactly: restaurated) all around Xi’An’s city center. Yesterday’s guide even said you could rent a bike atop the wall and bike around. That was out of the question given the continuous rain, but the idea sounds great.

XA_20070621_152119.jpg: Xi’An’s South Gate (南门), seen from the city center side.

XA_20070621_152852.jpg: The same gate from the other side, i.e. from outside the city walls.

XA_20070621_152920.jpg: From the same position looking outbound (south): Modern high-rise towers like in any other growing Chinese city.

The pics aren’t impressive, I know. It was raining… But I risked my life no less than four times in order to cross the huge four-lane always-busy roundabout around the south gate to get first to the side facing the city, then out again (as I didn’t want to pay the entrance fee but otherwise wasn’t allowed to pass through the gate, and there were also no pavements around the gate to the other side…who the f… has created this bullshit traffic plan???), then on the other side onto the island in the center of the roundabout for the outside-the-wall picture, and certainly finally out of it again. I hope you value this! 😉

Tibet Entry Permit

Tomorrow 12:20 I will fly from Xi’An to Lhasa, Tibet. The flight ticket I got in BeiJing already. The necessary Tibet Entry Permit I was to collect here in BeiJing from the CITS office right next to my hotel. Convenient, you should think. But Starbucks is down in the city… I was told to pick it up today afternoon. At 12:50 the office was closed, probably due to lunch break. At 13:20 there was a lady who knew nothing, but asked me to come back after 14:00 when the lady with the knowledge would be back from lunch. At about 16:00, back out of the city, interrupting my nice siiting-with-the-laptop-and-a-great-WLAN-connection-in-Starbucks session, there was nobody, though the door was open. I called 3 times as I saw some movement in the back. Out finally came a cleaning lady saying something in Chinese about the lady not being there…well…that I had seen…and she didn’t know when they would come back. Then came in another young lady, asking me how she could help…I told her…but she was apparently also not the one with the knowledge and asked me to wait until the other lady would be back…maybe from the toilet. Another 10 minutes later that lady in fact really did come back, did not grant me any look, but upon some words of the earlier arrived lady-without-knowledge handed out the permit. And here it is:

XA_20070621_170203.jpg: My Tibet Entry Permit! Not that I could ready much…only my name (correctly spelled), my passport number, and the CITS trip code. Quite some hand-writing on it…should work though: No less than five seals on it, though one is cut in half on the left-hand border of the page.

Having a Dinner in a first-class restaurant of a 4-star Hotel

As I had returned from the city for picking up the permit, and it was continuing to rain increasingly bad, I just stayed at the hotel, searched for, found, and prepared a map of China for this site for you to follow me geographically, and then decided to just have dinner in the restaurant announced by the hotel information map on the room as “serving first class Hongkong dishes”. As there are quite many westerners in this hotel I had expected a typical Chinese restaurant, but with a bi-lingual menu and waiters with some basic knowledge of English as I so far had met them at any corner of the hotel I went to. Even the cleaning ladies know how to pronounce the sentence “May I clean you room?” in English. And I thought I would see some of the westerners there, who would be so “daring” to eat in a Chinese place.

Well, you guess it…I wouldn’t make so many words about it if it did not happen to come entirely different. The westerners I found later in the western restaurant, into which I peaked just for confirmation. When I walked up to the greeting ladies at the first-class Hongkong restaurant’s entrance, asking friendly in well-polished English “Good evening, may I have a look into the menu?”, the two of them only gazed at me. Now, it is by no means insulting to ask for a look into the menu. This is absolutely normal here and the greeting ladies always have a menu at hand to show it to potential customers (and it is even accepted to leave if the menu doesn’t please), but apparently they have not understood a word of what I was saying. Oh, that starts off great I thought, and repeated my introductory sentense in not quite so well polished Chinese. They opened a drawer and started to rummage, though I saw a set of menu books lying atop their desk. Out came a laminated DIN-A4 sized sheet of paper, folded in the middle, with about 30 bi-lingual dish names on the two inner pages. That was not quite what I had expected of a first-class restaurant, but I had a look nonetheless, but asking if that is all. Then only they showed the quite extensive Chinese-only menu, which had some pictures, but mostly it was just Chinese text.

I quickly considered my options but knew that I didn’t want to eat western-style in this run-down location where also the breakfast is served, and said—all in Chinese now certainly—that the menu would do and that I would really be only one person. I was finally allowed into the restaurant, which was a large room with an artificial waterfall on the left-hand side providing some really nice atmosphere in terms of sound and humidty; but otherwise it was mostly empty. Exactly 5 small 2- or 3-person tables were squeezed into the far corner. There were a few sofas lined up and a bar to hand out the drinks, but that’s about it. However, stylishly decorated, so I assumed that the place was still in business. And there were even 3 people sitting at one of the 5 tables and I was shown to a table next to them. Shortly thereafter I figured, that their main business actually happens in private rooms invisibly hidden in the back, at large tables with groups of business people.

It so happened that the first two picks from the brief bi-lingual menu weren’t even available, but I found 3 others that I liked: beef, bean curd (tofu), and a vegetable. The waitress pointed out that for a single person that might be a bit too much, which I found surprising as I always order 3 dishes for myself, but decided to better follow her unusual comment and cancelled the tofu. Beer was a bit diifficult, too, as the laminated sheet of paper had no drinks on it, and the 3 beer brands the waitress enumerated to me I didn’t know. I finally just ordered “the first one, cold”, and so it came. Was actually quite good…but I don’t know what I have drunken.

I definitely was the event of the evening. Though I had nothing to order any longer a waitress passed by every other minute to shift the two plates a bit, or turn them around after I had eaten the first half, which in case of the broccoli wasn’t even useful as I now again faced the neatly piled wall of broccoli flowers, instead of having access to the more easily to pick stems facing the plate’s center. I have probably never eaten so quickly…I knew that I didn’t want to sit here alone after the 3 other people were gone. And I did indeed manage to get out again earlier than they 😉

Now I am sitting in the Lobby Bar, which has the disadvantage of no internet access (while my room has fantastically speedy wired LAN), but the advantage of a nice cosy atmosphere, the chance to look at huge tourist groups arriving, and having the attention of a well-trained young man with neat English knowledge, whose pleasure it is to speak to me, serve me beer, and watch my laptop when I am out for a pee…that’s a bit more like what I had expected.

Today’s Lesson: Again, man! Stop being naive: “Best museum” and “first-class restaurant” aren’t any better than “hiking paths” and “cosy bars”!

Categories: Asia Xi’An

Originally Created: 06/21/2007 01:53:09 PM
Last Edited: 06/21/2007

One thought on “Xi’An (III) ShaanXi Historical Museum”

Comments are closed.