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Published: December 8th 2009
After arriving from a surprisingly humid Shanghai
, carrying mosquito bites and a nylon backpack loaded with precious few items of winter clothing, I arrived in Taian
ill prepared for the climate that awaited me. Whilst I was aware that the weather in Taian
during the winter was going to be quite cold, after travelling nearly 100km north on one of Chinas super fast D class Bullet Trains, I was not prepared for the freezing temperatures that greeted me stepping out from the station...
And moreover, a day later, how unpredictable weather conditions can be on the top of a mountain!
The mountain in question... Tai Shan
, one of the most holy Taoist
mountains in China. Given that Taoism is very much concerned with the process of nature by which all things change and which is to be followed for a life of harmony, the fact that I had to suddenly contend with a treacherous deluge of snow halfway through my ascent perhaps suggests that I should focus on Confucianism
I set out in freezing (but dry conditions) at about 10am, somewhat later than I expected as I was held up at the Train Station trying
to purchase a train ticket for Beijing
the following day. Starting at the sublimely beautiful Dai Miao
temple, I wandered around the grounds for an hour or so when, low and behold, it started snowing. The grounds were almost completely empty, with only a few Chinese families pottering around the grounds and I felt like I had the whole place to myself as the snow slowly covered the trees and temples...
However, after the initial excitement of the snow fall, as I began to make the 8km ascent, up the 6,293
mountain walkway steps through a route of impressive temples and pavilions, the snow got heavier. And heavier. Until it was so thick that the ascent became a serene white (but icy) stairwell of death! Leaning into each step, getting as firm a foot hold as possible with each foot forward, I began to wish a giant Stannah Stairlift
had been installed although I told myself that no one had ever died on a mountain tourist destination with a sign reading Please behave well and be a nice tourist
Regardless, I was becoming concerned. I had seen only a few Chinese on the trail and the few I
saw were coming down the mountain. Not up. The ascent was meant to take between 4 or 5 hours but the intervention of the snow ensured that I was moving about as far as "an asthmatic ant with heavy shopping."
(Blackadder Goes Forth, 1989)... And it was getting dark too...
Fortunately I was adopted by the only Chinese family bonkers enough to make the ascent in such conditions. They clearly saw I was slightly concerned and I felt much happier making my way up the mountain with them, despite the fact they spoke not a word of English and most communication involved making crazy hand gestures and, in the case of the Dad, shouting at the mountain and bursting into apparently random fits of laughter!
Finally reaching the top, after more charades I managed to decipher that the ski lift I was hoping to catch to the bottom of the mountain was not working. It is getting dark and still hammering down with snow and I convinced myself that I would be stuck for weeks!
The top of the mountain, brimming with temples and pavilions looked incredible and fortunately also had a small hotel and restaurant which
I and my new Chinese family promptly checked into and drank a ridiculous amounts of Taishan Tea... Chinese Dad
showed me his ID and I in turn showed him my UK passport before taking some photos at the summit and then turning in...
The temperature, minus 10 degrees, easily outmatches my 1980s style electric heater
, that managed to generate about as much energy as a travel kettle. As a result, I slept fully clothed under two blankets, shivering, until finally falling asleep... Only to be awoken at 5.30 in the morning and dragged back to the summit by the overly excited hotel receptionist. Reaching the top, after wading through knee deep snow in a freezing blurry eyed haze, I joined my Chinese family members at the top of the summit and watch the sun rise through the heavens and over the summit of the mountain... Beautiful... I would have some pictures for you but typically this is the precise moment that the battery on my camera runs out... Balls.
Between 6 in the morning and 12 noon literally dozens of people in Chinese army jackets clear a pathway of clear stone through the thousands of steps down the
mountain through the brilliant white snow, using shovels, picks and even nylon sheets to collect and propel the excess snow from the stone walk way...
And it finally stopped bloody snowing!
During the descent with my new Chinese family they bought me diner, drinks and a walking stick... Every time I insisted on paying they refused, looking slightly insulted... We took more photos and exchanged contact details... The generosity of these guys was quite humbling and I also began to realise that it is surprising how far you can get without a common tongue so long as you keep smiling and, in China, laugh and nod a lot...
This is only one example of the fantastic Chinese generosity I experienced during my 4 weeks in the Middle Kingdom
... And of me grossly underestimating the changeable Chinese climate!
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