After our adventures in Shanghai we took a flight to Xian; we meant to take a sleeper train to get an element of real adventure but it ended up that the agency we were working with weren’t able to secure us a ticket.  So instead we bought a last minute flight (which wasn’t too painful) and flew to Xian.  When we arrived I thought something was wrong – it smelled like the plane’s tires were on fire or something.  We calmly grabbed our bags and walked out the jetway into the airport, and that’s when I realized the smell wasn’t going away.  Well it turns out the “smell” was the pollution in the city.  It was nuts.  I don’t smoke, but I wanted to buy a pack of cigs just to get some fresh air.  Yep, it was that bad.

We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel in the middle of the city; the taxi ride was pretty crazy.  It was night time and with all of the pollution and smog (call it what you will) I don’t know how the driver knew where the road was.

In the morning we got up early and had a guide take us to the Terracotta warriors.  One piece of advice when travelling in China – you need to be VERY CLEAR on what it is you want to do and see.  We got in the car in the morning, agreed that we wanted to see the Terracotta army, and they proceeded to drive us to the site.  Three times they offered to stop – at a Jade Museum, a Terracotta Army “factory” and some other god forsaken place that I forget.  They get commission for taking you to these sites, so you need to very clear if you don’t want to go.  They’re basically tourist traps and will do anything in their power to sell you anything that catches your eye.  This is where I become sort of a dick when I travel.  I fully appreciate these people are trying to make a living like everyone else, but when I have one day to see a site I really don’t want to have to sit for two hours to some guy trying to sell me a Jade trinket – I just have no interest.  Anyway, rant over.  We succeeded in getting to the right museum, and it was well worth the minor frustrations.

The museum gives you some background on what they’ve uncovered so far and has some of the highest quality pottery warriors.  They’re covered within glass cases but I was still able to get some decent pictures.  I took some close-ups to try and capture the detail in the pottery work; each one is unique.

After walking through this initial museum you then walk into one of the three primary dig sites.  The first one is in it’s early stages, and is not quite as big as the main one.  It’s covered and sort of resembles a big warehouse as you can see below.

It was a bit tough to take pictures here because of the low light, and needless to say flash was frowned upon.  I used my 70-200 f4 IS lens.  It was perfect for the scenario; I set the ISO to anywhere between 1600 and 3200, then let the IS (Image Stabilization) do the rest of the work.  I kept the aperture set to f4 the whole time, letting in as much light as I possibly could.  My 50D does fairly well with noise but many of the images shot at 3200 required some noise correction.  For this I use one of two programs, either Lightroom (which in LR 3 really improved their capability around noise reduction) or a program called Dfine.  The latter probably does a better job but I only use it on occasion as it tends to lengthen my workflow.  I’m pretty pleased with the way the pics turned out, I think the one below is my favorite from this particular dig site.

All of the pottery warriors look like this when they dig them out – I was surprised to find of the thousands of warriors that they’ve found so far, only a few of them were found in one piece.

When we entered the main chamber it’s pretty awe inspiring.  It’s vast and has hundreds and hundreds of the warriors in various levels of completeness.  I also saw a group of archaeologists working on their latest discovery.

Now – our guide stated that there were possibly as many as 200,000 warriors buried throughout the area.  Yep, that’s right – 200,000.  Now if you read (and believe) Wikipedia it’s stating more in the range of 8000.  Who knows, I leave it up for debate.  But I did find it interesting that they haven’t opened the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China for whom all of this is for.  Must’ve been a pretty popular guy.

When taking the pictures in the exhibit I tried to create a sense of repetition, to give the viewer an idea that the number of warriors is vast if not infinite.  Using the f/4 aperture helps by ensuring the depth of field is shortened and creates a more intriguing picture, having the eye immediately focus on one warrior and then extending out to the others.

After the Terracotta warriors, we went back home and walked around the city a bit.  Xian is a small city by Chinese standards – only 8.5 million people.  🙂  The pollution remained, and created a pretty surreal environment for us as we tried to check out the famous Bell Tower towards the middle of the old city.  You can vaguely see it through the smog below.

Here’s a pic from the Bell Tower – I like the composition here as there’s obvious symmetry, and the smog actually creates some interest as the eye looks down the central line.  And the biker in the forefront shows that China still has some steps to take towards modernization.

Finally, we walked along the famous Xian wall.  Honestly this is pretty cool – it’s an ancient medieval wall that’s been up for a long time, with it’s current incarnation dating from the 14th century.  It’s wide, and quite honestly blows away most of the medieval walls I’ve seen in Europe (particularly in England – sorry York).   We walked around for a bit and took a few pictures, the entrance to the area was rather cool as they had these red banners flying in the wind that created a pretty cool tunnel like image.

And finally as we were atop the wall, the smog provided an excellent atmosphere.  Not that I’m promoting pollution, but I do like the way these images turned out as it sort of captures that de-saturated, ancient, foggy look.  We don’t need to know that the fog is actually created by millions of tons of coal burning throughout the country.  Just keep that to yourself.

This wraps it up for our trip through Xian!  It definitely gave us a different view of China; getting out of the big tourist hotspots of Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing and instead getting a view of what a “normal” Chinese city is like.  The Terracotta warriors were pretty amazing and something I’d always wanted to see, and I’m happy with many of the images and memories I captured as part of the trip.

Next will be the final stop on our Asian trip – we go to Beijing to see the Forbidden Palace and of course the Great Wall!  Until next time I hope you get to take some great pics….