Alright, so we went to Jinan this past weekend, and it was an amazing trip. I liked the group that went with us, too. There were only 4 of us, and we got along splendidly the whole time.

We left on Saturday morning around 8AM. We took a taxi to the bus station, which is China's favorite form of transportation. When we walked in, we found the self service ticket station and I was very proud of my ability to navigate in Chinese the machine to get tickets to our destination. We didn't have long to wait - just about 45 minutes - but it was very hot. There was no air conditioning I am pretty sure, so we drank lots of water. We got on the bus and off we went! It wasn't very clean, but it wasn't crowded either. I slept for most of the 2 hour ride.

When we arrived in Liaocheng, the first priority was finding a bathroom after having drank so much water from the heat. We walked into the bus bathroom and were shocked to see that there were no stalls. We have gotten used to squatting over a "toilet" but this was a whole new level. The Chinese people didn't seem to mind and they gave us big smiles while they were squatting. It was one of those moments where you take a deep breath and decide it doesn't matter. That's what we did. We wanted a picture so I took one, and then Kate wanted to demonstrate for the world.

The second order of business was to get to our hotel. It was too early to check-in, but we knew the area of our hotel was a nice area because it is a business hotel and since we were all extremely hungry, we thought it would be best to eat around there. Our taxi driver was great. He was confused when we tried to bargain a taxi price though (in Liaocheng, you tell the taxi driver where you want to go and you bargain them down to the price you want. They don't have meters calculating the price). He talked to us the whole way and asked us about our plans and gave suggestions. The conversation was a bit of a struggle, but we got the gist of it and he understood the gist of what we were saying. He used the few English words he had and was very proud of himself. Later when we realized he was an exceptionally nice taxi driver compared to the other ones (in Liaocheng most of them are very nice) we wished we had gotten his phone number and had him come to us anytime we wanted to go somewhere. He practically offered but didn't really realize that was what he was doing until it was too late.

So about our hotel... It was phenomenal. It was a 5 star hotel, and two nights was only 1012 yuan which is about $168. Split that four ways and it's $42. We were on the 19th floor (well, it was really probably lower than that because the Chinese don't like unlucky numbers. There was no 4th or 13th and there were a couple others they skipped) and our view was amazing (well, for a city in China). I had never been in a luxury hotel before, and was amazed. The doors that spin around were fancy and had flowers in them, there was a concierge, there were real flowers at every check in desk. The room was even more neat. To be energy efficient, you have to insert your room key into a slot next to the door in order to turn on your power. Instead of having a sign that says "do not disturb" there is a button you press and it lights up outside of your room, and there is another button you could press that called a maid to come make up the room or bring towels or something of that nature.

The bathroom was amazing, apart from the square toilet - that was a little strange. The shower had a seat and it had two shower heads: One that was mobile and one that came straight from the ceiling. Everything was so fancy! They had all of these complimentary items that in other hotels they might be able to give you if you ask for it. Even the remote had a case. They came by and asked if they could do our laundy, they had robes and slippers and a complimentary umbrella to use. Ah, and the beds were soft.

Okay, enough about the room. We ate lunch in a little dumpling restaurant on the same block as the street, I meant to take a picture of their logo - it was a dumpling cartoon with a face and standing on something. After all of that, we began our touring of Jinan.

The first place we decided to go since we heard it was likely to rain the next day, was the famous fresh water springs. When we got there, we saw that there was a separate price for general admission and for students. None of us had our student ID card from America, and Liaocheng won't give us a student ID card for their University, but we figured we could try to get them to give us the student price (Even if we had to pay full, it would have only been 20 American dollars for entrance to 3 parks). We told them that we were students at Liaocheng University and that because we are Study abroad students they didn't give us an ID card. They were very nice and gave it to us! Really, I think they were just impressed by my room mate's ability to speak Chinese so well.

The Springs were very beautiful, and some of the cleanest water we have seen. There were so many fish all in the water! All goldfish and koi. It reminded me of my grandfather's pond. Then there was the part of the park that was shallow where children were playing. They don't really have public pools with kid areas in China, so they use the natural springs instead. It was really precious. They had these cool spray sticks that I had never seen before.

All through these parks, there were elderly people playing Mahjong and cards at these low tables. People were playing different musical instruments and singing throughout the park, too. There were lots of statues, and several museums and budhist temples that we went to as well. We didn't understand anything in the museums, so we didn't spend a lot of time there. At one of the temples in the courtyard, there were these large weights and all the Chinese males were taking turns trying to lift them. Some of them couldn't lift the smaller one, and only a couple of them could even budge the larger one. Kevin who went with us jumped in there and lifted both of them and all the Chinese people gasped and cheered. It was hysterical.

We were at the park for at about 4 hours, and as you can see we took lots of pictures. When we left, we were very hungry and the consensus was that we wanted to do some shopping, so we walked to the nearest shopping area (Chinese people are serious about their shopping - they have HUGE malls everywhere). We walked around for a little while, and saw how overpriced things were and decided some of the designer items were definitely fake, then we realized how hungry we were. We went to Pizza Hut.

Let me tell you, Pizza Hut in China is not Pizza Hut in America. In China it is like an Olive Garden with more pizza to choose from that tastes somewhat like American Pizza Hut. You could order individually off the menu, or you could order a set meal for your number of people where you pick 1 or 2 from just about every category of dishes. We chose the set meal for 4 and were very pleased. It was so cheap for everything we got! I will be so disappointed if I ever go to another Pizza Hut in America again.

After dinner we walked around and went into lots of Chinese shops for a couple hours. There were mostly clothing shops and they were extremely expensive. I wasn't interested in buying anything, but it was fun to look. So much clothing tries really hard to be American and they have a lot of English writing on them. Unfortunately, a lot of their translations are very poor so the T-shirts come out saying funny things.

On Sunday morning we went downstairs to check out their continental breakfast and it was amazing! They had asked for our room number when we walked in and checked off our names. They had bacon and sausage and real pancakes and eggs and toast and fresh fruit and cereal and bread pudding and everything American. They also had Chinese food, but I figured since I was getting the opportunity to eat American food (it's difficult to find in Liaocheng) and quite frankly I am getting tired of Chinese food, I would take advantage of it.

After breakfast, we wanted to go to the Huangse River (the Yellow River), but the concierge looked at us like we were silly and explained that there is nothing to do or see there, so we decided to do something else instead (we talked to our teacher about going to see the Huangse river another time, and she said she will try to set up something for us). So, we went to 1000 Buddha Mountain instead because we had met some people who highly suggested going there. When we got there, once again there was a discounted price for students. This time when we went up they said no because we didn't have an ID card. I pulled out my ticket from the previous day and showed them that we had gotten one yesterday and they reluctantly let us get in for cheaper.

This was my favorite place that we went. The series of statues in robes were all taken there. I think they are all supposed to be Buddha's, but I only saw like 21 Buddha's in that case. I don't know where the rest are. The first half mile to a mile of the park is one straight road of stairs and pavement. I think we climbed about 3000 stairs that day. There are some pictures of the stairs and of us getting exhausted and getting frustrated with how many stairs there were. We kept thinking we were getting to the top and getting all excited, only to find out there were more stairs. Little did we know we were literally climbing to the very top of the mountain.

The view was amazing. There were several points where there was a landscape of the city before reaching the top of the mountain. The city is much bigger than it felt when we were in it. It made us realize we were exclusively in the tourist and business area where it is very nice. Also, there are several random mountains in this strange landscape. This province has a fairly low elevation in general, and to see some random lonely mountains is strange.

When we finally made it to the top, it was breathtaking. It wasn't very safe - they didn't have very good barriers to keep people from falling - and it was very windy. The wind felt good after the long hike though. In Chinese culture, they buy these red ribbons and write names on them and tie them to famous places like the top of the mountain and on trees. They symbolize everlasting love. They also have locks that mean basically the same thing.

When we were on the way back down, we were determined to count the amount of stairs we climbed up to know how many we climbed. Unfortunately, in order to get to the giant Gold Buddha that we wanted to see, we had to go down a different way, and there was a lot of steep road instead of a lot of stairs so I only counted 600 stairs. Based on the number of stairs we walked down and how few it was, we guessed that 3000 is what we climbed. Also on the way down, we saw this kite really high up in the sky and for a little while we thought it must be a bird. I took a picture. We finally got to the giant Gold Buddha and well, it was huge. Several more people wanted pictures taken with us.

After we left the Thousand Buddha Mountain, we went straight to dinner. We had tried to make a reservation with a nice Italian Restaurant with the concierge that morning before we left and we had an address, but when we got there the restaurant was nowhere to be found. It was labeled on the directory inside an extremely nice mall, but when we went to the location it wasn't there. We kept looking, and had no luck. Instead, we went to Papa Johns, which was more like an Olive Garden than a Papa Johns. After dinner, we wanted dessert. We saw this little dessert drink shop called "iTea" and laughed. Eventually, we got Haagen Dazs, and I have decided that even though I spent 10 American dollars on two scoops of icecream, Haagen Dazs is the best icecream place in the world. I've never had such delicious icecream.

After we ate icecream, Kevin and Merideth wanted to do more luxury shopping, and Kate and I just wanted to get some rest and see about the in-room massages that were advertised at our hotel. So, we split ways.

When we got to the hotel, we asked the front desk about a massage because we figured it would be easier to try to talk to someone in person with our limited vocabulary than to do it over the phone. They sent us up to the fifth floor where there was a sign that two rooms were massage therapy rooms. We found the rooms, and were a bit shocked at what we saw. Both rooms had room keys attached to the room number where anyone can just walk in. We went in both rooms. They were both converted hotel rooms.

In the first room we went in, there were used ash trays and rose petals and there was a broken lamp tied by a pillow case onto a chair. It smelled funny and it was dirty and looked incredibly sketchy like we had just intruded on an inappropriate scene. In the second room, there were more used ashtrays, a chess board with a game on it, and nail polish with a nail polish chair. Once again, it didn't look clean or like we were supposed to be there.

When we got back up to our room, we decided we should try calling since it did advertise in room service and see what happens. We decided that we wanted to try the Traditional Chinese Massage (which was only thirty American Dollars for 45 minutes) and made the call. A woman answered and asked how she could help us, and we said we would like two massages. She said 好好好好(Haohaohaohao) meaning good or okay, and then she hung up. We looked at each other and pondered about whether we needed to call back, and I said they probably have caller ID for what room we are in and are going to come up.

I was right. Within 5 minutes we had a knock on our door, and in walks two pretty Chinese ladies dressed differently (there was no uniform) in provocative clothing. They asked us what we wanted, and we told them we wanted the Traditional Chinese Massage. They washed their hands in our sink, and told us to lay down on the beds, and they climbed onto the beds and got started. It was a full body massage and they did a wonderful job, but it was very strange that they were sitting next to us or straddling us the whole time. At first they spoke rapidly to each other for a while, and then we started making conversation with them in Chinese. They don't speak much of any English other than "turn over" and phrases like that they need to do their job. It was really neat to have a conversation with them about their lives.

When they left we were so relaxed from the massage, and went to bed shortly after. But before we went to bed, we had a conversation about the fact that we are pretty convinced that the two women who came to our room were prostitutes. Prostitution is illegal in China, and a very extreme crime. There aren't prostitutes on the streets. We were in a business hotel and it makes sense that if there was a place where they would be undercover, it would be somewhere like that. But several things tipped us off.

1) the way they were dressed and the fact that during the massage they showed no modesty in covering themselves up. 2) within a few minutes of their arrival we got a phone call to our room and one of the women answered it, said one or two words rapidly, and hung up. The phone rang 4 times while they were there with them doing the same thing, the last one informing them that they had to go and they rushed out. 3) Tattoos are not something that is mainstream in China. Nice women do not get tattoos, and one of the girls had a fairly large tattoo on her forearm. 4) One of the girls was not married and has a child. Once again, that is practically unheard of in China. 5) Thinking back to how sketchy the rooms looked back on the 5th floor. 6) We paid the two women individually right there and it was not charged to our room.

Now, we might be jumping the gun and making a judgment too quickly, but it just makes sense. Like I said, we could be totally wrong. Either way, the few details they gave us about their personal lives made us feel sorry for them. But, they gave a wonderful massage and I'm glad we did it.

The next day we slept in and after another delicious continental breakfast, we went home. When we got to the bus station, the self service ticket station was much more complicated. Nothing had times, so we decided to go to the ticket counter. I took care of doing the talking for the tickets for the group of us, and managed to get our 4 tickets without any problems. The lady at the counter had told us the train would leave at 12:45, but when we got our tickets there was no time on it. It had two characters in the time slot that when we looked them up meant "fluid". Basically, you get in line and buses are always coming and going so you get on the next available bus with enough seats. Unfortunately, once we got to our gate two of us had to use the restroom and the line was extremely long, so by the time we got back they had boarded and were full.

While we were sitting down waiting for the next bus to arrive, a gentleman who had apparently seen my iPhone out that I carry around for the dictionary came up to me and started speaking to me in Chinese. Between myself and my room mate we were able to have a full conversation with him even though he had a strong accent. He wanted to know if many Americans have iPhones, and how much I paid for mine. Then he started trying to bargain with me to take money from him and buy him an iPhone in America and ship it back to him. I kept saying no no no I can't and he kept trying to convince me to. Lesson learned: in public don't have your iPhone out. You see, they have Apple stores in China, but they are all fake and even the Chinese people know they are fake. You cannot buy a real iPhone in China. Eventually he stopped talking to us, but it took forever to convince him we would not take his money and we would not buy him an iPhone.

We still managed to leave the bus station within an hour of arriving even having missed the first bus. Their bus system is very efficient. Right before leaving, they waved this machine in our faces though, we think it was to check our temperature to make sure we weren't carrying any illnesses. On the way back, we passed the Huangse (Yellow) River! So we did get to see it afterall. We also saw an amusement park that was clearly trying to look like Disney World. I'm pretty sure Disney would be angry if they knew it existed. Some of the other people want to go check it out. As much as I love roller coasters, to be honest, I'm not convinced that the safety standards are up to par with America.

So that was my weekend. I only spent about $150 all weekend on EVERYTHING which baffles me. That includes hotel, bus transportation, taxis, park entrance fees, food, souvenirs, and my massage. It makes coming to China to travel seem affordable, doesn't it?

Since then I haven't done anything interesting. We are going to Mount Tai(泰山 TaiShan) and a famous temple of Confucius this weekend. It's a weekend trip that is part of our study abroad program costs. I'm really excited about Tai Shan. According to a presentation we had today, out of China's 5 famous mountains, Tai Shan is the most famous. I think I want to come back some day and visit the other ones.

Have a good day!