May 17, 2004

the stairs of enlightenment

so this weekend was another eventful and exhausting excursion outside of beijing to climb more holy mountains, see temples, and visit the birthplace of confucious. conveniently this can all be done in the shandong providence in china. me, anup, andrew, zhou yun (aka cathy), and yuan yi (aka kyle) all jumped into a soft sleeper train friday night at about 8pm to skip town. i was very glad to be getting out of the reach of the beijing police.

our train ride consisted of the usual shenanigans. drinking the english version of "hong cha" (aka, red tea, aka whisky) and er guo tou (a chinese liqueur that's 56% and usually sells for about $0.40 a bottle. you can't really go wrong with that.
our destination was tai'an and we got there around 5am. our first bit of excitement was trying to figure out how to get home. in china there is no such thing as round trip ticket. travel is all one way. when you get to your destination you can by a ticket for the next part of your journey. to make things more confusing, there are multiple places to buy tickets. at the train station you can only buy tickets for travel on that day. there is usually another place somewhere in town that you need to go if you want to but tickets for travel in advance. (and you simply can't buy them more than a week in advance.) when we got to this place we discovered that the only tickets available to beijing for sunday night were for hard seats. since an overnight train with hard seats didn't sound too appealing we decided to worry about it later.
we then headed over to our hotel to get checked in. even though it was 6am and a little before the standard check in time we did manage to get one room where we could drop our bags and freshen up a bit. we got breakfast at 7am when the hotel restaurant opened and then headed off for mt. tai (aka tai shan)
tai shan is on of the five holy mountains in china. the mountains has about 6660 steps and is broken up into two sections with the midway gate to heaven in the middle. busses available that can take you from the base up to the midway gate and from there you can take a cable car to the peak. but instead of doing this we decided to climb the whole thing. it turns out to be about about 4.6 miles (7.5 km) long hike with a roughly 4500 feet (1300 meter) gain in elevation.
the actual walk up the mountain itself is interesting. the surrounding forest is beautiful. there are also lots of little temples and tea houses on the way up. as you get higher up there are more and more chinese carvings on rocks and the mountain itself. i could only appreciate them as artistic scribbles (sorta like my own handwriting) since i have no idea what they were saying. of course by the time i was approaching the summit i was so exhausted i didn't really care anymore.
so unfortunately, aside from the natural beauty of the mountain there was the usual annoying and frustrating human stain that saturates every corner of china here too. there were _droves_ of people climbing the mountain with us (although, while looking around during the climb i realized that me, andrew, and anup were the only non-chinese people i saw climbing the steps. it's not peak tourist season yet but i was pretty surprised by this.) worse, there are tons of vendors trying to sell you junk throughout the _entire_ climb. we also saw beggars with leprosy and missing legs (which raises the question of how the hell they got up there) and some guys standing on the side of the path with dressed up monkeys hitting them till they danced. (this kinda pissed me off.) and the whistle
vendors... oh, they've earned their own blog entry.
in the end we eventually made it all the way up to see the temples and vendors at the top of the mountain. there were lots of beautiful blooming flowers there that seemed to support a huge gnat population which we tried very hard to ignore. after exploring the top of the mountain we bought some more er gou tou ease our aching legs and decided to take the tram and bus down the mountain. the bus ride down the mountain was supposed to be beautiful but the weather was really hot and i was a little sun burnt so i passed out for the whole ride down.
after getting back to the hotel, cleaning up, and taking a quick power nap me and anup decided to head over for some anmo (massage.) the hotel advertised that they had foot and full body massage so we decided to go for both (the full body massage we got was done with our clothes on and we didn't ask for the other type of massage although i believe it was offered.) the massage was administered by a couple of women with hands of steel who proceeded to beat us to pulps. when i walked out of there i felt like a bowl of jelly. all the pain, stiffness, and soreness had been beaten out of me. (unlike the last time i tried climbing one of these mountains and was sore for the next three days.) there was one surprising things about the massage process, and that was looking at the womens hands. their knuckles were actually bruised and swollen from beating the hell out of me. now i love getting and giving massages but i usually don't hurt myself in the process. this was the first time i had ever seen a masseuse inflict physical damage on themselves in the process of giving a massage. after the massage we had a good dinner and promptly passed out.
for sunday we had rented a driver and a van. we first went to dai miao in tai an. this is actually one of the largest temples in china. we wandered around the halls, courtyards, and walls there for a couple hours before climbing back into the van to head for qufu. qufu is the birthplace of confucious. the first place we went to was the confucian forest where we saw the mound that confucious was supposedly buried in. the forest is actually a huge cemetery with many mounds and tombs all over the place. we wandered around here for a while and also took a quick golf card tour that went past the more famous and/or extravagant tombs in the forest.
after this we went to a restaurant where we got seated on the second floor and were server mediocre food for too much money. this left me a little angry. there's another separate blog rant to be had here.
after this we went to the confucius mansions (home of the kong family of which confucius was the founding father) and the kong miao (aka confucius temple.) the kong family had been living in the mansions up till as recently as 1948 when the most recent descendant fled to taiwan. the mansion was really a maze of small houses interconnected by courtyards and passageways with a really nice garden in back. the temple dwarfs the mansion and we spent a while just wandering around the temple looking at the trees, colorful buildings, some beautifully carved pillars, and giant tablets resting on the backs of tortoises. (these tablets contain chinese writing are pretty common in temples in china. they also have a name which i can't remember right now.)
after this we climbed back into our van and headed to the capital of the shandong providence, ji nan. during the day we had paid someone to drive to ji nan and try to buy us train tickets from there to get back to beijing. luckily he was successful and we had gotten tickets on a hard sleeper that was leaving at around 8pm and getting into beijing around 6am on monday.
the drive was a couple hours long and involved a driver change in tai an. me, anup, and andrew picked up a couple bottles of er guo tou to try and make the drive more interesting. we had dinner in ji nan and then jumped onto the train so that we could drink more er guo tou and pass out. we finally got to beijing on time and i managed to go home to shower and nap for an hour before showing up to work.

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