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R.P. BenDedek

Mt. Tai - Taishan in Shandong
By R.P. BenDedek
Sep 20, 2008 - 9:51:01 AM

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At the beginning of July 2008, after my teaching duties for the semester had ended, I traveled to Shandong province with Jerry my Chinese friend.  He had asked me if I would like to visit his home town and Mt. Tai. Since I was not returning to Australia until the end of the month I readily agreed.  So Jerry took time off work and off we went.

Entrance to the Nantianmen Geoheritage Scenic Area

  •  Travelchinaguide Tai'an Mt Taishan
  • The leader of the 'Five Sacred Mountains', Mt. Tai is located in the center of Shandong Province, lying across the cities of Tai'an, Jinan and Zibo. Its main peak, Jade Emperor Summit, which is within Tai'an City, is about 1532.7 meters (5,029 feet) high. The mountain was once called Mt. Daishan, Mt. Daizong or Mt. Taiyue and was renamed Mt. Taishan in the Spring and Autumn Period (770BC-476BC). It epitomizes splendid Chinese culture and was listed in the World Natural and Cultural Heritage List of UNESCO in 1987.

Entrance to Nantianmen Geoheritage Scenic Area
Jerry had booked us soft seat tickets on the train north.  The journey was a nightmare for me.

Firstly the trip took almost 10 hours (from Memory) and there were so many people on board who had 'standing' tickets, that the aisles were totally filled with people.

It was virtually impossible to go to the Washroom; I managed the feat only twice.

Whenever the food service came through a carriage, everyone had to get off the floor where they were sitting or sleeping, and cram in with those in the seats.  But it is all part of the experience of living in China!  At least I had a seat.

Although we had intended going direct to Mt. Tai, it became quite obvious that I needed a days rest, and so we disembarked early and headed to Jerry's hometown.  In this case, hometown means the town to which Jerry's village is attached.  Although I will not expound the reasons here, I took an intense dislike to the town and it's people.  For a place with a boast of being a tourist town, the local attitude to foreigners was certainly not conducive to fostering it's image internationally.  One of it's local attractions (none of which I visited) included Mengzi Temple.

  • Mengzi is a famous thinker and educationist in Warring States in China, he was a formal inheriting scholar of Confucian school. He is respected as the "Yasheng" by successive scholars only next to Confucius.  The Mengzi Temple was built in fourth year of North Song Dynasty in 1037. Originally it was built near the  Mengzi Graveyard in Zoucheng.

A Village scene that does not do justice to the beauty of the place
We booked into a cheap hotel and spent the day resting. 

The following day we headed off to Taishan by bus. We were met by a former classmate of Jerry's who found us a hotel for the night.

It was an exceptionally hot and muggy day, and we had arrived after lunch. The boys planned for us to go climbing the mountain immediately, but what with the heat and the travel of the previous days and not to mention that I had fallen prey to influenza two days before departing, I insisted that we rest up and take off early the next day.

In the early hours of the morning there are buses to take one halfway up the mountain so that one can continue the journey to the summit on foot and witness the sun rise over the Summit. (Remember this!)

The more adventurous however, start at the bottom of the mountain and walk all the way to the top. 

Now whilst Jerry had planned to whisk me off up the mountain in those early hours, everything he did to fulfill the plan was thwarted, and we ended up going mid-morning.

The entrance to the 'geoheritage' scenic area is quite beautiful, and was just a few metres from where we stayed. As we were walking across the road to buy our tickets (100+rmb), a bus load of Chinese tourists arrived.  I'm not sure what gave them the most thrill; to arrive at the park, or encounter me.

The Valley to the East of the Summit

  • Nantianmen Geoheritage Scenic Area is located around the South Gate to Heaven, including the top of Mount Taishan and last section of step way (with many turnings), it is the core of Mount Taishan National Geopark, covering an area of 3.06km2. Besides the numerous typical geoheritage, including famous Immortal Bridge (Collapse accumulation), Platform for Overlooking the State Lu (Zhanlutai Platform), Summit stone, there are also a great number of cultural relics (archways, temples and Taoist temples), such as Shenxian Archway, Bixia Temple, Cliff Inscription of Tang Dynasty, etc.  It is very interesting that many cultural relics are closely related to geoheritage, for instance, the Cliff Inscription of Tang Dynasty is just on a vertical joint plane.  So some cultural relics are very significant not only in culture, but also in scientific research.

Taken from near the first hotel before going to the expensive hotel. The summit has many peaks.

  • China Culture.org
  • Mt. Tai rises abruptly to 1,300 m above the vast plain of north China. The sharp contrast between Mt. Tai and its surrounding plain and hills makes it especially majestic.
  • Mt. Tai rises from about 150 m above sea level (north of Tai'an City), to the Middle Gate to Heaven at 847 m, to the Southern Gate to Heaven at 1,460 m, and finally to the Jade Emperor Peak at 1,545 m. Standing in the central part of Shandong, the mountain stretches for 100 km. Its base covers an area of 426 sq. km. The wide base and huge body of the mountain gives an impression of solidity and dignity. Chinese people tend to describe a situation as being as stable as Mt. Tai or a matter as being as weighty as Mt. Tai, giving clear evidence of such an impression.

The name of the place I do not know, but that it was good to look at is obvious.

Upon admission, we boarded one of the buses that transport tourists halfway up the mountain. There were some beautiful sights to see and unfortunately between not having my camera ready, and often being on the wrong side of the bus to take a good shot, I missed capturing them all.  "Oh well!" I thought: 'There is always the return trip!' Little did I know what was in store!'

Once the bus arrived at the mid-way point, everyone scattered and followed the various pathways leading to those 'famous' places listed on the signs.  Me, I just followed Jerry, until that is, I spotted the cable cars!  I was there to see what could be seen, not kill myself climbing mountains.  As is so often the case in life, a momentary decision can have great impact on the future, and on this occasion my decision would determine the course of events over the next 24 hours.

Steps and yet more steps

Sounds very dramatic doesn't it?  Well it was in a way.  You see, Jerry wanted to climb up the mountain and then walk or take the cable down the mountain. I in the meantime was looking at the sky and thinking to myself: 'Since Murphy's Law is my constant companion, what are the chances that there will be big storm and we will get stranded on this mountain? I figured that the chances were very good, so I talked Jerry into taking the Cable car to the summit at which point we could decide the most appropriate action to take.

Ah! Scenic sites!
The cable car does not take one completely to the top, and there is still a fair distance to walk.

The pathways are totally man made, with steps of varying widths.

I figure that someone told the workers that each step had to be 'a foot wide', and as they all had different size feet, they ended up with different sized steps.

Remember I said this because I will come back to it later.

As is obvious in the photographs, we were enveloped in cloud up there.

I remember hearing a huge gong being rung, and when I figured out where the sound was coming from, I set my camera to 'video' and decided to record the sound and show the building.

Just those few seconds of adjusting the camera meant that the Shrine disappeared from view, and although we waited for quite a few minutes, it never reappeared.

The pathway to the summit wound itself all over the place, and along the way there were myriads of temples and other ancient sites to be seen; food outlets and those dreaded tourists by the millions.

They should install escalators. I'm sure the scenery was lovely at this point but who could see through the clouds.

The Grand peak with all it's inscriptions.

  • The Grand view Peak gets its name because there are a number of inscriptions of successive Dynasties on the cliff. The inscriptions which remain were created by the emperors in the Tang, Song and Qing Dynasty when they came to confer titles to Mount Taishan and offer sacrifices to it.

Foreigners are such fascinating animals to watch. Taken at the Grand Peak
By the time we reached the summit I was feeling thoroughly relieved that we had chosen to take the bus and cable car, as opposed to walk the whole distance. I was exhausted!

Another reason to be thankful, was that it was quite obvious that bad weather was on it's way, and my mind immediately concentrated on our possible choices should a storm hit.

Before walking the final steps up to the highest point on the Summit, Jerry and I stopped to look at the view of the valley on the Eastern Side of the Mountain.

We did manage to catch glimpses of it, but I seem to remember that it took a good 20 minutes or so before we were finally satisfied that we had managed to see it in all it's splendour. It took that long because the clouds just kept sweeping in and completely cutting off visibility.

During that time I discussed with Jerry the possibility of finding lodgings, and was surprised to learn that there are hotels up there. After checking out the summit, we decided to check one particular hotel, or should I say, a series of buildings owned by one hotel group. 

Whilst Jerry was inside, I was wandering around outside. As he was being shown to the particular building in which our room was located, the accompanying Staff Member suddenly announced that a foreigner could not stay there, and recommended that we go to the 'really expensive' hotel off yonder.

In the process of doing that, we discovered that a dilapidated looking building off in the distance was also a hotel. When I found out the price of the 'expensive hotel', I decided that I was sick of being 'ripped off' by the Chinese simply because I am a foreigner. I don't earn much more than some Chinese and a whole lot less than others, so why should I constantly be forced to pay high prices for the privilege of being a foreigner.

The highest point on Mt. Tai

The Summit of Taishan in a rare moment of clear sky
I told Jerry to go check out the other hotel and to make it clear that he would be booking in with a foreigner.

I also told him that I would not pay more than 200 rmb per night [* fnt] and that if we could not get a room for close to that price, then I wanted to leave the mountain immediately.

(I had already had bad experiences in his home town and some particularly bad ones in SuZhou).

I was in no mood to put up with Chinese Racism any longer! [I also have no time for Western PC idiots who have no idea of the true nature of racism.]

I stayed outside the expensive hotel while Jerry descended and then ascended a variety of tracks to arrive at the old hotel on the next mountain peak.

When he eventually returned, he assured me that all was well and for 200 rmb we could both stay there. When we arrived together I was really made to feel welcome by the owner; something that I really appreciated given some of the events I had experienced in previous days.

Long Distance shot of the dilapidated looking hotel on Mt. Tai

Checking into our spacious but Spartan room, (despite the inconvenience of the small 'convenience' within it), Jerry and I decided that we could afford a short nap before setting off to explore the summit at leisure. Oh the plans of mice and men!  Within 30 minutes a storm hit and we could not see 3 metres further than the bedroom window.  The rain did not let up for quite a long time, by which time it was dark!  So much for a leisurely stroll through the mountains.

Taoist Temple into which we did not go as we pushed ever onwards and upwards

I would have to say that this was one of the few times that I have managed to somewhat thwart Murphy and his ridiculous law. Because we had checked into the hotel prior to the storm, we managed to stay dry for the night. So many others had to find shelter where they could or walk back down the mountain in the rain and in the dark. Once the storm hit, the cable car was not permitted to run.

Side gate of yet another temple. I never took a photo of it's name because it was raining.

At any rate, after eating a nice meal prepared by the owner himself, Jerry and I took a stroll in the misty darkness using as our guide a light at the top of the hotel.  We did not wander far, but we did stumble across that place to which all the pilgrims would be heading at dawn; the lookout directly behind the hotel from which the sun is first seen to rise at dawn.

Serene!

At dawn next morning we heard the hotel owner waking up those people who intended going to the lookout. They were in for a big disappointment.  At about 7am the owner came knocking on our door to tell us that we had better pack up and get off the mountain because an even bigger storm was headed our way and the cable car was still not operating.  We would have to walk down to the bus station. Purchasing two poncho raincoats, we headed off for the walk down the mountain.

Taken from the back side of the temple at the top.

Now remember earlier I made a joke about the size of the steps?  Well it was no joke in the rain I can tell you. Walking up those steps was no where near as hard as descending them in the rain. I followed the lead of so many others and walked sideways for long stretches at a time. Some of the younger more daring mountain climbers were descending 'front on' at alarming speeds, although not as alarming as watching them take their spills, thereafter to more carefully go where angels feared to tread.

Looking back to the summit.

The raincoats which obviously were designed to protect us from the rain, were simultaneously causing our bodies to overheat, and like so many others, we found ourselves discarding underlying layers of garments until finally it became apparent that the only way to avoid heatstroke was to remove the raincoats altogether.

And so it was that we found ourselves in the drizzling rain walking in cold mountain air, trying to cool the body heat created by our vigorous and rapid descent.

Everywhere in China there are signs on mountains that prohibit smoking.  I cannot express my relief, nor give thanks enough for a sight I encountered along the way. There in front of us were a dozen intrepid mountain climbers intent on ascending the mountain, taking a breather. They were cheerily sitting on the steps, in the rain, smoking to their hearts content.  Finding security in numbers, I joined them.

[Yes I did say that they were ascending the mountain. They, like so many others, had taken off in the wee hours of the morning, blissfully unaware that they were walking into a storm.]

In a Hamlet on the way to a village. Country living.

As is always the case for foreigners in China, the locals were stunned to see one,  not the least reason for which in this case was both his location and the condition of his dress. I don't know why it is that the Chinese expect foreigners to be dressed to the nines in all places and on all occasions, but seeing a foreign mountain climber dressed as casually as were they, seemed to shock many people. I descended the mountain listening to a constant stream of 'hellos'; seeing people look me up and down as though I was not suitably attired, and watching the stunned expressions on Chinese faces as people suddenly realised that that was a 'laowai' standing in front of them.

Taken from the ONLY road on the horizon at Jerry's village while walking on my own.

Village houses made of stones and modern day flour grinding
How nice it would have been to have taken that trip in Spring and to have brought back photos of all the sights to be seen.

In the rain however, one could see nothing.  At one point we could hear the rushing of water just off to our left, but had no idea where the stream causing it was located.

At those points where once could see the surrounding attractions, the problem was one of taking photos without getting the camera and its lens soaked.  I guess one day I will just have to go back and try again.

When we reached the bus station, we were ferried to the bottom of the mountain where we caught another bus back to Jerry's hometown.

After taking a day off to rest, we headed off to his village, located about an hour away by taxi.

I visited with his mum and took a little walk on my own while they settled some family problems [Why don't you have a better paying job? When will you get married? When will we have grandkids? - that sort of thing.]

Later Jerry took me for a walk around the village. The people there were so much different to those I met in town.

It was a magical place - a place I wouldn't mind living in.

As in all stories, a lot has been left out about this trip, but I do hope that you enjoyed the photos accompanying this story.

 My own website is back online and 40 larger and different photos are contained in two files there, commencing with the article entitled: Adventure on Mt. Tai in Shandong.

Until then, Best Wishes!

[*fnt] A lesson in Economics to those who want to feel superior:

200rmb IS NOT equivalent to US$30.

200rmb is to a Chinese person or a foreigner on 50,000rmb per year, equivalent to US$200 for an American on US$50,000 per year, except that the vast majority of Chinese are not on 50,000rmb per year.

A walk in a Chinese Village - the prettiest I have ever seen

The vast majority of Chinese can not afford 200rmb per night for a hotel, and so when necessary to do so, they would be looking for a hotel for 60-100rmb per night, which by the way is what I would be hoping only to pay in Australia whenever it is possible. I would certainly avoid paying AU$200 per night for a hotel if I could. During my recent stay in Australia I paid $70, $80 and $109 respectively for various hotel stays. To do that of course meant that I had first to save, (at the 6.6:1 rate of conversion at the time of my arrival) 462rmb; 528rmb and 719rmb. Tourist hotels in China range from 500rmb to 2000rmb. I however am not a rich foreign tourist.

Jerry and his Mom sitting in the fiels still talking about life's essentials.

R.P.BenDedek

Email rpbendedek@hotmail.com

Mt. Emei Golden Summit Sichuan Province


R.P.BenDedek is the pseudonym of the Author of 'The King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' (http://www.kingscalendar.com/), and is a guest columnist at Magic City Morning Star News. An Australian, he currently teaches Conversational English in China.

Photographic Stories from China at Kingscalendar

"The King's Calendar" is a chronological study of the historical books of the Bible (Kings and Chronicles), Josephus, Seder Olam Rabbah, and the (Essene) Damascus Document of The Dead Sea Scrolls.


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