by Joseph Dubec, Korea Public Schools Placement Coordinator
Most people when first arriving in China flock to Beijing for the Great Wall and Tienamen Square or into the historic metropolis of Shanghai. When traveling around the country, people are drawn to the terracotta warriors of Xian, the racetracks of Hong Kong, or pandas of Chungdu. All are spots worth visiting, and all are things you won’t find anywhere else in the world. However, be sure to also leave time for climbing the stairs of one of China’s holy mountains.
There are five mountains in China known for their religious and historic importance: Tai Shan, Hua Shan, Heng Shan (in Hunan), Heng Shan (in Shanxi), and Song Shan. If living in China, you’ll probably have seen Huang Shan, Yellow Mountain. Even if you haven’t been to Anhui province, it is featured on the Five Yuan Bill. When traveling in China, I happened to be by Shangdong province and had the opportunity to visit Tai Shan.
Climbing a seemingly endless stream of stairs to the top of Tai Shan, one of the most important mountains in China is an experience not easily forgotten. A chance to get out of the metropolises that define modern China and step up into a more tranquil setting that stretches out of the cities and into China’s past, it comes complete with an ancient belief that all who climb to the top will live to a hundred.
Being fresh to traveling and looking for ‘authentic’ experiences, I scoffed at the gondola which would take one halfway to the top. Not being familiar with pacing myself or climbing mountains I decided to try to make it to the top faster than was probably wise. Rather than a casual walk up the mountain, I found myself passing tour groups and tourists pausing to catch their breath. However, partway up, I found myself in turn being passed in turn by a pair of young Chinese military types. Naturally, I realized I needed to pick up the pace and pass them back. Clearly young men becoming competitive over trivial things is universal because we must have overtaken each other at least five times each, taking turns at being in the ‘lead’.
Gasping for breath and soaked with sweat, we exchanged names and took a break together around three quarters of the way up the mountain. At this point we were being regularly passed by the steadily moving older Chinese workers, there something humbling about being overtaken by someone who is three times your age and is balancing two tanks of propane on their back. While we only were able to manage very basic conversation, I spent the next day having my new friends try to explain to me the history of Tai Shan.
The top of Tai Shan is complete with guest houses and restaurants. There are no roads connected to the top of the mountain and propane and food is carried to the top on the backs of local residents. Wisps of clouds settle in amongst the mountain paths and each turn has a sign proclaiming a historic even from a dynasty now past, just be sure to find someone who can translate to sign posts to English for you. In the morning you can see the sun rising above the clouds and other tourists who have spent the night will be seen posing for pictures where they are holding the rising sun in their hands.
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