Made In China

Trip Start Sep 15, 2010
Trip End Jul 23, 2011

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Flag of China  ,
Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Home of the world's oldest continuous civilization and 20% of the current population, China's combination of cultural history and future prospects is fascinating. 

Eager to learn more, I spent several days in Beijing exploring imperial palaces, ancient temples and climbing the Great Wall.  Yet there was something so shiny and new about these renovated relics that I couldn't quite believe I was seeing "the real China."  So after a week of surviving below freezing temperatures, I purchased the cheapest, warmest (and ugliest) coat possible and set off to find out.

First stop was Qufu.  This small town is home of the great Chinese philosopher Confucius.  Born 2,500 years ago, his teachings on social harmony and the common good have profoundly impacted China as well as much of East Asia.  After exploring his temple, family home and tomb, I met a young Chinese couple who took me to a nearby museum. They kindly translated various exhibits and shared about their life in simple English. 

The following day I took a bus to Tai'an.  This small city (by Chinese standards) is the starting point for hiking Mount Tai, the most sacred mountain in China.  I went to bed without a specific plan and woke up the next morning to meet Kelly, an American also staying in the hostel.  She was game to hike the entire trail, so a few hours later we began our 1,545 meter ascent.

The route was scattered with small temples fragrant with incense and quotes carved into enormous boulders.  Even more remarkable were the 80 year-old men and women climbing slowly but steadily.  By the time we almost reached our destination, I seriously thought my legs would fall off.  It's crazy to consider that emperors used to be carried up these paths by servants.  Once at the summit, we were surrounded by a hazy mist ... it was easy to see why this has been a place of worship for over 3,000 years.

The past few days may have only given me a tiny taste of life outside of Beijing, but when I returned to the capital city and recognized the little things, I realized "of course, this is the real China."  And although I still feel like I have more questions than answers, what made the biggest impression was observing and interacting with the people.  On the whole, I found them to be taller, more boisterous and much warmer than expected.  Despite our countries political differences, the Chinese are much more like Americans than I ever thought was possible.
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