Chicken Busin' on the Yellow River + Beijing

Trip Start Aug 19, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Aunt & Uncles
What I did
Black Cattle Festival

Flag of China  , Shandong,
Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Well after being in country nearly two months we got a real break.  The Chinese have a big old vacation for their National Day celebration.  I'm ashamed to say I don't know if it actually marks some special event, or if it is just a random day selected by the Party to celebrate all things Chinese.  Whatever the significance every one goes nuts traveling.  

 Despite the large amount of people buying cars these days, Chinese still don't seem to do road trips in the sense that we would in the Midwest.  If a journey is more than an hour or so, they hop on the train.  Now that doesn't mean it's always convenient, and over this holiday, and pretty much every other major holiday, if you don't get your tickets in advance there's a good chance you're not going anywhere.  When I say packed I'm talking like sardines.  The trains, the stations, the airports, it's even hard to get a cab on both weekends surrounding the 'off' week.  Luckily for me, this time I was bringing a seasoned Chinese hand along, my college friend Miranda has lived in China over a year now and speaks the language very well.

I met her at the fast train station in Jinan, where we stayed for a day.  Then we headed out to visit her "aunt & uncle" who are actually the aunt & uncle of one of her students, but she teaches grad school kids in their early to middle twenties, so the ages are appropriate for them to host us as we're only a few years older than her students.  Anyhow, these people live in a tiny little town called Gaoqing, to the northeast of Jinan, but only about 50 miles.  Despite the closeness of the destination, it took us half the day to get there and we had to take two different buses.  The second bus was reminiscent of Ye Ole Chicken Buses of Guatemala, dirty & slow and not somewhere you'd expect to find a foreigner.  In any case, we arrived in time, and promptly bought return tickets, to avoid being trapped by Aunt & Uncle and pressured into extending our stay. 

It ended up being great, after a few odd hours sitting in their new "house" or apartment as we call it in the west, while every one else bustled around us getting the place set up, we were whisked away to a fantastic dinner which combined the giant lazy susan style dinner table with individual little hot pots.  It was great, and as is the norm we had WAAYYY to much food.  We then went down to the nice central part (on the outside of town, a modern thing) and wandered around lit up floats dedicated to the first ever Black Cattle Festival, till it was time for us to be shipped off to our hotel.  That was a shocker, it was easily the nicest hotel in the city, and a lot nicer than most I've stayed in while on my own in my life.  It was a shame to have only one night there.....

The next day we ended up being driven all the way back to Jinan, to get us back in time for our imaginary train to Beijing.  But it was great; they took a scenic road that doubled as a dike to keep back the ever flooding Yellow River.  So the trip back was very nice, and I ended up napping part of it.

One extra day in Jinan and then we were indeed on our way to Beijing.  Nearly missed the train, but what fun trip doesn't start with running headlong through a train station some where in the world.  

Beijing was nuts, and I'm supremely glad I'm not in one of the big three cities.  You've got to budget at least an hour to get anywhere even though they have a large modern subway and bus system.  It was just like London, though without the charm of that old city.  Beijing is incurably new and renovated.  All vestiges of old imperial China have long since disappeared, and only a few massive sites, such as the Forbidden City, The Summer Palace, and so on, have remained.  My friend lives in the northwest corner, very near the summer palace, so that's where we went.  It was really cool.  To think it was just the fun retreat for one man and his family is kind of staggering.  I mean kings and emperors in Europe had some ridiculously large castes and estates, but not on this scale or level of intricacy.  It was hard to tell what really was ancient and what had been rebuilt in the last 40 years, but it didn't really impact the effect.

On our second day, instead of tempting fate and ludicrous crowds at the Great Wall, we toured a bit more of Beijing, stopping off at Tienanmen Square and then going to some other neat places my friend recommended including another "traditional" food street and dinner at a famous Peking Duck restaurant.  That was a great meal, and it was really cool to have the guy come out in his chef whites and carve up the duck right at our table side.  I took video of him doing it.  It took less than 2 minutes to slice and dice the whole thing.

The journey back was mercifully uneventful, and I'm really starting to like the availability of trains here in China, even on crazy travel weekends.  On my return to Jinan I elected to just take the bus to the central train station which is about 2 miles from my school and walk back; the perfect decompression time before starting work again on Monday, mischief managed.  I was spent.
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