Watching the grass grow
12 Sep 2004
|Well hard sleeper was certainly better than hard seat, but it still wasn't very nice. How it works is the carriage is made up into groups of six bunks, if you're taller than me at least I would strongly recommend the top one. Lights out 10 pm, no air-conditioning, lots of snoring and the ubiquitous hawking - though thank god no gobbing on the flooor like the bad old days - everyone sleeping in their clothes, and much racket every time we are in a station. So not a lot of sleep all in all. I needn't have woried about missing my stop either, as we are awoken by being hit on the feet in plenty of time.
So I arrive in Tai'An about 5 a.m. with a plan of leaving my stuff in left luggage, whipping up this big-looking mountain I can already see, and spending the night up there so I can see the dawn. However, an English speaking female taxi-driver persuades me to stay in a hotel at the foot of the moutain instead, the clincher being that they don't have water at the top (which turns out to be true), and I am feeling more than a bit daggy by now, not having had a wash since yesterday, before I spent several hours walking up and down hills in the Mountain Resort in Chengde. So I go for it.
An aside: I had alredy been told my forearm tattoo said "ying", which has a number of translations, 'hard' being one I was not very keen on, but I thought might fit with it saying 'courage'. The taxi driver assumed it said "English", as the anglo part of English (yingwen) or England (yinguo) is ying. So not only is it bizarre that I even have a tattoo (people occasionally try and rub it off), but I may have a tasteless one that proudly proclaims I am British. Chiinese wouldn't understand post-modern irony, so I can't use that as an excuse.
My hotel is right near the start of the Mountain Path. The mountain is called Tai Shan (Shan means mountain) and is the holiest Taoist moutain in China. The main thing I learnt from the day was that being civilised for a long time, China has had a tourist industry for a long time. In other words there isn't really anywhere waiting to be 'discovered' by clever foreigners. The Chinese have usually been going there for thousands of years, have stalls and shops all over the place, and are there in force themselves.
After finding my way through an area of shops selling bonsai, garden stones and driftwood in interesting shapes, up the path I go, with literally thousands of Chinese. The path is wide enough for several people, but still clogs occasionally. Maybe its Lao Tzu's birthday? By the halfway point (called Midway Gate to Heaven) I am a bit hacked off with the crowds, and take the cablecar the rest of the way (and I'm glad I did).
Its pretty crowded up the top as well, but as there are five peaks to choose from, I head off away from the crowds. The first thing I notice is in picture 4, which was growing all over the top - guesses on a postcard please, answer tomorrow.
Anyway, I did manage to get some peace and quiet and some great views that didn't transfer to camera well, but eventually I had to rejoin the throng, and there was still a lot of them.
You may have noted from the pictures so far and to come, that it is a bit hard to tell the difference between Buddhists, Taoist and as I found out the next day, Confucian) temples. They are all similar colours and involve burning fistfuls of giant incense. A Taoist thing that I have yet to get someone to explain to me involves buying engraved padlocks and locking them to holy things, as you can see in the pics. There are a lot of them.
Except for the noisy tourist hordes, Tai Shan was everything I hoped it would be. There was calligraphy everywhere, carved into rocks, sometimes small, sometimes huge. little temples, and certain stones and trees that were particularly aesthetic or otherwise worthy were drawn attention to (they really value their trees and stones here). And old people were selling ginseng and weird other stuff.
I decided to walk down the way I missed going up, and I am so glad I went down it rather then up. The moutain is about a similar height to Ben Nevis, but in the last half mile there are 1600 steps, all steeper than the steepest stairs. People looked very knackered as I skipped down past them.
So back home to rest and pick the chicken claws out of my stir fry again (not usually a huge lot left after I take out the bits us Brits don't really want to look at never mind eat).