Saturday, February 19, 2011

When I landed in Zurich for the first time, I had this feeling. A surreal, shivers up the spine, can't believe I'm really here sort of thing. I kept putting a dot on the Switzerland of my mental world map and telling myself that that distant land I'd heard so much about? It was real, and I was there.

That feeling lasted a long time. Months later, some friends and I would be running through vineyards in Cortaillod to catch the tram, and one of us would say, "Hey, we're in Switzerland!" Or we'd be sitting by a fountain in a cobblestone square, eating goat cheese and baguettes, and someone would say, "Guess what? We're in France!"

I guess I've traveled enough now that when I get to a new place, the wonder of it is somewhat eclipsed by practical thoughts about where my passport is, whether my landing card is completed and how I'm going to get from the airport to wherever I'm going next. Still, though, I got a glimmer of that feeling when I arrived in Manchester, and again when I arrived in Sydney, and even during my layovers in Seoul. I got it as well when I first saw the Acropolis, perched high above Athens and glowing in its nighttime illumination, and when I saw the Rosetta stone at the British Museum.

Yesterday I added another moment to this list with a visit to the terracotta warriors, currently on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. It was so cool. Like SO so cool. I remember learning about the army of China's First Emperor in my tenth grade history class and vaguely wondering whether they'd all once been real live people, perhaps frozen in time and entombed under the earth by an evil curse.

Yeah, I used to write stories about ghosts and time travel and turn them in for essay assignments.

One of the things I liked best about the warriors yesterday was their expressions. Almost 2000 warriors have been excavated, an estimated 6000 more remain buried, and their faces are all different. There was one armored military officer we saw yesterday who looked like he was swallowing a grin. The general was good too, distinguished, well-seasoned and with a more severe expression, according to the posted information, but he looked wise and grandfatherly to me.

The other thing I really liked was that in the decades that archaeologists have been studying this site, they have yet to disturb Qin Shihuang's own tomb and appear to be in no rush to do so. This is because it's likely haunted and if they were to open it up, a 2300 year old curse would be re-awoken and supernatural powers of unimaginable force and consequence would be unleashed upon an unsuspecting world. Or something like that. Actually, that's just my opinion. Supposedly, it has something to do with not wanting to destroy the contents of the tomb by shifting unstable soil. I think the thousands of sculptors entombed alive with the dead Emperor - who, incidentally, was a Reign of Terror sort of guy obsessed with immortality - suggest otherwise.

I like living in a world that's so big and so old that things that were once very real to someone have been buried and forgotten, but small enough and young enough that a fifteen-year old can know enough to be intrigued by a mystery on the other side of the world.

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