Trip Start Jun 03, 2006
Trip End Jun 03, 2009

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Flag of China  ,
Thursday, May 3, 2007

It might have been the north of Spain, but then one wouldn't dare write about it because Hemmingway has already done that definitively for us.  This was the east of China, away from its city strewn seaboard and climbing up into the mountain ranges above the Yellow Plain. The road cut through valleys where there was a singular absence of signs of water, although the scars cut by dry streams sandy, rock strewn hillsides gave the lie to this.  It is the kind of landscape through which you feel you are sweeping, or perhaps you are still and the landscape sweeps around you - I'm not sure. 
Trees are everywhere, but never big and never dense. It is as though man is engaging in a futile effort to hold back the advancing desert by standing lines of straggly underdeveloped teenage boys before the waves of sand. It is nonetheless, a spectacular backdrop for a journey and that is not where the comparisons with Spain end either.  Everywhere we go in Shandong, there is hearty food, not the soft and delicate flavours and textures of the Chinese South, but big bowls of stew and soup, and steaming plates of vegetables.  It is the kind of food which fills a belly and warms a body after a day in the dry, windy outdoors.  Even the outdoor barbecues are huge, and there is no question of ordering a particular amount. You get a pile of bread or meat dropped on your table and you eat it and then they give you more until you call a truce with your stomach and calculate the bill by counting the skewers. 
Perhaps the artistic sophisticates of Southern China might label this a simple place, but it is also the cradle of Confucius and the setting for one of China's great mountain pilgrimages up the steps of TaiShan. Nonetheless, I find there is a simplicity and honesty to the people and the lifestyle I find here. I feel safe and am not constantly checking to see if I'm being cheated. If you were describing it as a person, then perhaps Shandong would be ruggedly handsome.  There we have the parallel with Northern Spain again.  I wonder what Hemmingway would have made of this place?
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