The main thing I wanted to see in China was the Terra Cotta Army. This was an entire army of full-sized soldiers, each with his own individual facial characteristics. Even the horses had their own faces and colors. It was something thousands of years old ordered by Emperor Qin to protect him in the afterlife. He also had 10,000 concubines, most of whom had to commit suicide when the young monarch died. My wife would not allow me even one concubine. And you thought only their food was strange.
The whole thing was discovered in 1974 by a local farmer drilling for water. He is still alive and I have his autograph and a photo with him.
The souvenir and street vendors everywhere were something else to behold. I bought a beautiful Rolex watch for $4. It lasted until I got on the bus before the wristband broke, but I now have my own Rolex.
We got to visit and climb on the Great Wall of China. Having heard about it all my life it was unbelievable that I was actually standing on it… of course, with a million or so other people. It is one of the only structures visible from outer space.
Visiting a hutong, which is a well preserved old city existing very much as they did in ancient times, was truly exciting. There of course was no indoor plumbing and showers were taken in the kitchen where the only water drain was. We rode in a rickshaw and visited a native whose family actually lived in a house there for many generations. We learned that this shamble of a house is worth a fortune due to some old government regulations.
The city of Chongquing amazed me. I knew something about it from WW II days when the Flying Tigers were based there and it was called Chunking but didn’t know it was the third largest city in China, population 29.2 million. Just imagine moving all the people in Florida, North and South Carolina, Georgia and Louisiana to Miami, and that is what it is like in almost any Chinese city.
THE GORGES: I hardly knew what a gorge was before this trip and I am still not sure, but one thing is certain, they are magnificent. You see steep walls of rock as perfectly sliced as a Sunday bagel, yet strayed through with uniform lines probably indicating millions of years of tectonic upheaval. You have to see it to believe it. They rise into the sky everywhere you look and then out of nowhere you spot a house.
How do the residents get there? Damned if I know but somehow they must. You see some time ago the Chinese government had to flood the river valleys to build a dam, the largest in the world, to control flooding and provide electrical power, and to do so they had to move all of the people living there to higher ground.
Too complicated for this article but true as can be. I got to see all of this and still can’t figure out how these people who were running around in rickshaws just a few years back became one of the most sophisticated and advanced countries in the world.
They do all this but can’t make decent Chinese food. Really, nothing that I had on this trip even compares with an average U.S. Chinese restaurant nor have they figured out how to make their water drinkable.
Our next stop was Wuhan, another Chinese city of over eight million people and more construction cranes than any of the previous towns we had visited.
All of the residents seem to own cars but are only allowed to drive in one city. Depending on their license plate they also are restricted from driving at least one day per week and auto sales in most cities are limited to 20,000 per month and purchases are based on a lottery system. This of course makes a big difference on the roads. Take your worst nightmare traffic jam, multiply times 10 and you will get some idea of an average drive in China.
Their birth control system allowing only one child per family seems to be working well. If it weren’t we would all have to move to Mars to allow room for more Chinese. Abortion is a no brainier here. Without it there would probably be babies starving in the streets.
More on the So-Chin Dynasty in next column.