6,660 Sacred Steps

Tai'an Travel Blog

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Yesterday I climbed Tai Shan, which is one of the 5 sacred Daoist peaks in China. It's famed for its sunrise and oceans of cloud (though unfortunately I saw neither while there), and also for being the most climbed mountain in China. In terms of creation myths, Tai Shan supposedly sprang from the head of Pan Gu, who separated the heavens and earth while they were still swirling together at the beginning of all things. It's said you'll live until 100 if you climb to the top, and 5 Chinese emperors have accomplished the climb in their lifetimes - likely a lot harder before the steps were built.*

The climb itself consists of many many steps and three main gateways - the first, midway, and south gates to heaven - with the steps getting consistently steeper as you proceed upwards. It took about 4 1/2 hours of steady climbing for me to get to the top, including about 45 minutes or so of rest and taking pictures, and another 3 to climb down. Along the way are toooooons of scripts carved into the walls, some thousands of years old (though maintained to look like new) and written by all sorts of Chinese historical luminaries. Temples and stands selling expensive snacks and much-appreciated popsicles also line the path.

About a quarter of the way up, I met a vacationing student from Harbin who asked me to take a picture of him at one of the gates. He proposed we become picture buddies for the climb, since we were both climbing alone, and this way we didn't have to keep asking others to take pictures of us. It was a lot of fun, and at the mountain summit we even took those dorky "I climbed Tai Shan on June 14, 2007!" pictures that are photoshopped onto postcard-worthy backgrounds =) He's super friendly and kept talking to the other climbers as well, offering encouragement or advice on the most scenic picture spots. The only problem was I ended up with like 10 billion pictures of just me and some random mountain background. I deleted a bunch but there's still quite a bit of repetition.

On this trip I've often felt extremely blessed and don't know what I could possibly have done (nothing!) to deserve all the good fortune I've experienced. In this case, the chance meeting with the Harbin guy not only allowed me to learn all kinds of things about Harbin and this guy's opinions on China, America and prospects for the future, but it allowed me to appreciate the mountain that much more, due to his reading the carvings out loud and explaining their meanings to me. I'd originally thought to spend the night on top of the mountain and wait for the sunrise, but heard it was unlikely to appear the next day (apparently because of the cloudiness it only shows up around 1 out of every 10 times, though when it does it's absolutely spectacular) and also heard the mountaintop lodgings were pretty darn expensive. I'd already scrapped that plan before I met the Harbin guy, but the other incredibly fortunate part about meeting him was he was staying at his family friend's hotel near the Tai'an train station, and offered to say I was his younger cousin so I could get the 50RMB rate he was paying for his own room!

The hotel was so much nicer than the random place I stayed the first night (rather dirty with a squat toilet, dim lighting, and no shower in the room), and here I had a/c, cable TV, my own bathroom with shower, and easy access to a bunch of outdoor food stands right outside the hotel. Craving meat, I ordered myself some hongshao pork ribs that night, and ate it along with a bowl of white rice and glass of local Taishan beer. Generally the heat keeps me from drinking any kind of alcohol, since all I usually want is water or other hydrating liquids.

I felt a little bad because the Harbin guy came by earlier to see if I wanted to eat but I didn't answer the door. I didn't hear the knocking because I took a really long shower, having not showered the day before and all sweaty from the mountain. I only found this out because he came by later to drop off a little mosquito repellant thing that you can plug into the wall; he'd picked up a pack for himself after eating and got one for me, too. Such generosity! It was really like he was my older cousin or something. I decided to just call him biaoge since it's hard for me to remember Chinese names. It's quite embarassing so I really need to practice this -- I almost always get one or two syllables slightly wrong, which means I get them totally wrong.

Hey you know what's interesting? I learned that a lot of Chinese people (well maybe not a lot, but many of the ones I've met) don't use email very often. This video instant messaging program called QQ seems much more popular instead, and when people want to keep in touch they either ask for a phone number or a QQ ID. When I ask if they have email, they generally say no or they don't really use it. Other than a few of my sister's cuhrazy friends, I've never met anyone without email! Clearly my world is very small. Faskinating . . .

During our climb, my 'cousin' also advised me not to tell too many people I'm from the States because he says I'll get charged more for stuff and people might try to take advantage. I agree, but it's hard because I like talking to people, and I don't have another story made up yet for why I can't speak Chinese very well. I know it's more important to be safe than entertained though, so I should try keeping my mouth shut : ) Honestly though, I think there are many more good people here and in the world than there are bad. You just have to be careful.

Right now my ankle is super itchy from what seem to be (but I really really hope are not) bedbug bites. I got them last night at the hotel, which would be the only bad thing I have to say about it. I'm muy looking forward to washing my clothes once I get to Shanghai, which is my next destination. My uncle and grandma will be there visiting my grandma's older brother, at whose house I'll be staying. They've been super understanding about my lack of a fixed plan and will pick me up from the train station tomorrow in the early AM.

I've finally come up with a general outline of my time in China. Starting from the beginning it goes like this:

6/08 - 6/13: Beijing
6/13 - 6/15: Tai Shan (overnight train to Shanghai on 15)
6/16 - 6/22: Shanghai, Suzhou (with da jiou, wai po, et al)
6/22 - 6/25: Hangzhou (visiting my dad's younger sister's family)
6/26 - 6/30: Chengdu and Jiuzhaigou
6/30 - 7/08: Guanxi Province (probably Guilin, Yangshuo, Beihai with Eva)
7/09 - 7/12: Lijiang (meeting JennyYap, Jawwei, Meishya and their friend)
7/12 - 7/14: Ruili or Xishuangbanna
7/14 - 7/15: Hong Kong (fly out to Singapore on the 15th)

I'll try to decide where I'm going from Singapore before I get there. I know Vietnam is set for last weekend in July, as Hugo is in Singapore and can also go to visit Jimmy then. I need to get my visa for Vietnam, and will probably spend more time in Malaysia than originally planned. Will write more when I'm in Shanghai. Good night!

*Please note that all information on this mountain, other than my own experience, was 100% jacked from The Lonely Planet Guide: China -- which, by the way, is technically banned in China due to its non-government-approved editorials on sensitive issues like Tibet and Tian'anmen. Interesting, no?

tpchen says:
Great journal. Please enjoy your time there. Be very, very safe, not follow stranger to unknown place. Pray always.
Posted on: Jun 21, 2007
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photo by: carpefunk