Hello!

It has been so long since I have posted! We got back on Sunday around 4 and I only had time to post pictures with my homework for the next day. Then, on Tuesday I had a test so I had to study on Monday, and today and yesterday the power was out for the entire West Campus so we have been living with no air conditioning, hot water, internet, or electricity (except for between 7pm and 6am, which hasn't allowed me to do much of anything and sleep). The only places that had power were some of the dining facilities. It has been very interesting these last couple days. I've tried to stay out of the dorm as much as possible.

So this past weekend we went to Mount Tai which is located in Tai'An and to visit the city of QuFu where Confucius has his temple, mansion, and grave. We left at 8AM on Saturday morning and got on a private bus just barely big enough for all of us. It was crowded. The bus ride was long - about 4 hours. We slept and stared out the window and those with ipods listened to music. The scenery was mostly agriculture with lots and lots of greenhouses and some small cities.

For the first time since I have been here, we saw sheep and goats. In fact, one of the coolest things I saw was about a dozen sheep being herded on the side of the road in a suburb (for lack of a better word. Really it was just the outskirts of a city with some extremely run down buildings and very little grass) with a sheep dog keeping them from going into the road and an old fashioned looking shepherd walking behind them. That was very neat.

We went through this pretty, more upscale (for China) town within Shandong province (the province we are in) called "FeiChengShi". Our professor told us that it is famous for peaches. We all laughed and told him that Georgia is also famous for peaches. He went on to tell us that the "Fei" in the name of the city means "fat, fertile", and so there is a four character phrase (the Chinese people love those, they are like idioms) that says FeiChengFeiTaor (肥城肥桃儿) which means "Fertile City, Fat Peaches".

We crossed the Yellow River on the way there, and it was a very pretty section of the river. It's impressive and very wide. It's strange though because when we crossed the river our teacher said we were going into the mountainous region and the terrain was mostly very flat with random mountains. There were no windy mountainous roads or even hills on the roads.

When we got to QuFu the first thing we did was eat. It was a traditional style Chinese restaurant where they brought out more food than we could eat with our tiny plates and the center of the table spun around. It wasn't as great as some of the other food I've had at those types of meals. Only a couple of items appealed to me.

After we ate, we picked up our English speaking tour guide and drove to Confucius's Temple. The temple was mostly a long straight brick path with ancient trees and grass on either side of it. There were many arches that were from different centuries as the temple expanded when different dynasties wanted to leave their mark for honoring Confucius. To be honest, it was very difficult to understand most of the lecture from our tour guide because there were so many people and we were moving so fast and there was so much stimulation from everything that we were looking at. Also, it didn't help that there were several other tours going on so our tour guide's loudspeaker was competing with several others.

What I did learn from our tour guide, is that "the dragon" had nine sons. That was news to me. Pretty much all the mythological looking creatures you see depicted in Chinese architecture and paintings are either "the dragon" or one of the nine sons. The two that I liked the most (and that I understood the most about) was the Bixi, (赑屃) which looks basically like a turtle but has the neck and head of a dragon and some other body parts from other animals (I took some pictures), and then there was one that looks like a horse (there is a picture of me with one I think).

Beyond that, I didn't really learn much in the temple. There were some shrines and areas where people lit incense. There were some areas with ancient instruments and ornate decorations indoors, but that was about it for the temple. However, there were lots of little shops in the temple, and the souvenirs were so cheap - especially compared to Jinan. We were very surprised at that since QuFu is such a tourist trap.

On a side note, while I was there I decided that bargaining is so much fun. Since I've been here it has been really confusing when you can and cannot bargain. I've heard that you should always bargain (which I have definitely not done) and that you can only bargain if it doesn't have a price tag (which I haven't done either). My problem is, too often when I attempt to bargain they look at me like I'm crazy and I'm an ignorant American who doesn't know that in their shop bargaining is an insult. I've probably gotten ripped off a lot while I'm here because at least 50% of what I've purchased I have not bargained for. But, in QuFu, I began to attempt to bargain, and I was very successful. I realized that I have the vocabulary and the fluency to do so successfully and confidently. However, I still don't understand why sometimes people look at me like I'm crazy back in Liaocheng.

When we left the temple, we walked through a street full of shops that literally all had the exact same things all down it. The people were desperate for us to buy their stuff - probably because it was all crap. They kept begging and lowering their prices. I didn't buy anything there, but it was really neat to be on a street like that and to look and talk to them.

At the end of that street was the entrance to Confucius' Mansion. The mansion was mostly courtyard with a few buildings, but most of the buildings we couldn't enter. Imagining being one of Confucius's students and living there and studying was very neat. It would have been a lot like the Chinese movies I think based on what I saw. There were rooms for painting, for caligraphy, for music and many other lessons. The courtyards were full of these stone structures with holes all through them. They are considered beautiful. Then, there is a place where his students would be asked to kneel for a long period of time if he was angry with you or you did something wrong. A few of my fellow students knelt there and said it was pretty uncomfortable on their knees.

I think my favorite part about the mansion was the courtyard with the gardens. They were so beautiful! The landscaping is so impressive and peaceful. Once again, I found myself imagining what it would be like to be one of his students pacing that garden in the afternoon. Also in the garden, was this really neat painting. Evidently, no matter which way you look at it, it always looks the same. I took several pictures of it. My eyes get really confused when I look at it. I am very impressed with whomever painted it - I wish I had understood that part, but I had gotten behind of the group and missed it.

Our last stop that day was his grave. Once again, it was beautiful. It was very peaceful in the graveyard and the trees were so ancient and beautiful. They fit the atmosphere very well. As morbid as it sounds, that might have been my favorite place we went that day. What was strange about it, was that they leave large mounds around the graves. I wonder if that means that they have more than just a casket burried for there to be so much piled up dirt? I am pretty sure that our tour guide said something about that for Confucius's grave anyway - I thought she might have said something about a room down there with him. My room mate got this creepy picture of a black bird flying in her picture of his tomb.

We didn't stay at the cemetary for very long. The tour guide was in a hurry because we had run late (we did too much shopping) and she was only hired until 4 (it was 5). We were told that at this cemetery, the only woman buried is Confucius's wife. We learned in our textbook recently about how to talk about equality between men and women and our favorite phrases we learned were 重男轻女(zhong nan qing nu) which means "to regard males as superior to females or to privilege men over women", and 大男子主义 (da nan zi zhu yi) which means "male chauvinism". Ever since we learned those words, when we go places in China we all smile, shake our heads and say those words when we hear things like that (we hear them all the time, but mostly in a historical context). The Chinese people who hear us nod and are so proud of us for knowing those terms.

When we left, we got on our bus and drove an hour and a half to Tai'An. The first thing we did in Tai'An was eat dinner. Once again it was a traditional style meal, but the feel of the restaurant was like a Rainforest Cafe and there were children running around and a play area for them with a slide and places to climb. We felt awful because after dinner our professor (Gao Laoshi, he is one of our favorite people here) asked us if we didn't like the food because neither of our tables (we had to split into two because of the size of our group) finished even close to all of the food. It probably didn't help that we all said we were full and immediately wanted icecream when we left... It's a huge cultural difference. We tried to explain to him that Americans have two stomachs - one for the main meal and one for dessert. We don't think he undestood. Chinese people are not very big on dessert, and they think it is bad for you to eat something cold right after something hot (which is one reason they don't drink cold drinks during meals).

We also tried to explain that it was just too much food. They ordered 16 heaping plates of food for each table (each plate was more than a restaurant in America would put on one plate as a meal), each of which sat 8 people. To be honest, I wasn't crazy about most of the food. There were a couple of dishes that I liked, but I'm really careful about not eating seafood because I'm still not sure if that is a problem, and they had duck blood gelatin squares as one of the dishes. I didn't even know people ate blood, even of an animal. I kept turning the turning table so it wouldn't sit in front of me because it made me sick. All I could think of were horror movies.

After we ate dinner, we went to our hotel. We were told that we were going to wake up at 6:30 in the morning to eat breakfast then climb TaiShan, so we basically went to bed. I took pictures of our room. It wasn't nearly as nice as the hotel we stayed at in Jinan, but it was still very nice and definitely an upgrade from our dorms. The beds were very hard, but not the same wooden board feeling we have. The bathroom didn't have toilet paper in it, so it was a good thing we brought our own. Honestly, the bathroom reminded me a little bit of what I imagine being in a spaceship would feel like. The hotel had the same energy saving technology where you had to put your room key in a slot to turn on energy, and the lights were the same system which seem very futuristic from America.

On a side note, I am convinced that China is much more "green" than America. I know they have a lot more polution, but I think that's because they have so many more people. There are solar panels on every building, so many electric bikes, so much energy saving devices, and there are laws about keeping the temperature no more and less than certain levels in public buildings to be energy efficient. If America did the things that they did, we would be shocked at how little energy we could use. In stores, you have to pay extra to get a plastic bag to hold things you buy, so lots of people bring reuseable bags. It's very impressive. It is funny because we just had a chapter in our textbook learning energy efficient vocabulary and about going green. It mentioned the temperature cap and also discussed how in America, in the winter everyone burns up in class buildings and in the summer, everyone freezes. I for one, would be very supportive of a temperature cap of some sort in the classrooms at school because in Newton Oaks (the building I spend most of my time in as an Accounting major) I have never been comfortable in one of their classrooms.

In the morning, we went to the hotel breakfast (which you had to have a ticket for that they collected at the door). It was interesting because literally everyone sat anywhere there was an open seat. Most of us sat with strangers and it was completely normal. No one made conversation with us. On another side note, people in China are SO curious (or nosy, some people would say). If you are having a conversation or you look confused they just come up and look over your shoulder at anything you are looking at. There is seriously no privacy in China.

After breakfast, we went straight to TaiShan. The city is at the foot of the mountain, so it wasn't a long drive. The view, even from the base, was stunning. There were clouds on the top of the skyline and it was so beautiful. They had decided that there wasn't time for us to climb the whole mountain (it would take 6 hours, and we had a 2 and a half hour drive back and our professor had a wedding to get back to), so they drove us half of the way up. To be honest, I'm grateful. I couldn't have hiked it in a reasonable amount of time. It is one thing to hike up a mountain with a trail (which is what I was expecting for some reason since they said "steep" and "unsafe" trail, and a whole other to hike up stairs. It is far more exhausting to hike up steep and treacherous stairs.

The scenery was beautiful on the bus ride up. However, the bus driver was driving like a maniac around the curves and by the time we got up to the top I felt extremely dizzy and a bit carsick. We all split up when we got to the Middle Gate to Heaven (where we got dropped off) and walked at our own pace. They told us we could do whatever we want and hike as high as we could and do as much shopping or whatever we wanted to do as long as within 3 hours we met at the South Gate to Heaven, which is the main tourist point and a very high up point. In some of my pictures, you can see glimpses of a staircase going up to a big arch in a not so low valley. That can give you an idea of how high I climbed.

I'm sure there was a lot of history that I missed because I can't read enough to understand it, but all over the mountain are places with Chinese characters carved and painted into the mountain. I was just focusing on hiking. The stairs were very short and very steep so concentrating on not misstepping was very important. When I got to the South Gate to Heaven, it was extremely high in elevation. I waited around for about 20 minutes until someone else in my group came because I didn't know where to go from there (if we had time we were supposed to try to go to the highest point on the mountain). When one of the classmates arrived, he showed me, and I asked a Chinese person how far it was. He told me an hour. I only had 1 hour until I had to be back at the North Gate, and I was exhausted and not feeling like hiking anymore because I was cold from the elevation and because I was soaked in sweat from the hike.

I don't know that I regret not going further, but the pictures some of my friends got are breathtaking. I got a few of them (they are posted) and it would be very cool to go back and explore this mountain more someday. Instead of continuing, I decided to do some shopping. We had a lecture the week before that told us that you shouldn't go to Mount Tai without purchasing a stone souvenir with the carving of a 5 character phrase on it that means good luck. That is when I had my favorite experience from Mount Tai.

I was looking around, and I found this little knook of a shop that was very crowded and had a table with two men sitting at it making tea. I walked in, and one of them shook my hand and realized how cold I was. He pulled up a stool and had me sit down and they started pouring me tea. I drank cup after cup of tea with them for over half an hour and conversed with them. It was such a wonderful experience. For one, being able to use my Chinese language skills to connect with another human being that is worlds apart from me was so powerful, and their generosity was so warm I don't think I will soon forget it.

At first they asked me the basic questions everyone asks me - am I a student? Where am I studying? How long have I been in China? How long will I stay in China? Then they asked me when I was planning to come back to China, if I thought the people were kind or if I thought people were nicer in America. Then he asked me if there are people in poverty in America (that was difficult because I didn't know the word. I had to have him write the character on a iece of paper so I could look it up in my dictionary). I told him yes, but only in some places. He said "but not like in China", and I said "Right, not like in China". My heart broke a little.

After that conversation got a little lighter, though they never seemed resentful when we were talking on the subject and he kept the conversation very casual even during that conversation. He wanted to know if the government helped poor people in America and I successfully explained food stamps. I was very proud of myself. He made some comment about Bill Clinton (they have a Chinese name for him. It took me forever to understand what he was talking about). Since that conversation I have heard the Chinese mention Bill Clinton several times and have decided the Chinese people either really look up to him, or they are making fun of him. Either way he is a topic of conversation for them - as is President Obama.

Then the conversation got very comedic. He told me I should find myself a Chinese husband. I laughed and told him that I already have a boyfriend, and he told me (playfully) that I could kick him to the curb. I responded that I could, 但是我爱他, I wasn't planning on it. He seemed to really respect that but he was dissappointed that he couldn't find me a Chinese man to marry. I wonder if he had a son. Either way it was very sweet. I talked to him about my desire to come back to China someday if I get the opportunity and he strongly encouraged me to. He said I should come back to the mountain and find him. By that time, I was warm with delicious tea and Chinese hospitality. I told him I would like to look around his store for a minute and I purchased stone statue with the lucky phrase from him. They gave me two gifts for free. I can't descibe how gracious these people are. I love the Chinese people.

We took the cable car down the mountain when we left the South Gate to Heaven. It made me realize just how high I had climbed. Once again, the scenery was beautiful. The cable car only took us about half way down the mountain, and then we had to take another dizzying bus down the rest of the way from there. We went straight to lunch because by then it was after 1. Once again, it was a traditional Chinese meal, but this
time the food was delicious. They didn't order us as many dishes, but it was still too many for us to eat. I ate my fill twice over. The main problem with these meals though, is that between the tiny plates you are eating on and the fact that you are eating with chopsticks, you eat slower, which keeps you from wanting to eat as much because you realize you are getting full before you have overeaten.

Some of the other students were incredibly rude and decided to pretend they had eaten and "go get icecream" at KFC next door. Really they were going to get chicken sandwhiches. Sometimes I struggle with frustration with some of the students and the lack of consideration they have. I don't understand how they could be so rude when the Chinese people have been so hospitable.

Well, that's all for tonight. I have stayed up way past my bedtime, but I wanted to get this blog written before it was a week later. I have another blog I have started with some random things that have happened and musings that I have. I'll try to post that soon. I hope you have enjoyed! Have a good day, and goodnight!