We awoke to another clear day in China. Both our tour guides and the group continued to profess their amazement at the weather.
We had been warned that Jinan was a second tier city (only 7 million people) and was not used to seeing whites or Americans so we should be prepared for more attention. However, on arriving at breakfast at hotel we noticed that the room was filled with American’s. Sitting down to tables with them we discovered that they were part of a large adoption group there to finalize procedures and take children back to the United States.
Suddenly we were not so special.
We did head to a market on our way to our first location, a cultural visit to 1,000 Buddha Mountain. We bought fresh fruit and our country guide Frank handed me a Mandarin Orange. I started to peel it and he grabbed my hand. “What are you doing? The skin is the best part?” He popped one whole into his mouth and began chewing. Having eaten a number of strange things so far (including fried scorpion) I followed suit. It was actually better than peeling, with the tart rind balancing the sweet orange.
1,000 Buddha Mountain is an artificial cave where hundreds of Buddha statues of varying size and type are carved, stored, displayed and, in some cases, dumped. The cave could not hold all the Buddha’s and they spilled out over the mountain, finally ending in a giant laughing buddha nearly 100 feet tall, looking to be made of gold.
We walked up the mountain past giant Buddhas in various poses with prayer strips and people burning incense. Because it is an active religious site, nothing is gated, fenced or otherwise restricted. Something fairly common in China. Respect is expected and adhered to.
Once inside the cave itself the Buddha’s, and other antiquities, were open to the weather and people to touch and handle, (and hopefully not damage), at will. Only a handful were behind locked doors or glass. It seemed that it was just good will and respect for the Buddha’s that kept them safe. But environment and weather are clearly working away at them.
As we progressed through the cave, a guide explained that bribery is rampant and even Buddhists are not above it. This came up from a question – someone int eh group observed a monk driving into the parking lot below in a brand new Mercedes Benz.
We ended the self-guided tour at the back with a donation and our names entered into a prayer book, then exited to tiredly look down the mountain and the climb down. Our guide ushered us off to the side and into a lock and gate system similar to an amusement park.
Because that’s what it was – a ride.
The visit ends with an Alpine Slide down 1,000 Buddha mountain. It had pangs of Disney – and since we were flying by below the belly of a giant laughing Buddha, didn’t feel particularly disrespectful.
We left and drove through streets and neighborhoods of Jinan, stopping for a traditional Chinese family lunch at a lovely restaurant clearly popular with locals, before heading to Pease Water Company.
This is a privately owned Chinese bottled water company set up over natural springs in Jinan. The owners and workers of Pease take great pride in the fact that they are independently (not government) owned and their success is due to hard work and entrepreneurial spirit as opposed to guaranteed government contracts. That pride came through in the very gracious reception, the tour the bottling plant demonstrating the cleanliness and use of innovative technology, to the storeroom floor and the stacks on stacks of bottles ready to ship.
They presentation of the company was fairly short, but touched on the challenges that they faced as a privately held concern in a formerly communist country.
We ended the day in the best way possible, with a visit to Tsingtao brewery. Any day that ends with a brewery tour. There was no reception, but there was a tour of the museum and history of the beer in China, a walk through an educational section designed to replicate being drunk without consuming alcohol to remind people not to drink and drive, and then on to a reception with freshly brewed beer, snacks and small gifts.
Thankfully we had a bus to get us back to the hotel, where we mostly passed out from the exercise and alcohol.