In September 2011, I was lucky enough to visit a small part of China. This was an unforgettable adventure which, amongst other things, rewarded me with a century of lifespan. Read below to find out at what cost I got such reward.
It was an occasion not to miss: my fiancée was going to a conference in China, and at that time, I had some spare time (meaning I was unemployed). It was only for 11 days, and had to start from Yantai, the city where the conference was taking place. So this is only a glimpse of China, a gigantic country about which I still don’t know much. One thing I know now is that being a hairy man walking around with a pale redhead, results in staring, pointing, and giggling from everyone. A man even fell from his motorbike, when parking it, literally stupefied by my partner (at her greatest embarrassment and my greatest amusement). Passed the cultural – and visual – shocks we found everyone to be very friendly, welcoming and with a great sense of humor. We’ll definitely go back.
Yantai looks in some places as if it was built the week before. The seafront is particularly fancy with modern sculptures and lights at night.
Downtown looks more like what you would expect from a Chinese city of this size, with shops, restaurants and rain – copious amounts of it. The seafood market is quite big, right on the coast and fishing boats are parked next to it.
Mount Taishan is North of Tai’an City, and is one of the five sacred mountains of China. I am not really the sporty kind of guy, and if anything, I’m more a swimmer than a walker. ‘Climbing’ this mount will probably remain my biggest physical achievement. I put ‘climbing’ in quotes because it was only climbing stairs, but a lot of them. The story says that anyone who reaches the top will live for a century, and there’s a good reason for that. We had to climb for 6 hours and a half over 10000 stairs. That’s right, 10000 stairs (if you start from downtown).
The first part was a very enjoyable walk, going through a beautiful forest, and taking breaks to look at temples and stone sculptures. We stopped at the middle to have a fabulous beef soup with hand-pulled noodles – a half-way stop were you can be taken by bus – an option we rejected since it could put at risk our chances to live for a hundred years.
The second part was way less enjoyable, and became a nightmare during the last half hour. We finally reached the top, and I was at this stage barely standing on my jelly legs, bathing into my sweat, cursing my stupid photo gear for weighing a ton, and feeling completely humiliated by all these elderly Chinese groups running around like if they were just having their Sunday walk. Some of them will probably live forever because they do this every weekend.
We stayed overnight at the highest hotel – I utterly hated these last stairs – and woke up at 5 to go and see the ‘renowned sunset over the clouds’. When we got out, a mist thick as cigar smoke was enveloping any available surface.
Nothing to see, nothing to do, painfully moving our stiff legs, we headed to the cable railway station from where we would be gently taken back to civilization without any effort. Because of the high winds, the cable railway was closed and we had to walk down to the halfway stop, by all means, even if it required walking backwards, like a crab, or even just crawl.
Qufu is the birthplace of Confucius. There is a lot to see, and it is all about him. The Confucius Temple, mansionm and cemetery are not to be missed.
I’ll fondly remember Qufu as the place where we understood that breakfast was to be taken in the street and consisted of soup and freshly steamed dumpling. I believe that dumplings are making the world a better place.
The Great Wall
There are different points of entry to the Great Wall, which are supposed to be less crowded with tourists as they are further away from Beijing. Mutaniyu was the one we went to, and it was crowded with tourists. It was still very impressive.
We stayed only 3 days in Beijing, and I wish we could have stayed longer. There was so much to see. The Forbidden City and the facing Tiananmen Square were of course in our plans. We also went to an insane Kung-Fu show at the Red Theater.
On our way back from the show, we asked the taxi driver where we could find a good ‘Beijing Duck’ restaurant. And I believe he brought us to the best place two young travelers as us could find, The LIQUN ROAST DUCK RESTAURANT, a gem hidden in a dark street of Beijing. It was the most expensive meal we had over the trip, but certainly cheaper than the fancier Beijing Duck restaurants. And it was worth every Yuan. This is the best meal I had in a restaurant so far.
A last spot we truly enjoyed was a pretty park – an island of quietness surrounded by buildings – to be visited in a Sunday morning, when the locals take their morning walk, exercise, do Tai Chi, play music, and feed gold fish in ponds.
I enjoyed every minute I spent in China, and I look forward to visiting this fantastic country again.