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Published: January 14th 2015
Happy New Year from China! Becky and I seized a rare opportunity of having a couple of days off at the same time to hop on the Chinese fast train (305km/hour) to Jinan, Shandong Province, some 450km away from Beijing. You’ve never heard of Jinan? Well, me neither before 2015!
Jinan is actually the capital city of Shandong Province, an attractive area of China mostly famous for 3 other places (I believe): Qingdao
, the coastal city where the sailing events of the 2008 Olympics took place, Qufu
, birthplace of Confucius, and finally Taishan
, one of the Five Great Mountains of China. In other words no tourist ever makes it to Jinan when visiting Shandong…
Why did we go there? We wanted to visit a place none of us had ever been to, and Jinan is mentioned in Chinese History books for different reasons: the area has been inhabited for more than 4000 years. Zhou Yan, who developed the concepts of Yin and Yang is a native of Jinan area. And the descendant of the Jibei Kingdom (of which Jinan was the capital) founded the Wei Kingdom, one of the 3 Kingdoms during the 3 Kingdoms Period, duh! (= a
very significant era in Chinese History). The name Jinan means “south of the Ji River.” I thought it was interesting to learn that the Ji River used to run north of the city, but it disappeared in 1852 when the Yellow River changed its course and took over River Ji’s bed.
Nowadays to Chinese people Jinan is known as the “City of Springs.” There are 72 springs scattered around town and we stumbled upon quite a few of these ponds as we wandered around the city. The most popular spring in Jinan is called Baotu Spring
, and it’s located in a beautiful park, with stone pools of clear water, surrounded by Chinese pavilions and gardens, with old characters engraved in stone and little canals leading to bigger ponds. It’s possible to drink the spring water out of a stone fountain and the local people line up to fill up their gallons to use this pure water to drink and cook at home. We also saw people swimming in another spring pool, right in the middle of the city, and in January!
We also headed to the mountains (hills?) just outside Jinan and we walked up Qian Fo Shan
The most famous Spring in Jinan: Baotu Spring
Bao Tu means "jumping and leaping" in Chinese. The water in the spring pool can be seen foaming and gushing, looking like a pot of boiling water. The spring was visited by the Emperor Qian Long (1711–1799) of the Qing dynasty who declared it "the best spring under the heaven"
= the Thousand Buddha Mountain. We admired all kinds of statues of Buddha images, some of them dating back to the Sui Dynasty (year 600). According to a local legend, the Thousand Buddha Mountain used to be located by the sea, and the God of the Sea had locked the mountain in place (with a large lock) to prevent the God of Mountains from moving it away. But the lock broke and the Mountain drifted to its present location. Sculptures of a big lock and chain have been placed on top of the mountain as a reference to the legend. Becky and I enjoyed how quiet the entire hill was. It was a perfect sunny day (15 degrees Celsius in January) and we made sure to go slowly. A lot of statues have been damaged during the Cultural Revolution but many new statues have been added… and they symbolize the new China: the Bigger, the better! (see photos of the gigantic Buddha)
But from the top of the mountain we could not help noticing how severely polluted Jinan was. It was not much of a surprise (most major Chinese cities are polluted, right?) as the train we rode from
Beijing to Jinan had taken us through dense smog the entire way. After a bit of reading on Jinan, I found out Jinan was one of the ten most polluted cities in the world in 2013! Charming… The funny thing is that since November the air quality in Beijing has not been too bad thanks to strong wind, and we have had nice (normal) blue sky for the last 3 months, but we decided to take a holiday in a polluted city… What is wrong with us?!
Shandong is famous for its food, as it is one of the 8 culinary traditions of Chinese cuisine. Shandong food is called Lu cuisine, and it involves cooking with peanuts, different kinds of vinegar and grains… and all types of offal, giblets, entrails...! On the menu at the restaurant I could read: Stir fried pig’s kidney, pig’s large intestine, braised pig knuckle, jar of sheep blood, deep fried golden cicada… Nice! We didn’t eat anything too crazy but I thought the food and especially the sauces tasted awesome! We had, among others, a Shandong version of the famous kung pao chicken with eggplants and it was scrumptious!
One of the main
attractions in Jinan is Furong Jie Snack Street
, an old pedestrian street filled with food shops, restaurants, and food peddlers selling barbecued seafood (octopus, squid, oysters, clams, star fish!), a lot of desserts and snacks based on durian (that smelly fruit), and the famous beggar’s chicken (A starving beggar in China during the Qing dynasty is said to have stolen a chicken and was hotly pursued by its owner. In his haste he buried the chicken in mud near a riverbank to hide it. Later that night he returned and retrieved the chicken, its feathers covered in mud. He started a fire of twigs and branches to cook the chicken. But not having any utensils he placed the entire chicken directly into the fire. A tight clay crust formed as the fowl cooked, and when the crust was cracked open the feathers came right off the chicken exposing juicy tender meat and emitting an incredible aroma. The roasted chicken was so delicious he decided to start selling his creation to the villagers. Unbeknownst to him he had just invented one of the greatest culinary traditions of China: the beggar’s chicken! www.redcook.net
)! We walked up and down the street many times
the real China!
The old lady closed the door very fast when she saw me walking by...
over our stay in Jinan and I marveled at the colors, smells, shapes and beautiful weirdness of it all!
What I liked best about Jinan was the old quarter just off Furong Jie: it’s a maze of narrow cobble-stoned alleys, where people quickly disappear behind bricked walls and round old-fashion-looking wooden doors covered in red scrolls. People were very surprised to see my white face (and long nose!) among this part of Jinan, but they smiled and pointed out the obvious: the modern part of the city with tall apartment buildings, huge shopping malls, and 3-lane-roads, is taking over rather rapidly. This is China! And Jinan is the perfect example of what China is these days: a blend of contrasts, a mix of old and new, extremely modern architecture next to ancient houses, very old beliefs and traditions contrasting with numerous examples of globalization, poor people making a few RMB a day riding their rusty bikes next to the wealthiest businessmen on earth looking for their Range Rovers in the pollution… And foreigners like me walking around this crazy place wondering what life used to be like and how things will turn out in the future.
My favorite pic
I wish I had gotten my camera out faster. He greeted me but was also very surprised to see my foreign face in this part of Jinan
forgot… Becky’s highlight of the trip? We stepped into a café that had 5 feisty cats walking around and she got to play with them for a while! I’d like to be able to write another sentence about this… but I can’t think of anything else to say! She likes cats! That’s it. Haha!
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