Thursday, December 18, 2008

Confucius say, "Wise man stay at sea level."

After walking around the highest point of Mt. Tai and admiring the view, we began our descent back to the cable car station. We went down a different way than we came up. One of the temples we passed on the way down was called the Confucius Temple. Confucius wrote about this mountain and apparently climbed it more than once, long before there were buses or cable cars. And I thought Confucius was supposed to be wise!The guys coming down those steps were Indonesian tourists with a Chinese friend of theirs, who were all speaking English to each other. We chatted with them a bit on the way down the many, many steps. We went through several gates on the way down. Each of them has an interesting name, but you pretty much have to know Chinese to read them. Here is one of them.You can also see some of the many shops over on the right. They sold everything from souvenirs to hot tea and noodles. The hot souvenir seemed to be rocks. Rocks of all sizes, engraved with Chinese characters.

Now, you might remember that I said Hubby climbed this mountain at a previous time. He started at a little after midnight and got to the top in time to see the sunrise, which is a big deal. Most Chinese people aspire to one day watch the sunrise from Mt. Tai, or so the literature tells me. Anyway, here's just a small portion of what he climbed to accomplish this task:You can see why I was all for the bus and cable car idea! So, at long last, our day on the mountain was complete. We headed back to the cable cars, just in time to be treated to a spectacular sunset.And so concludes my day on Mt. Tai, chief among the five sacred mountains of China.

This afternoon, we're leaving Tai'an to go back to Beijing, where I will catch my flight home on Monday. We plan to do more sightseeing over the weekend, and hopefully I can get online at our new hotel and share some more pics!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tai'm and Tai'm again

So, to continue the story of Mt. Tai...

You would think that once you had ridden a bus and a cable car, you would actually be at the top of the mountain. And while it's true that you are, this particular mountain has many small peaks, and each peak has a structure on it. And between these peaks, there are more steps. So many more steps. Do you see how happy I look in this picture? That is because I did not yet know about the steps.We went up these steps:And we came to an area with many large engraved stones, where emperors carved messages into the mountain and offered sacrifices to it.Then we went up more steps, through one of the temples. Many of the small structures on the mountain are temples, each of which has a fire burning so that people can light large incense sticks and leave them there to burn. Ironically, there are also "No Smoking" signs everywhere.

Finally, we arrived at the highest point of the mountain, and also the highest temple. The 1545 on the sign is meters, so that's over 4600 feet. It was a little chilly up there, too.
Hubby said when he was here before, the temple was really crowded. On the day we were there, only a few people were there. This is a picture of the altar with the incense burning. Notice all the padlocks on the fence behind it. Chinese couples have their names engraved on these, and then leave them here as a symbol of their eternal love. Or something like that.The view wasn't bad from up there, either, although it would have been better on a clear day.
And because I have so many more pictures to share, I will save the story of the trek downward for another day!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fit to be Tai'ed

Sunday, the weather was supposed to be clear, so we made plans to go to the top of Mt. Tai. The hotel we're staying in sits right at the base of the foothills of this mountain. Now, if you'd like more information about the mountain and its importance in Chinese culture, you can go here. Go ahead, I'll wait......

Okay, so we set out about 9 a.m. to climb the bottom part of the mountain. We planned to climb as far as the cable car, and then take that to the top. Unfortunately, out of all the ways up the mountain, we seem to have chosen the wrong one, because we never got to the cable cars along the path we took. On the bright side, I'm pretty sure we saw parts of the mountain that most tourists never see.This place, for instance, seemed to be all new buildings. People were still working on finishing the interiors of them. We climbed a little higher than this before finding some very nice people who, while they didn't speak English, were nevertheless able to communicate to us that we were in the totally wrong place.

So back down the mountain we climbed. We took a cab back to the hotel so we could get the ATM card, so we could get more money, so we could take a bus to the cable cars. We also ate lunch because by then it was past noon. So, greatly refreshed, we headed out again.

This time, we took the bus to the mid-point of the mountain. Here is a view out of the bus window:The ride to the cable car took about 15 minutes. We got off in a little area with lots of shops and walked up the path (more climbing!) to the cable car station. The ride up the side of the mountain took another 10 minutes or so, and we emerged on the summit of Mt. Tai!
And now this post is already too long, so I shall continue my tale of adventure tomorrow!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Shopping in the city

Yesterday was so much fun! I went with Robin, the wife of a guy Hubby works with, to the city of Jinan, which is the capital of this province (I think I got that right). It's a much bigger city than Taian. We met up with a couple of other ladies, Ella and Shirley. Shirley speaks Chinese, so she was able to help us when we got to the market.

The market (I think it was called New World Market) is a giant building filled top to bottom with little stalls selling everything from cheap toys and loose tea leaves to candy and clothing. In fact, the entire second floor is a maze of clothing stalls. Many of them were pre-made, off-the-rack clothes, but many more were stalls selling fabric. When you find a fabric you like, you show it to the tailor. Then you choose the style of garment you want, either from one of the displayed items or by bringing a picture to show him. Then they measure you and give you a time to pick up your custom-made garment.

Shirley told me a friend of hers got an entire suit custom-made for about $75! And these fabrics - you wouldn't believe how gorgeous! They had everything from silk to wool, with the most beautiful patterns and designs. I would have loved to have a skirt made from several of the different materials I saw, but I didn't have that much money with me and in a place like that, there's no such thing as credit cards.

I did find a beautiful off-the-rack skirt that just screamed "Take me home!". The lady wanted 120 Rmb for it, but that would have been all my money. She even told Shirley they don't bargain there. But when I started to walk away, she gave it to me for 100. That's about $15. You could never find a skirt that nice for $15 at home.

After lunch, we went to another market, which was more like a giant flea market. It had a roof, but was open to the outside. This place was so huge, we only saw a tiny fraction of it in the hour we were there. They had every type of clothing you can imagine. Some of it looked to be of very good quality, but much of it looked about as cheap as the prices. I didn't buy anything, but I did see a couple of things that looked nice. After a while, we were pretty tired and headed back to Taian.

I had a lot of fun and actually wouldn't mind doing it again next week, armed with more money this time. Of course, I haven't shopped around here yet, so maybe there are equally great deals waiting for me in the local shops. I'll let you know!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Chillin' in China

The past two days, I have just been relaxing. Really, the whole reason I came on this trip was to relax. Obviously I want to see stuff while I'm here, but there's not much to see while Hubby's at work. Tomorrow I'm going to the city of Jinan with the wife of a guy Hubby works with. She has a friend who speaks Chinese and is going to take us shopping.

Now, I promised I'd talk about the train. We left from the new Beijing South train station. Here's a picture of it:Doesn't it look like a giant spaceship that landed in the middle of the city? It's really nice inside, too. And the train was very comfortable. We had first class tickets, which meant more space and seats that leaned back - you can kind of see them in the picture above. Starting out from Beijing, we were traveling at something like 270 km/hr. I'll let you do that math, but that's pretty fast. The speed varied, though. It seemed like most of the trip we were going somewhere around 160 km/hr, slower when we got near towns. It took 3 1/2 hours to get to Taian from Beijing.

I also promised I'd talk about toilets. Feel free to stop reading here. Hubby had warned me, but when you gotta go, you gotta go. Most public toilets here are odd. (By the way, I've never seen so many public toilet signs in a city. Almost every block, there's a sign.) Imagine a toilet bowl mounted in the floor, with treads on either side to keep your feet from slipping. You just squat down over it. There is usually no paper, and if there is, you put it in a little trash can after using it, not in the bowl. Even on a moving train, this is the type of toilet I had to use. It's... different.

In the hotel, of course, we have a normal toilet, with paper and everything. Some restaurants also have normal toilets. But in general, if we're out and about I try to avoid going. I guess tomorrow in the city I won't have a choice. Wish me luck!
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Monday, December 08, 2008

More details

Let me tell you about my trip so far. We flew from Newark, NJ for about 13 hours, up over the North Pole and across Siberia and Mongolia to Beijing. I didn't see any sign of civilization until we were over China. Everything up until then had a layer of snow and ice. It was very beautiful, though. I think I got some good video, but here is a picture of a frozen river in the distance.I didn't get any shots of the mountains coming in over Beijing because we were supposed to put away all electronic devices, but I think I'll try to get some on the way home.

The first thing I noticed in the airport was the smell of cigarette smoke. You don't usually smell that in US airports. Well, I've found that people here smoke a lot. I had to leave breakfast just now because someone came in and started smoking. Outside it's not so bad, though. Amusingly enough, there were No Smoking signs on the Great Wall. And even in non-smoking rooms and "non-smoking" sections of restaurants, ashtrays and matches are still provided.

Beijing is a huge city. Not just big, but huge. Usually I can get a feel for a place if I have a map and a couple of day, but I was totally lost there the whole time. We just put ourselves at the mercy of the cab drivers. I think we only got ripped off once. I think. Someone Hubby knew from work had a friend in Beijing who was nice enough to show us around Friday night and Saturday morning. He bought our tickets to the Forbidden City, rented the audio tour guides for us, and found us the bus to the Great Wall. His name was Henry. It seems like most people we've met (maybe all) have an English name that they use, kind of like I was Juana in Spanish class. I guess they find it easier.

Friday night we tried to go to two different bar/restaurants for dinner, but they were both full - no tables at all. So we walked down the street and saw "Peppe's Pizza" up on the second floor of a building. We went there. The menu told the story of the restaurant: an American couple from Connecticut moved to Norway and started a pizza shop, and somehow now there's a branch in Beijing. So we ate American-inspired Italian food from a Norwegian restaurant in China. Now that's what I call multicultural! Incidentally, the pizza here doesn't have tomato sauce, just cheese and toppings. It was really good.

Saturday I already told you about, briefly. I will add that I have rarely seen so many people in one place in my life. Maybe at Disney World, but that's about it. Everywhere we went in the Forbidden City, you had to push and shove to get up where you could see inside the buildings. And then you had about three seconds before someone shoved you out of the way.

I think tomorrow I will tell you about the train and the toilets. You won't want to miss this.
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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Live from China!

I have only been here since Friday and already seen and done so many amazing things! So, as promised, here are some pictures! Now, before you get too jealous of all the fun I'm having, the temperature on this day was about 30 degrees in the city and 25 on the Wall, and that's without wind chill. I couldn't feel my face after a while.Here's the entrance to the Forbidden City. It is unbelievably huge inside. We were there for about three hours and didn't even see half of it. Hubby took lots and lots of video - I will try to post some of the shorter ones later.Then we went to the original restaurant for Peking duck. Seriously, this place has been in business since 1416! This gentleman sliced the duck for us and they served it in those cute little duck dishes. You're supposed to take a "pancake" which is a sort of very thin rice tortilla, place some duck dipped in sauce and a couple of veggies on it, and roll it up fajita-style to eat it. Absolutely delicious! Then they took the rest of the duck and made a soup for us - also delicious. It warmed me up nicely, which was good because after that we headed to the Great Wall.
You can probably tell that I am very cold in this picture. And this was before the sun went down! Notice how steep the wall is behind us? That was nothing! Look at this:I promise you parts of the stairs were at about an 85 degree angle. And we climbed it. Insane, I tell you!And then just as we were leaving, all the lights came on! They only have a small portion of the wall lit, but how beautiful! On the right, you can see the "One World, One Dream" sign, which is still up from the Olympics.

We are now in Tai'an, which is where Hubby works when he's here. You wouldn't even believe the luxury of this hotel. Today or tomorrow I'm going to go around and get some pics of it. Wow is a word I've been using a lot since we got here last night.
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Friday, December 05, 2008

From the other side of the world

I'm in Beijing! My computer won't plug in here, so once the battery's gone, I won't be back online until Sunday evening (that's Sunday morning in the US). Tomorrow we're going to the Forbidden City and the Great Wall - so when I come back I'll have lots of pictures!

And now I need some rest. A 13 hour flight really takes it out of you.V

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

On the move!

We are now back in the freezing North, or at least Hubby and I are. Tomorrow we will be on a flight to China! So the next time you hear from me, assuming I can log on from the hotel, I will be in Beijing.