Qufu, Tai’an trip

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Flag of China  , Shandong Sheng,
Saturday, September 17, 2011

The second trip I went on with my group was to the towns of Qufu and Tai'an. We were suppose to leave for Qufu at 6:30 the morning of Saturday September 17th but the bus was late so we didn’t leave until closer to 7:30. The trip started out with a long 6 hour bus ride in the rain. The bus ride was rather uncomfortable because the bus was small and cold. The bus either doesn’t have a heater or they just didn’t turn it on either way the bus was about as cold inside as it was outside. Once we were on the road though it wasn’t as bad because I just fell asleep which wasn’t hard to do because it was overcast and gray outside. We arrived in Qufu around noon and the first place we went was a restaurant for lunch. The food at the restaurant was very good. We had tons of food just like we have had at every meal eaten in a restaurant.

               After lunch we all walked a few blocks to the main Confucius temple where we were going to spend the day. We all had to grab our coats and our umbrellas or ponchos because it was raining pretty steadily. I had been wearing flip flops and yoga pants so my feet ended up freezing in the cold rain. By the time we had gone through the first gate my pants were soaked almost all the way up to my knee. A few people in the group who didn’t have umbrellas ended up buying some from a lady standing inside the first gate selling them for 15 Yuan. It was a good thing they did because it continued to rain the entire day. Once we had made it though the main gate we saw that the complex was a large open area with what amounted to a small city in the middle with a series of gates leading to it. Each gate was made by a different dynasty. The gates closest to the temple were the oldest and as you moved out towards the outer wall the gates were built by more and more resent dynasties. Once you had pasted all the gates you entered a court yard area that had many different tablets in it. These tablets were also put there by different dynasties. They are giant stone slabs stood upright on the backs of creatures that look like turtles with dragon heads. We were told that that turtle creatures were to represent the sixth son of the dragon and phoenix who are the Emperor and Empress from a story. We saw many different representations of the dragon and phoenix along with their six sons. The largest tablet, which was also on the back of the sixth son, was carved in Beijing and so large that they had wait till the yellow river was frozen before they could transport it. They did that by sliding the tablet across the ice all the way to Qufu in a trip that took two months. 

                In the temple complex there were many other buildings including a large library, and housing areas. One of the housing areas was only for the emperor when he visited the temple. Much of the temple complex had areas that are only for the emperor, like gates that are only opened when the emperor will pass through it. The bridges and walk ways also have 3 or 5 areas sectioned out for the different classes to walk in, the emperor walks in the center while the common people have to walk on the outside edges and high officials walk on the paths between the common people and the emperor.  Along the walk ways there are many trees planted. Much like the different gates these trees were planted by different Emperors and Confucius, some of them are more than 2,000 years old and still standing. Although in some cases they are standing with the help of metal props. Along with those trees there are also trees with stories attached to them, such as the tree they say looks like the phoenix (I didn’t see the resemblance) from the story of the dragon married to the phoenix.

                After we were done seeing the temple complex we were taken to the place where Confucius’s tomb is. The area where Confucius was buried is a large family plot. The only people allowed to be buried there are those with Confucius’s family name. Confucius and his son are buried at the center of the area which is rather large, about 8 kilometers or 5 miles around. Areas of the family burial plot are covered with small hills which mark where each body was buried, the smaller the hill the older the tomb due to erosion with the exception of a few mounds that trees grew through. The trees help hold the ground there stopping erosion and keeping the mounds large. Some of the tombs are marked with stone animals and/or stone slab markers. The animals denote that the person buried there was either a first son or an officer. There are also some animals that are there as gate keepers. You can usually tell those from the ones denoting first sons because there will be two of the same animal facing each other between which is a path way. Leading to the tombs of Confucius and his son are three sets of stone gate keepers. Confucius and his son are buried beside each other, each with a large stone marker.

 Contrary to what most people would think Confucius was not the first but the second person to be buried there because his son died before he did. After Confucius died six of his students lived beside his tomb for three years out of respect for Confucius and his teachings. One of which was that when a parent dies the children should stay close to the tomb of the parent for three years. One of his students chose to stay another 3 years after all the rest had left so to honor his devotion to his teacher a building was raised beside the tomb. There are also large rocks and a large stone slab in the courtyard before you get to Confucius’s tomb that are said to have been carved by the tears of Confucius’s students.

After we saw Confucius’s tomb we loaded into the bus again and drove another hour to Tai’an where we were going to have dinner and stay the night. We had dinner at a restaurant where they once again served us way more food then we could possibly finish. It like always was very good though. After dinner we went to the Datangkaiyue Hotel where we stayed the next two nights.

                The hotel was very nice. The rooms were clean and comfortable and the hotel provided a very nice breakfast. One thing about the hotel that I found cool was the shower. The wall between the shower and the main part of the room was fog glass so you could see the person in there’s shadow. Now I know that can be awkward but you couldn’t see anything, the shadow wasn’t clear so it wasn’t awkward at all. The beds were nice and I slept very well. After getting ready in the morning I went down with Shaba to get breakfast only to find that the down should have been up as the dining area was on the 7th and top floor of the hotel. Once we found our way there we walked up to the buffet line and saw a great assortment of food that not only looked and smelled great but tasted really good (they don’t always go together in a lot of the food I have tried here). After breakfast our group loaded into the bus again and took off for Tai Mountain.

                Once we arrived at the mountain we parked the bus and walked up to a set steps leading to a bus station. There we got tickets to enter the park area and ride a bus up the mountain to the half way point. As we were waiting for the bus we had a "TC" moment or a “That’s China” moment when a little girl of about 5 years old stopped beside our group dropped her pants and relieved herself right there not even 60 feet from the bathrooms. That was odd for us but since then we have seen it a lot more and become rather use to it (well as use to it as you can get). Shortly after that we loaded our bus and unwittingly endanger our lives. The bus ride up that mountain to the middle gate was the scariest ride I have ever been on. We flew up those curvy steep roads with sharp drop offs on either one side or the other. Going around corners so sharp they needed mirrors to see oncoming traffic at speeds fast enough to throw people out of their seats. Finally we made it to the gate though and we were all still alive, the next step of our journey… climbing 2,600 steps to the top of the mountain.

                2,600 steps sounds like a lot on its own but add in the fact that they are ancient steep, uneven, lose steps and they become a lot worse. Then add in the distances of path that at level or semi-level and you get an unknown distance to the top which we walked. The walk was made worse by the weather which was very cold and foggy. The cold sucked because we were sweating from the walk then cold from the air so our clothes were damp making us, or me at least, even colder then I already was. We finally made it to the top and found the restaurant we were going to be eating in. once we all had sat down to eat they brought us hot water, so acting on the advice of Shaba I filled a plastic water bottle up with it and stuck the bottle under by coat against my core. It was really good advice because that water kept me warm through the entire meal and all the way back down the mountain. Going down the mountain was much faster but in some respects harder to do. It                 was step going down so at points I felt like I was going to fall down the face of the mountain. This was made worse because I was walking with Shaba who is deathly afraid of heights and therefore had to be supported by me to insure that he didn’t tumble down the mountain when his legs gave out (which they were doing periodically).

                The hike was worth all the trouble though just because of the amazing view that it offered. The steps followed along the side of a stream and crossed over it at times. There were waterfalls beside the path and greenness as far as the eye could see. From the top you could look out over mountains covered in trees and going down you looked out over the valley where the city of Tai’an lay. Along the sides of the path or sometimes spread out on blankets in the middle of it were trinkets you could buy. Little handmade bird shaped whistles, bracelets, carved stones, and even little Buddha’s were for sell. I was able to get a few little presents for people back home. Once we made it down the mountain we loaded back onto the death bus and risked our lives once again to make it back to our van.

                After the mountain we had dinner before going to see a puppet show. The show is done with shadow puppets that are made from thin animal skin. They are draw on and painted then cutout and attached to sticks. The puppet master then stands behind a light and a sheet of white material moving the puppets to illustrate a story being told. The puppet show is hard to explain so I will attach a video of it.

                The show was the last thing we did on the trip. The next morning we loaded back up into the van and headed back to the university.
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