Friday, February 17, 2006

Risky Monkey Business

Terracotta Warrior awaits me for over 2000 years. We arrived fairly early, but there was already a queue the length of the Great Wall, snaking around the square like a giant python, and controlled with difficulty by guards armed with those omnipresent electronic megaphones at 10-metre intervals, using them like whips to stop the queue from disintegrating into a heaving mob.

As I was about to join the queue, Mister Adidas points out to me that no one is allowed to bring in video cameras. I guess Emperor Qin had a phobia about them in case I was to divulge his secret whereabouts to the peasant rebels or something. On top of the X-ray machine at the head of the queue reads ‘In the spirit of fang bien, your bags must be checked in at the building off the square’. How annoying is that! I wasn’t gonna come all the way out here & leave without a single frame…this monkey’s gonna come up with a scam…think hard monkey…

The warrior site looked like a typical Chinese tourist attraction. The long street leading up to the entrance was filled with souvenir shops and food concessions. You could buy any imaginable junket available from any diaspora Chinatown, as well as Mao kitschs like watches with him happily waving his arm to count off the seconds. Of course, there were 1001 replicas of the stone warriors, from inch-high miniatures to life-size statues.

The entrance fee was 65 RMB, roughly 10 bucks Canadian Tire Money, & this monkey didn’t get busted for sneaking in his video camera. No complicated ‘Mission Impossible’ scams or anything…I simply left my camera bag behind with Mister Adidas who stayed outside the gate while I glided pass security & scoped out the joint, then I went back to the fence about 20 feet away from the main security & waited for the trained monkeys to get distracted by the fresh busload of suckers…ahhh…I meant tour groups checking in. At which point I waved Mister Adidas over & had him toss my camera bag over the fence. Voila!

2000 years ago, the price for that would have been live burial or decapitation for me, if I was lucky, and in the fine Peking Opera tradition, prostitution for William with some powerful warlord. But since The 'Son of Heaven' no longer exists, I was safe from the chopping block & William didn’t have to put out! However I did fear for my life as surging troops of Chinese tour groups in different colour baseball caps waddled around threatening to squash me as they collided.

Each group was led by tour guide leaders waving small rectangular flags, armed with those tiny quacking electronic megaphones, leading their pack around the square, like mother goose leading her flock in a V-formation. Near the centre of the square, things got too crowded for a classic V-formation, and the tour groups took on the air of penguins; huddled into each other for protection against the fierce Mongolian wind, all looking in this Antarctica of Terracotta soldiers for somewhere to lay their eggs before Winter set in and the snow started to fall.

After that onslaught, I struggled my way through the tour groups dodging every hustler who wanted to be my personal tour guide for the price of my “Nan Dan Diva in their bed chambers” & entered the three cavernous Russian-style block buildings that held the warriors. It was quite a letdown to say the least.

Each building overlooked a pit that had lines of the soldiers in it. The soldiers looked identical to the lines of replicas in the storefronts I'd just hustled by... but put in a little more scenic setting of a "genuine" archaeological dig. Not quite the Eighth Wonder of the World, as they were touting it. But the 360-degree, 10 projector films were very impressive, showing Xian in 360-degree view & the history of the site. It gave me some ideas for future site-specific film projects.

No comments: