We had a 7:00am wake up call today. It was a bright and early morning in Tai’an. After a hearty hotel breakfast of fresh wonton noodle bowls, bacon omelettes, and congee, we began our journey to China’s most sacred mountain, Mount Tai.
As we arrived at the south entrance gate of Mount Tai, we gazed in awe at the massive mountain while admiring its natural beauty. The entrance led us to a crowded shuttle bus station. The 20-minute shuttle bus took us up winding roads that wrapped around the mountain, all the way to the cable car we had to take to complete our ascent. The gondola took us up 1460m to the Nantian Gate located on the cliff vale.
At this point, we noticed the air beginning to get cooler and fresher. It was a welcome change from the warm humid air on the ground level. The serene atmosphere at the top of the mountain was misty and cool with light drizzles due to the condensation from the clouds that surrounded us. It was amazing how we experienced such drastic changes in the climate from the base to the peak of Mount Tai. The view was also breathtaking, making it feel like we were transported to some heavenly world.
Our trusty tour guide Kevin then led us through sections of stairways to arrive at Heavenly Street then finally to the Bixia Temple. Along the way, we witnessed many of the mountain’s historical rock formations such as the Jade Emperor Peak and the Heave Candle Peak; many with cultural ties to Chinese mythology. Overall the Mount Tai trek has been a life changing experience and will warrant future trips to explore the remaining sights yet to be explored.
After Mount Tai, we had lunch and then started our long drive to Jinan. This hotel, the Hilton was by far the nicest one. The lobby was located on the 35th floor with the most amazing view.
The next event that took place was the Shandong government dinner. If you were there, once you set foot in the hotel lobby, you would see a group of enthusiastic, well-dressed, young professionals mingling. We had transformed back into the sophisticated beings we once were. As a group, we’d been glued at the hips for over a week, but I had trouble recognizing some of them! It was nice to see dresses and dress shirts instead of red dri-fit shirts. The girls were beautiful and the guys cleaned up pretty well too. We strutted towards the door, pushed it open, and immediately felt sweaty again. Although the clean, downy fresh clothes didn’t last, everyone was vivacious and excited for this dinner.
Dinner took place at a hotel where government officials frequently dined. We met our hosts at the door and proceeded to the restaurant inside. At some point, we expected to cross a threshold where the air conditioning would hit your bodies and we would feel relieved. You would let out a sigh and thank all the men and women that worked hard to build the AC units. Unfortunately, there was no such thing in this restaurant. It went from hot, humid, and sunny to just hot.
Trying our best to ignore the lack of AC, we looked around and managed to admire the room, which was nicely decorated with Chinese calligraphy, paintings, and displays of artefacts and liquor. Seating cards were placed in front of each dining set. We sat down and were joined by two government officials. The Deputy Director-General started his speech, talking about the importance of Shandong, welcoming us to his province, and encouraging us to learn and see as much as possible. I couldn’t understand most of his Mandarin but his message was genuine and heart-warming. 畀面 is all I can say. We were all grateful for his hospitality. We then toasted and began our meal.
We were sitting with Mr. Liu Dengfeng and Mrs. Wu Haihong from The Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of Shandong Provincial People’s Government. They were warm and friendly and we were hot and hungry. Between sips of wine and bites of tasty food, we tried our best to speak with our new friends using our broken Mandarin. We talked about family, food, school, languages, China, and Canada. We each took turns to explain what we liked the most about China.
At the end of the night, we presented the officials gifts, took group photos, and hopped back onto the bus. Everyone had great stories to share. One participant thought it would be disrespectful to leave food on the table and took on the responsibility to clear every dish on the table. Confucius would have been proud!
Shandong Provincial People’s Government, thank you for an amazing evening!
Authors: Benjamin Yong and Jason Wong