Day 35 - Saturday 6th May - Qufu fo Tai'an

Our group met at 0745 to go to the Confucian morning exercises. Lonely Plant describes it as a raucous din. The summary was apt.

Confucius lived in the 5th century BC. He was a student of Lao, who was the founder of the Taoist religion. Confucius (this was his Latin name, his Chinese name was Kong) developed these ideas into his own philosophy which he taught in Qufu to the children of the poor. His descendants (oldest son) lived in the family compound until 1949 when they scarpered to Taiwan with Chang Ki Shek and the Nationalists. The main branch of the Confucius family still lives there.

The temple compound contains no relics of when Confucius taught there. Instead temples and stele were added in later times by Emperors to show their respect. There is even one built by Ghingis Khan. The place faced significant destruction during the Cultural Revolution of the 60s, rebuilt during the 80s, rehabilitated in the National psyche in the 90s and a significant tourist attraction for the Chinese post 2000.

After our tour we headed off for Tai’an located at the foot of Taishan, a mountain of significant religious importance. Although the mountains dominate the local landscape, it was not until we were a few kilometres away that we could actually see their faint outline such was the dust and smog.

From its base to its summit are a series of temples. The committed can climb the path and pay their respects to show devotion at each of the temples on the climb. There is in fact very little path, rather there are 7000 steps to the summit. We just climbed the lower 4000 to the base of the gondola which will whisk you up to the summit and the final temple where Confucius is said to have prayed.

The temples are a mixture of Taoist, Confucian and Buddhist. And at times its difficult to work out whether they are Confucian or Buddhist as the images seem to contain a mixture of both elements.

Its obviously a popular past time to climb the mountain and these days it seems to be the duty of every member of the Chinese population, although very few seem to be devout. They seemto be there for the journey rather than spending any time praying, although we came across a few who had not only climbed, but were then descending backwards (ie still facing up hill). By the expressions on the faces of those who reached the Temple of Heaven (where the gondola started), the general population could do with some more stair climbing exercises. Surprisingly today there were no high heels and Sunday best dresses, maybe that's just a May Day thing.

As is usual at all these tourist spots there is no shortage of food, drink and souvenirs to be purchased along the way. Cold water, Coke, beer, cucumbers and watermelon, bells and medals to say you have made it up the Stairway to Heaven. The pace of the climb was slow as you wove through the grimacing crowds hauling their unfit bodies to the top.

Although the levels of pollution had thinned somewhat by the time we reached the base of the gondola, we decided that the climb was the main part of the exercise and that as the gondola was closing in 45 minutes, we would save the $40 return trip.

I think I have mentioned previously the cost of visiting tourist attractions in China. At this location we paid CHY60 (AUD12) park entry (this was half price because of our advanced age). Once you got to the Temple of Heaven, you could walk back down or take the bus CHY35 (AUD7 – no discount for the aged). And you also had the option of the gondola for another CHY100 (AUD20 – no discount for the aged) each way. Plus the cost of parking (usually CHY10 -15 if available) and what you spent on food and drink on the way up (prices inflate the higher you climb).

The practise of entry fee plus an add on bus ride to actually get to the attraction is par for the course. I am not sure how the rural population or factory workers manage to afford these.

By contrast, the local bus from the foot of Taishan back to our hotel cost CHY2 (40 cents). The hotel was big, modern, with acres of car park and miles from the centre of town. It seemed as though we were the only ones there. Getting to it on the bus we passed the usual miles of new town house and apartment developments. It would seem that there can’t be many people in China living in old apartments anymore.

Because we were so far out of town we decided to eat in the hotel restaurant. A simple meal of dumplings and grilled lamb on skewers. The place was deserted except for our group.