Saturday, September 18, 2010

Jinan Part 1, or, Confucius and Dancing

Sorry it's been so long since I updated, I've been off having fantastic adventures with a lot of fantastic people! :) I may divide the catch up posts in to a couple different posts so they aren't terribly long, but that means they'd be chronological from the bottom up, so we'll see. But anyway, on to Jinan:

On Tuesday, Charis and I headed to Jinan, the capital of Shandong province, which is where Confucius was from. It's about a three hour train ride, the majority of which I spent sleeping. :) By China's standards, Jinan is a fairly small city, which means it still has more people than the entire state of Montana (several million, I think). We got to Jinan around lunchtime, and we ate lunch with Charis's mom and grandmother, who were both very friendly and offered me entirely too much to eat. (For some reason, I get fuller faster in China) That afternoon, we met up with one of Charis's friends from her high school in Singapore, and we went to Thousand Buddha Mountain, who's name will become fairly obvious momentarily. On the mountainside is a statue of a gigantic golden Buddha, probably 15 to 20 feet tall, and seemingly just as wide. After taking a picture with him, I was asked by a few locals if they could take a picture with me, since foreigners are more rare here than they are in Beijing. :)

After that, we went to the Cave of a Thousand Buddhas, which is quite literally a cave with a thousand Buddha statues in it, maybe more. Some of them were absolutely enormous, Charis says 20 meters (longer than a limousine, that's the best comparison I can come up with). Additionally, the cave walls were just covered in paintings or mini sculptures of Buddha, rows upon rows of them, all about the size of an index card. There were Buddhas of all shapes and sizes - standing Buddhas, sitting Buddhas, even sleeping Buddhas! It was crazy just thinking about all the work that went into them.

Once we finished going through the cave, we walked back down the mountain into Jinan, and went to a little cafe called "Jenny's Cafe". It was an American style cafe (they serve burgers), but we just got coffee - lattes and mochas. (It was the first coffee of any kind I've had since I've been here!) Next door was a little sock store, and I almost bought a pair of chicken face slipper socks for mom - the face and beak are is on the ankle, and there's a little scarf, too! They were absolutely adorable, but I figure I should get China souvenirs that are more distinctly Chinese.

Charis friend's parents picked us up, and we drove to an exhibition of rock sculptures nearby. Like the Buddhas, the sculptures were absolutely incredible! Regardless of the size (and some of them were very big), they were all made out of one rock each - the rocks are from Southern China, and have streaks and veins of red and purple in them, which the artists utilized in the design of the piece - they don't sketch the design first, just imagine it and then start sculpting. The rocks are very valuable, and retail for thousands of yuan, so if a sculptor makes the slightest mistake in carving them, they're ruined.

After that, we left to go get dinner - Chinese hot pot, which I think I've described before. We met up with some extended family at the restaurant, too, and all around it was a great time! The food was incredible, and everybody was really friendly; any time I would say something in Chinese, I would first ask Charis if I was saying it correctly. She would confirm that it was correct, and then quiet the table so everybody could hear. After I finished whatever I was saying (like my chopstick ability has improved since I got here), it was generally met by cheers and the occasional round of applause. They enjoyed getting to hear an American speak their language, even if her command of it was lacking. :)

After dinner, the three of us younguns left to wander around, while the adults stayed and talked awhile longer. We ended up wandering into the parking lot of the old Jinan stadium, where a bunch of older people had gathered to dance. This is a phenomenon I've seen elsewhere in China, too - I'm not sure if the government encourages these evening dance clubs, to help keep an aging population in shape, or if they've just sprung up. Either way, we joined them for an hour or so until her parents were ready to go, and it was a ton of fun! {Side note, for those who want more info: the Jinan stadium is now called old, since a new one was built two years ago for the National Olympics. We visited that complex as well, and it was cool – the one building was designed to look like a lotus!}

The next day, we went sight seeing in Confucius's home town of Qufu. It was a couple of hours away by bus ride, so I got to see a little bit more of the countryside, although I slept quite a bit on this trip, too. :) His hometown is tiny by China standards, roughly 600,000 people, so I was finally in a place less populated than my state! We went to the Confucius Research Institute and Museum, where we got to see a lot of artifacts and some portraits of him (he was ugly, but in a cute way!). As we were walking around there, we passed a little pool with a lot of fish in it. I stopped to look, and they all swam over to me and starting doing that opening/closing thing with their mouth. Bob, another UChicago student who was with us, said they were hungry. However, I think they were staring at me because I was an American. ;)

After visiting the research institute, we decided to go get lunch at a little restaurant down the street. It was a small place, with a kitten on the doorstep and a pen of chickens out front that I stopped to say hi to. We went in, and after looking through the menu, ordered chicken as the main dish (you see where this is going, I'm sure). The lady left momentarily, and came back with one of the chickens I had said hi to moments earlier. She asked, "Does this one look good?", and after our confirmation, she took him back into the kitchen. We heard a few moments of squawking, and twenty minutes later there was a cooked chicken on our table. The broth he was soaking actually contained all of him, including the feet and the head (which I didn't try). I almost felt bad about his dying as a direct result of my actions, but he was delicious!

That afternoon, we went to the complex where Confucius taught, which was pretty cool - they had a family tree that traces his descendants down to the 49th generation! While we didn't go, you can also see his tomb there - but the problem is, with so many of his descendants also having the same last name and being buried there, they aren't entirely sure which tomb is his. :)

Also in Jinan, we climbed a mountain, but that'll be my next post!

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