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Published: March 29th 2007
Between the constant honking of horns, the near accidents on the roads, the incessant "hawk pitooey" of people spitting all the time (it's the Jinan pollution cough and/or the smoker's cough that everyone has here), and the constant staring at me and the other foreigners, lies the calmness of Chinese life and the friendly folk of Jinan.
In my short time here, I have become a tea drinker. Green tea is served instead of water at restaurants. I drink it at home almost daily. I never used to drink hot beverages much, but here I am into it. I have not had a lot of varieties, but I expect that I will over the course of the next year. The Chinese teachers at my school bring their tea every day. In a thermos or glass jar, it is carried religiously. I have grown accustomed to seeing the tea leaves settled in the bottom of the glass or teapot as I sip. My daily dose of green Mountain Dew has been replaced by the soothing effects of green tea.
In the early hours of day and in the waning sunlight at dusk, there are Chinese doing tai chi in the parks and squares. I am up early on Saturdays and Sundays to go to work, and marvel at their early morning exercises. I think someday I might join them, but then again, I prefer to sleep in on my days off. Their 6:00 AM tai chi will go on without me. Sometimes in the evening I pass a few Chinese doing tai chi or some other martial arts, but with swords with red tassles hanging off them. Careful not to get too close! But it is an amazing sight to see. What concentration and strength they have. Most of the men and women I see in the parks doing exercises are older, some senior citizens too. I hope I will continue to exercise into my "golden years" like them.
I may join a gym while I am here. There are a lot of them around the city. In the meantime, I started yoga yesterday. There's an American named Brad who teaches English at Shandong University who also teaches yoga on Wednesdays. It was a good class. It's been a while since I've done yoga, and it was good to get back into it again. I am feeling it today! Brad is a friend of Josh, another American I met a few weeks ago. It's easy to meet the other foreigners, there is always someone who knows someone who.... I often run into co-workers and other Westerners walking down the street. (We kind of stand out from the crowd!)
Last week I went to Thousand Buddha Mountain (Qian Fo Shan = pronounced Shan Fo Shan) with a few co-workers. It's one of the mountains surrounding the city. It's on the southern border of the city, directly at the end of the street by where I live. I could walk there if I wanted, I'd guess it's about 30-45 minutes on foot. Otherwise it's a short taxi ride. A few of us are talking about getting a yearly pass for the mountain. It's a good deal since we want to go back several times.
The mountain is set up as a series of paths and steps that meander up the mountainside. All along the path there are shops marketing their wares (snacks, bracelets, incense, and so on) to the visitors. The smell of incense and the sounds of Buddhist chantings are all around. There are several Buddha statues along the way, all shapes and sizes. There is large one of a sleeping Buddha that I really liked. And the mother of them all is the golden Buddha statue that is the largest Buddha north of the Yangtze River. It is mammoth! It's a sitting Buddha, and it's visible all along the mountainside. We stopped near the big golden Buddha for ice cream. Yummy! From the mountain top you can see the whole city and off to the side you can see the golden Buddha. The day we went it was hazy (pollution haze of course), so the visibility was okay but not great. There are great views of the city from the top, and I look forward to going back on a clearer day. There is a restaurant along the way where we stopped for lunch. At the top there are a couple of pagoda-like shelters.
You have options for how to get down the mountain. You can walk down or you can take the toboggan and slide down. I walked down with a few others, but the other half of our group took the slide. Next time I will take the slide! It looks like a lot of fun. But of course there is an extra fee for that. So I saved my quai for another day. I look forward to going back. I'd also like to explore the other mountains around town. It's nice to know that one can get away from the city and see a bit of nature, even if it's not too far outside the city.
Another thing that I have noticed is the tendency of Chinese women to hold hands with or walk arm in arm with their friends. It is such a warm, friendly sight to see. For a generally conservative culture, I am surprised but intrigued by the open affection between friends. It stands in contrast to the honking in the streets where everyone spits and stares at me. It makes it a more friendly place to walk and watch the kites flying in the sky.
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