Saturday, May 21, 2005

Day 5: Houses of the Holy

Confucious Forest
Originally uploaded by billmcgonigle.
(To view all the pictures, please visit There are a lot, but its worth your time, methinks.)

QuFu: very different from QingDao. Waking up within the walls of the old city, I strolled out to the ticket booth early in the morn, hoping to get a little time in the Confucious complex before it was hoarded by local tourists.

That didn't really happen.

The Chinese have a different attitude towards sight seeing than my own. I usually take things at my own pace, poking around in anything I find interesting, rushing past crowds or anything I find blase. Since I find everything in China to be rather interesting for some reason or another, I tend to take my time. But the Chinese tours concentrate on seeing only the important stuff and seeing it as fast as possible. I spent from 8 AM till 3:30 PM in the Confucious complex, I swear that some of these tours cover it all in an hour. Of course they miss out on the side detours and small details I love to get lost in, but thats me and I'm not Chinese.

Anyways, after getting my ticket I entered KongMiao (Confucious Temple). The structure was erected (obviously) long after KongZi (Confucious' real name, which I will use from here on out) by his family, disciples, and fans. A number of gates lead one into the larger structure, the most important being inscribed with pastel blue calligraphy detailing a lesson of KongZi's describing the inevitable interdependency and concentricness (is that a word? ) of the universe. The gates open up into a large courtyard full of cyprus trees and populated with cranes (I think, I'm no ornithologist).

Eventually the trees clear, revealing a good numbers of pagodas and stone carvings. Many of the statues are of bixi, one of the nine dragons who lives at the bottom of the sea eating treasure. For some reason, he has been cursed to bear the load of wisdom, identified by the massive stone stele adheared upon his back.

The first really large structure is the Great Pavillion of the Constellation of Scholars, which is basically a library. Adorning the walls are the various stories of KongZi, all illustrated, most dating back quite a while. It is also the hotspot to hawk KongZi texts, and the only place I've seen a book available in English, which means that I picked it up, of course. And with great luck too! Let me explain:

In high school my Chinese name was "BiEr," basically "Bill" being attempted by someone with a stereotypical Chinese accent. My college professors, who otherwise sucked, decided I needed something a little more appropos. As such, "William [CENSORED]" (or "[CENSORED] William") became "Meng WeiLi." "WeiLi" means "great power," which I always thought cool, but my dictionary translated "Meng" as "rash" or "impetuous." It was here in QuFu that I finally realized that your family name has absolutely no meaning whatsover, let it be the character for "fertility" or "cow dung." This realization came from the discovery of KongZi's (Confucious') chief disciple, the man who really turned China on to KongZi's crazy ways, was named MengZi (Mencius), the very same "Meng" that "[CENSORED]" had translated into. And in that, we learn that "Meng" is a rather illustrious family name to have in China.

After the Great Pavillion, I putzed around the sides of the complex for a short bit, finding a cool little altar that was barricaded off from the public. Sticking my camera through a crack in the rotting wooden door, I caught a snap of the idol complete with a bird in flight. I like that picture quite a bit, you know where to find it.

The next major stop was DaCheng Hall. The most interesting thing here were the pillars outside the building proper. Exceptionally carved, these pillars were more ornate than those in the Forbidden City (aka the Emperor's Palace). Always worried about insulting the Emperor, whenever the big dog came to visit the QuFu locals had to cover the pillars in silk so that the Emperor would never suspect he was being outdone on his own turf. Again, check out the pictures.

The temple culminated in... er... the temple. By now the crowds were getting a little ridiculous, and I was becoming nervous towards what sort of situation I'd find myself in touring the mansion.

Regardless, transitioning from the temple to the mansion took me past the Wall of Lu. "Lu" was the ancient kingdom of which KongZi was the govenor. The wall is reknowned due that back sometime I think around 200BC the Emperor decided the cult of KongZi was undermining his own authority, so he ordered an raid and destruction of the compound. One disciple was quick enough to stash the original texts in this here wall, where they remained hidden for 100 - 150 years, and were then only found accidentally. Had the texts been destroyed, or had they never been recovered, we would never know that man who go sleep with itchy butt wake with sticky fingers.

The mansion, which was adjacent to the temple, was cool, but christ was it crowded. The highlights were the armory, the "KongZi slept here" bed, and the garden in the rear. Also all the paintings of KongZi, all of which seem to depict him as a towering badass. Serisouly, this KongZi seemed to have a real chip on his shoulder... with a vengeance.

Totally aside from the culture of the area, I met some cool Canadians from ChangChun, the capital of JiLin province and a relatively short train ride south from Harbin. Rob and Stephy taught at JiLin University and were basically doing the same trip that I was doing that week, just in reverse. I guess they had seen me the night before at the street market talking with the various Chinese people, but it was just a chance meeting in the crowds of the mansion that led the three of us to hang out for the rest of the day.

After getting out of the mansion, the last stop of the KongZi complex was the forest/cemetary. About 1.5 kms from the city center, we hiked down the road in the blaze of the midday sun. Again, I didn't have a hat, though not for lack of trying. I think this is when my skin really went over the edge and I got the burn that I so wanted to avoid.

Side note: On the road leading to the cemetary/forest, there must have been no fewer than 15 barbers/hair stylists, yet only 3 eateries. It reminded me of the wig district of Alexandria, or the hammock district of Cypress Creek.

The forest was a great cap to the afternoon. We started off by visiting the resting place of Big Kong, which is nothing but a large bump in the ground. His gravestone was erected long after his death. Even better was the shack next to the mound, a shack with the inscription: "After KongZi died, many of his disciples waited by his grave for three years, partly in mouring, partly in hope of his resurrection, partly to protect the site. One such disciple stayed until his death, sleeping nightly on the ground adjacent to his master. This house was built for that disciple 1200 years later." Cart? Horse? China?

Taking in KongZi's grave only required a few short minutes, but there was still a ton to take in in that forest. And seeing absolutely no Chinese people spending anytime on this superfluous material, we decided we couldn't miss out. Taking a path that looped all around the forest, we found space, quiet, tranquility, and hundreds of stone steles, sculptures, and green like we had never seen in the northeast of China. I can't really transcribe how great this was, but it was one of the more pleasant moments of the entire vacation: away from the crowds, getting to know some new native-English-speaking friends, enjoying a change of scene.

After the forest, Rob and Stephy still had to check out the temple, so I took a short nap and picked up some souveneirs, including the essential jade chop (stamp with my name on it). The top of my chop is, you guessed it, KongZi.

Soon enough I met back up with the Canadia duo, and we attracted the friendship of a local college student named Kevin, who introduced himself as "I'm Kevin, like Kevin from Home Alone 3!" This almost sent me into hysterics, but luckly I contained myself. I'll get more into this whole issue in another post.

Anyways, the four of us had dinner together where I ate my first, and probably last turtle. It was pretty funny watching the chef trying to cut the turtle's head off, as the little guy kept pulling it back in his shell before the blade fell. However, when I got it, I found the meat stringy and overly bony and the broth rather weak. I made most of my dinner from the carmelized pineapple and beer we had ordered.

All said and done for QuFu, it was back to my hotel to rest as much as I could. TaiShan, with its 6,660 steps, lay in the plans for Day 6.


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