The Road Less Travelled 

Written by Oct 16, 2004 13:10
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The Descent

The sound of dripping water woke me up. Obviously it was raining! I checked my cellphone, it was just 3am. I still wanted to have a few minutes of sleep, but the sound of footsteps scurrying off here and there, and people having a loud chat without regard of the time kept me awake. The rain eventually subsided and after a while you could see the sky with the clouds slowly dispelling. I just stared out the window for I don't know how long enjoying my last day atop Taishan.

After seeing more and more people going up the steps to see the sunrise, I got my camera and my very thin sweater and darted out the door. The morning air was chilly and you could easily see dozens of people making their way to the terrace, some with thick green army coats that you can easily rent for 3 yuan while others simply wore the cellophane-like jacket at the cost of 1 yuan. The excitement of seeing the first light of morning kept me warm. It was quite dark so I made sure I watched my steps!

I was able to find a great spot at the terrace. It was at the top of one of the huge boulders. It was 5am already, but thick clouds barred the way and only a glimmer of the morning sun's rays could be seen. I took a picture of it for fear it would not come again. Much waiting didn't do any good as the clouds got thicker and thicker. By 7am and still with no luck, the people's smiles turned into frowns as they spoke in disgust at the bad weather.

At this time, I caught a glance at a lone female foreigner just below the boulder where I sat on. Her blue jacket covered the most of her body and only her slightly freckled face can be seen. With a smile, I slowly approached her and with luck I was able to meet her acquaintance. Her name is Courtney Cox (sounds like Courtney Fox from the hit series, CSI) and she's an American student from Yale. She's studying Chinese in Beijing for the summer break. Her Chinese is quite impressive and at 19, I was amazed at her bravery in climbing the mountain alone. I found out that she's also heading back to the city on that day so I told her to join me on the way down. With a smile like mine how can she refuse.

The Western Route

After eating another one of those spring onion rolls, we started out our descent. She's quite strong and very much able to keep up with my pace. We were halfway down in less than 30 minutes! At the middle part of the mountain were two routes going down. We opted to take the western route because we've already gone thru the eastern route on our way up. All the tourists taking the route prefer to take the bus going down. We decided to just walk down and save the 18 yuan fare. It's not that we were stingy, but because we longed for that nature walk. The walk was more or less 20 kilometers going down, but we didn't give much thought to it even if we were the only two going down. Instead we just talked our way down as passengers from the passing buses stared at us. Our conversation varied form movies to school life, to even crazy stuff we wanted to do in our old age!

Along the way down we searched for short-cuts because the road would just wind and wind eating up a lot of our time. While we were at it, we talked about Robert Frost's poem "The Road Less Taken" especially the last part where it says "I took the road less taken and that made all the difference". I guess from that time on we always opted to use a strange path we would come across instead of the well-paved road, it did make a lot of difference!

At the bottom was a well-known tourist site called "Black Dragon Pool" and many people can be seen taking a dip there. It's called by that name because of the rocks' color and, as always, because of a story long time ago of some peasants having seen a black dragon lurking in the water. The pool is like a small lake with the waters coming from the mountain. It's definitely cold! With the distance covered and the heat of the sun slowly making its way into our skins, we decided to take a dip. Since all the Chinese we encountered at the pool area seem to have their eyes fixed on my companion we decided to go swimming in the lower area of the pool where there were less people.

Our conversation continued even when we were swimming. She told me she was a skipper who loved sailing and shared some of her knowledge on the know-hows of sailing. When I told her how exhausted I was after only a few minutes in the water, she explained that it is easier to stay afloat on salt water than fresh water because salt water is denser than our body content. She added that people are more likely to drown in an ordinary swimming pool than at the beach. How about that?

The Daimiao Temple

That swim was definitely worth it. Our muscles got the much needed relaxation they deserved. After swimming, I suggested that we visit the famous Daimiao Temple located just at the other side of the mountain and that it would take only one bus ride. With her intense admiration for Chinese architecture, she willingly obliged.

Located just a few meters away from the Red Gate of the eastern route is the Daimiao Temple where emperors of the past held simple ceremonies paying their respects to Taishan before their ascent to the top. It's a huge place full of pavilions, very old cypresses, stone tablets, and even some frescoes. There is a well-known fresco that is 3.3m in height and 62m in length showing the god of Taishan on a hunting expedition. It's a rare masterpiece with 657 figures vividly detailed in various appearances. Housing this work of art is the Tian Kuang Hall. "Tian" meaning heaven and "Kuang" meaning blessing, it's translated as "The Blessing from Heaven Hall". The oldest one of its kind in China, it has a total of 9 rooms, a length of 48.7m, width of 19.79m, and a height of 22.3m.
Another wonder to behold in this area, is the giant statue of Bixi. It is a tortoise-like animal which is actually the 1st son of the Dragon in Chinese folklore. The Dragon has nine sons and this one is the most famous one of all! It's always shown crawling with a huge tablet on its back. The story has it that it helped a super-human by the name of Yu subdue a great flood, but because of its powerful strength and unpredictable character, Yu put a huge stone on its back as a precautionary measure to keep it from trouble. To this day in almost all ancient temples that you visit, you would definitely see Bixi with a stone tablet at its back. The one here is actually the biggest one in all of China. Since I don't have the figures, I'll just describe it. The statue has the size of two huge tanks combined and the stone tablet can be compared to the height of two Yao Mings (the famous basketball player playing for the Houston Rockets in the NBA). Ha ha ha.

At about 4:50pm, I had to leave my new found friend because she has classes the following morning and has to stay in Taian to catch the 10:30pm train for Beijing. On my part, I had to catch the last bus for Qufu, a town about an hour away, at 5:30pm. We bid each other farewell and hoped that our paths might someday cross again. Along the way to Qufu, I couldn't stop thinking how my day could've turned out had I not taken the road less traveled.

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