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Published: December 29th 2008
For more of my photos, or to buy my book, please visit www.nickkembel.com
Shandong Province: Home of Confucius, and China's Most Sacred Peak
I had some difficulty getting out of Beijing, since the New Year's holidays had begun, when millions of Chinese people take to the roads getting to their hometowns to be with their families for the holiday. To make matters worse, huge snow storms were devastating parts of central China, so that roads and train lines were all closed or backed up.
I eventually got a seat, or rather bed, on a bus heading south-east of Beijing to Shandong Province
. This region is famous for at least three things: it is the home state of Confucius and all of his descendants, of Tai Shan, the holiest of China's five sacred peaks, and of Qingdao (Tsingtao), the birthplace of China's signature beer.
Hometown of one of the Great Philosophies of China
My first stop was Qufu
, with it's magnificent ancient walled Old City
, and birthplace of Confucius
. I stayed at a very rustic hotel in the Old City, and at nighttime I went to bed with a toque and winter jacket on and I
still froze my ass off, thanks to there being no internal heating and freezing temperatures outside.
During the daytime I first visited the Confucius Temple
, an enormous complex which takes up one fifth of the Old City. I wandered through the various temples, pavilions, and snow sprinkled courtyards, trying to get a feel for this ancient philosophy that emphasizes hierarchy, obedience, selflessness, and filial respect.
Adjacent to the Confucius Temple are the Confucius Mansions, home of the aristocratic Kong Family, the direct descendants of Confucius
from the 1500's to 1948 when they fled to Taiwan.
Next I left the ancient walls of the old city to visit the Confucius Forest and Cemetery, the largest artificial park and biggest cemetery in all of China
, where Confucius and all of his descendants to this day lie. It was a truly serene place. I saw no other people, and for some time I wandered through the misty forest with fields of burial mounds. The focal point is the 2500 year of Burial Mound of Confucius himself
, as well as Mensius
, another famous pioneer of the philosophy. It is hard to imagine that such ancient remains have been preserved on site.
That is 500 years older than Jesus!
In Qufu I sampled some of the sweet potatoes that are baked in large ovens on the street
, as well as some street bubble tea and noodles. I also had some name stamps
made for myself and family, where for less then 3$ you can have your name carved into a tiny chunk of marble in a matter of minutes. Overall I really enjoyed Qufu. It had a real ancient feel to it. Not only because the walls and sites are so old, but also because there are so many old people kicking around, perhaps given the Confucian emphasis on filial piety and respect for elders.
Ascending China's Most Sacred Peak for Chinese New Year
Next I moved on to Tai Shan, the most revered of China's five sacred Taoist peaks. They claim that if you climb Tai Shan you will live to be 100. Well I guess I won't live that old, because I was feeling cold and exhausted, so I opted for the taxi/bus/gondola route up to the peak.
The summit of Tai Shan covers a very large area. There are a few strips of lodges and
Summit of Tai Shan
rustic restaurants, and then a major route called the Avenue of Heaven
connecting pilgrims to a network of paths, viewing points, archways, prayer stones, palaces, and temples.
I spent several hours wandering around the various vantage points of the peak, taking photos, and I bore witness to a spectacular sunset over misty peaks
and ancient temple complexes. Indeed, this is scenery that has inspired mystics and poets for centuries, and it was nothing less than awesome.
I had also timed my ascent to coincide with Chinese New Year's Eve
, and as the sun went down, I could see fireworks
going off in the various interspersed cities and villages in the valley below me. Once the sun went down the temperatures really dropped, and my fingers would begin to freeze if I took my gloves off to take pictures.
I sought refuge in one of the small lodges for some tea, dinner and beer. Next I retired to my room, which was freezing, but came equipped with a small space heater, which I arranged to blow hot air under my blankets. The next morning I rose in the early hours for the famed Tai Shan sunrise
, but the
South Gate to Heaven, Tai Shan
Final stretch before the summit
honest truth is that it paled in comparison to the sunset I saw the night before.
After sunrise I started my Tai Shan trek where most people end it, at the South Gate of Heaven
, a large gate which dominates the final stretch up the mountain. In the following hours of my descent, I passed thousands and thousands of Chinese people, many of them elders, making the New Year's ascent of the mountain. Many of them were carrying enormous sticks of incense
to burn at the multitudes of temples and vantage points.
At the base of the mountain sits the small city of Tai An
, home of the Dai Temple, the traditional starting point of the pilgrimage up Tai Shan
. As I arrived I encountered a large Chinese New Year Parade, as well as mounds of exploded firework papers on every street corner
I stayed in a hotel immediately adjacent to the temple. After several nights in freezing hotels with no hot showers, I splurged a little this time. For the equivalent of 40$, I got a room with Jacuzzi tub, enormous bed, big screen TV, room service, free fruits and tea, and every single complimentary wrapped
hotel item known to man.
I finished my journey in Jinan, capital of Shandong Province
in yet another shitty hotel before catching my flight to Shenzhen where I had a new job to start! For more of my photos, or to buy my book, please visit www.nickkembel.com
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