Mount Tai Shan

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April 2nd 2010
Published: April 30th 2010
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Dana and I decided to climb a holy Taoist mountain in China. We chose the grandest in both beauty and size: Tia’Shan.

Thankfully our friend John helped us buy our train tickets as the woman didn’t speak a word of English and we didn’t want to risk pronouncing the name incorrectly and ending up in the wrong city. China has an amazing fleet of bullet trains. They run on schedule to the minute, so there is always a frantic dash to get on the train when it pulls into the station as it’s not waiting for anyone! The train we were on went at 200km/hour and whizzed through the country side (or rather power plants and industrious areas) and arrived in a random station where we were supposed to transfer to a local train to reach our mountain. This is where our lack of Chinese becomes a problem. How do you act out the place you want to go? Impossible! It was at this moment when we were completely lost and had no hope of reaching our destination that I realized what seasoned travelers we had become. I felt completely comfortable and indifferent with the situation. Not one speck of panic or concern entered our minds that we were lost ‘somewhere’ in China, after dark where no one spoke English and I had no idea what would happen to us.

Naturally we just stood there looking confused and shrugging our shoulders… hmmmm. We attempted to convey our intentions to get to Tia’Shan to the ticket lady several times with no success. Finally as I was flipping through our Lonely Planet I noticed that they had the Chinese characters of the city name next to each chapter and we were able to point to where we wanted to go and in 10 minutes more we were off again on another train, this time to the mountain!
When we arrived, even later that night, we got off, again not knowing what would happen next and wandered into the tourist information booth that was thankfully still open. Unfortunately they didn’t speak English, although they were really excited that there were foreigners in their city and they really wanted to help us. When we got the message across that we wanted a hotel they rambled off something in Chinese and pointed down the road. We just gave them a blank look and they laughed and the man personally walked with us down the road, and even bargained a good price for us. People are so friendly here, especially when you look so hopelessly lost. A look, I might add, I have perfected!
The woman at the hotel was also deeply concerned that we didn’t know anything about Chinese hotels (quite similar to western ones) and went through how to use everything in our room including how to turn on the TV. She took 10 minutes and in the end she regretfully left us alone, with a genuinely worried look.

This city has obviously not seen many foreigners as everyone stared and shrieked with laughter when they heard us talking.

The next morning we began our ascent. In China people don’t ‘hike’ the way we do in Canada so they built stairs the entire way up the mountain. Since it is a holy mountain, pilgrims from all over China come to this mountain to make offerings for good fortune. Therefore, on the way up there were many shops selling incense, prayer beads, and other religious paraphernalia. There were also several temples and monks just to the side of the steps.
Chinese mountains are very different from the Rockies, quite fairy-tale like. Just like the Chinese people, they are very gentle, with no sharp or jagged edges; everything is smooth and flows into one another. Also along the paths are beautiful Chinese poems and soliloquies carved or painted on the cliff faces or erected stones. At least the calligraphy looked beautiful, I couldn’t quite gather the meaning from the symbols, but I’m sure anyone composing poetry in that tranquil setting could only have enlightening inspirations.

When we reached the top we were immediately greeted with fresh, unpolluted air, a scarce commodity in China. As we wandered around the top and watched the sun set, the clouds rolled in below us and we had such a beautiful view of the peaks surrounded by a sea of pink-blue swirling clouds.

We went into the temples and watched as men in business suits prayed for a good year and as young couples secured padlocks onto the surrounding railings, symbolizing their commitment to each other. When we tired and began to get cold we started to look for the bus down. Apparently the bus only comes to the half way point so we had to run down the dizzying stairs in order to make the last bus. We arrived back in town just in time to jump on our next train to Shanghai.
This was our first overnight train and we enjoyed it so much we took them every time we travelled in the rest of China. They are essentially just 15 rows of 3 tiered bunk beds in each cart, but they are lots of fun.

Additional photos below
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Lovers locks dusted with the ash of nearby burning incense
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Moments after this photo was taken this man jumped up, ran over to me and gave me a huge hug and wouldn't let go!
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Typical overnight train

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