Last Saturday the street gang headed into the wilds of Toronto, wisely parking at Yorkdale since Nuit Blanche was on that night (thank you, Andrew, for driving). We TTC’d it to the ROM, and after some poor signage-induced elevator adventures, took in the Terracotta Army.

The exhibition was set up with a similar progression to other exhibitions we’ve seen there (like the Dead Sea Scrolls), where you enter and learn about the time and place and culture in what is now China’s northern Shaanxi province, and the rise and reign of the First Emperor. It was a period of dynastic upheaval, so there was plenty going on, which led to some major changes in Chinese life, from military careers to taxing the peasantry.

There was also this awesomely cheesy narrator display with a guy in a fantastically fake fu manchu moustache doing his thing.

There was more video in this exhibition than I remember from before, but that might just be because it was more recent. There were battle reenactments, how the site was discovered, an overview of the weaponry, etc. They had the farmer who found the whole thing, too. A guy about a million years old with his long pipe and no teeth, explaining how he was trying to drill a well, and had he been 30 centimetres to this side or that, he would have missed it all.

What surprised me a little bit, though, is that I didn’t feel they did the best job of communicating just how enormous the site is. Like, seriously. Maybe I just missed the pictures/video that communicated that, but I recall seeing better scale pictures in National Geographic.

They did explain reasonably well that there have been four main pits found (plus small, more decorative ones with the bronze water fowl and such), what was in each, and how many warriors there are overall, along with horses chariots, livestock, etc… And there were excellent examples of much of what’s been found. (More info.)

The horses look a bit small for “actual size”, but apparently they believe them to be accurate for the time. I liked the horses, as they were solid and plump-looking, much like myself. 🙂 The warriors ranged in size a bit, and the proportions weren’t quite exact in many cases, but the detail and individuality is impressive. They even had patterning on the bottoms of their shoes.

The attire, accessories, weapons, and original paint jobs were all customized to each soldier’s rank and duties. Weaponry was real. Molds were used for body parts and faces (unsurprisingly), but after assembly, individual details were added by hand, so no two soldiers are identical. And there are nearly eight thousand of them. In addition to infantry, there were cavalry, officers, administrators, and entertainers. Everything an emperor would need to keep himself protected, comfortable, and entertained in the afterlife.

And, of course, I can’t forget our favourite part of the exhibition — the livestock! There were fabulous small versions of cattle, goats, dogs, chickens — some still painted and many with fantastic expressions. The chickens were 2200 years old and looked like something you could buy in St. Jacobs tomorrow. There was a crotchety-looking goat that Melissa fell in love with, too. 🙂

Keep in mind that all of these figures — human and animal — were stand-ins for the real thing. In older times, real people, horses, and livestock would have been sacrificed to be buried with the emperor (not just in China). Sometimes just buried alive. Lovely. Given the scale of the First Emperor’s tomb, methinks more than a few people were grateful that the custom had changed and it was ok to use ceramic representations…

And then, at the end, in the gift shop, Melissa found my favourite part of the exhibition: Beat-down Frog. Hand-carved by master artisans, as they made sure to tell you, and not much over an inch high, he is truly awesome. (Yes, given the holes in the stick it’s possible he’s intended to be Flautist Frog, but it’s far more fun to think of him brandishing a 2×4.)

beat-down frog

After that we wandered a bit, had coffee and killed some time in Yorkville, people-watching, then separated for an hour or so to do our thing before we headed to dinner at Thai Basil.

And then, downtown! To Massey Hall and braving the Nuit Blanche hordes (Yonge St. was closed off) to see David Sedaris. Interesting mix of people in the crowd, though folks seemed to know what they were in for with him. 🙂

He read from his latest book, which is a collection of “fables”, to use the term very loosely. The book is a bit of a departure for him on the surface, but totally him once you get into it.

He read a bunch of other stuff, too, including other published stories, diary entries, etc. And showing how much the writer he is at all times, he would actually scribble notes and whatnot while reading. It was fascinating. Many laughs, some thought-provocation, and the only real downside was the incredible dryness of the hall (not helpful when both Sherry and I were getting over colds and trying not to cough).

And from there, back on the TCC to Yorkdale, and headed home. (We were all pretty tired, so no Nuit Blanche for us.)

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