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Tai Shan
Thursday 23 August

Jo After our last entry Ed and I decided to splash out and go to our hotel restaurant for dinner. The restaurant is the kind where you go and point to the kind of food you want and they whip it off to the kitchen and cook (read fry) it for you. Nice idea to be able to see what you are eating before you order, but we actually found it rather off-putting. While we were eating a mystery dish of tofu appeared at our table, brought by a rather amused looking waiter who said that a group of gentlemen a few tables away from us had ordered it for us. Charming. Well I thought so, but Ed (do doesn't like tofu) wondered if this was a kind gesture or an attempt to get us to leave. Anyway, we continued eating and all was well until another dish arrived (weird, chewy pancakes this time) and once again it came from them. So once again we waved at them and said 'mmmm, yummy' loudly as we hid them under our napkins. When we came to leave the restaurant we thought we'd better go and thank them, and had a very friendly exchange, during which Ed's badge came in very useful and once we had explained that we weren't American they couldn't have been nicer.

Ed That was the pre-amble, now comes the hard man talk. As many of you know (those who read this nonsense anyway - aka mummies and daddies to respective children), we had decided to climb Tai Shan, the holiest of holy mountains in China, and, conveniently, the one just up the road from our hotel. It is surrounded by several misty peaks, all of which are about one third the height of the actual thing, so we didn't really understand the true vastness of the big rock until we were committed to climbing it. It is about 4,500 feet high, and there is an appreciable walk to get to the top. Charmingly however, the chinese emperors of yester year were even fatter than I, and had the odd step or two installed. In fact, the thing is one massive flight of steps on a stone walkway 15 feet wide. V. useful for climbing at a leisurely pace, and also v. useful for the porters who have to carry supplies up the mountain everyday, most of which is either 50 kilos of rice or large boxes of bottled water for the little stalls. Note that in the past, these supplies have also included bits of cable car, such that the last 700 metres of ascent can be ascended in ten minutes in the fancy swiss made 8 seater cable cars (we chose to walk however).

The climb began at 0745, and immediatly the heat of the early morning sun was blocked out and whisked away by what promised to be a particularly windy thunderstorm. This turned out to be just the usual mid morning weather for the area, designed to scare people away from climbing the mountain. Before long, it had cleared up to be lovely cool air and rather hot sunshine. We both started to sweat a lot, and bought our first of ten bottles of water for the day. The holy mountain is plastered with fridges (bingshan) and other such conveniences.

In true holy fashion, the chaps that had got up the mountain before us had written some amusing and beautiful caligraphy on the rocks on the way up. These writings ranged from "What I did during my sixteenth century school holidays" to "Diamond Sutra of Buddhism - part sixteen". All apparently enscribed in the finest possible caligraphy known in China, and all extremely old.

One spot, a large smooth hillside made up of a single sheet of rock, had the afore mentioned Diamond Sutra carved into it. V. pretty little bit of China to have seen, as it was slightly misty, surrounded by chinese pine trees, and next to a bubbly rocky stream. Just like the sort of stereotypical chinese mountain I had imagined when reading "Monkey Make Havoc in Heaven" when a little boy. Still a bit steamy and hot though, even though we were quite a way up the mountain, and as such there were lots of big bugs to be interested in (including a Praying Mantis! 6" long!). Like a sort of tropical waterfall walk in Wales really, but with chinese writing on the rocks.

Another notable attraction we popped into on the way was Du's Teahouse, made entirely out of tree roots and sat in the woods with a view of the valley and plain below. The tea was a bit woody (drank it from bamboo cups), but the feeling was very alpine and nearly like Heidi. There was also a pancake stall nearby, where I insisted (through my translator) that they fry me an egg for my prized loaf of bread we had picked up in the International Bakery in Tai'an. Mmmm.

Jo had cajoled me into taking the historic route up, and when we got to the half way point (where the cable car starts), she persuaded me that it would be pleasant to carry on walking, even though in the distance I could clearly see that the rest of the mountain had an enourmous flight of steps cut into it, and that having just suffered the painful experience of being able to see the halfway village at the top of one flight of steps, yet still have to slog half an hour up the little stone bastards, I agreed that I would really love to join her in continuing our step counting excercise.

8 hours after we started, we got to the top. The view was incredible, and we were both astonished (as one is when one climbs things) at just how far we had bothered to walk. One of the reasons we took such a leisurely pace to climb was that we were planning to spend the night on top of Tai Shan in one of the many hotels in the summit village. The size of this theme park type town is quite impressive given that someone carried all the bricks up here, and we were grateful that Jo's fluency got us a cheeky discount at the 3 star hotel up top. While it was nice to be able to cheap it up in the tip top hotel, probability got the better of us at supper time. There really is only so much you can expect of somewhere built on top of a mountain, and while they bothered to carry bricks up here, it appears that sixty kilos of decent chef was far too much trouble to carry. Raw noodles and gritty rice, accompanied by tiny bits of pork and "garlic trunk" was our supper. I had assumed that trunk was a mistranslation for stem. Unfortunately, I did actually end up eating green wood. Mmmm.

Lucky us for wanting to stay on the mountain. Some other chinese punters had hung around at the top for too long and missed the last cable car. They had to walk down, starting their journey at six in the evening. They would have probably missed the last bus as well. We only worked this out of course after they had muttered off down the mountain. This helped us work out why they were probably not the best people to try and practice chinese on.

The following morning (today, as I write this), we were woken up at 0430 to see sunrise at 0530. The hotel provided us with v. fetching chinese army coats (green duvet with epaulettes) and we saw a sort of reddy blue orb emerge from the mist before collapsing back to check out of the Shen Qi Guesthouse. (Also neatly avoiding our new Scandinavian 'friends' who were trying to persuade us to come and watch them dry some paint (practise Tai Chi shurely? -ed).)

We caught the cable car down (very very frightening, even for a top of the range swiss design), and got a bus from halfway down the mountain to the city of Tai'an. Slept from 1100 to 1500, and came straight to the internet cafe. Wait 'til you see the photos (oh great <sarcasm> -everyone).

Thursday 23 August

One thing we forgot to mention on that last entry was the chinese MTV we watched at the top of the mountain. Whilst enjoying a rather pants supper in the poo restaurant, out attention drifted to the television karaoke thing. It was playing the usual drivelly love song rubbish that I am sure you can easily imagine (half Celine Dion, half cat), except that the lovey dovey chorus was "Be there or be square". Even worse, the video showed the two halves of a recently broken up couple going about their everyday lives without each other, and being predictably miserable. And what bit of fate was it that forced them to get back together? In the rush to seperate their lives (and belongings), the man had picked up something of the woman's, and vice versa. They only noticed when it came to putting in their respective orthodontic plates that they had got it the wrong way round. Ahhhhhh.