Friday, August 3, 2007
Stares greet us, as we are in Jinan with locals giving us the hard once over twice. Our host tells us not many Westerners visit this area and by the looks of folks, we might be the first. We are taken to a shrine, with spring water on display surrounded by period buildings and statues. On the bus, we are given a lesson on Confucianism and the history of this place, as if you can cover the thousands of years in a 15-minute drive. We visit the lake, walking along the banks covered with weeping willows swaying softly around us. The noticeable difference is the lack of crowds, as we have plenty of room to navigate the place. The greetings we receive seem to contain a touch of shock in them – warm and welcoming, but still a jolt of wonder in the eyes at our appearance. Only the bold approach and ask to take photos with us, with many just laughing or waving at us as if we were on parade. The Big Nose convention has hit town!
We prepare for our official government dinner (being hosted by the director of the information industry seated at position number one at the head table) by changing into a bit more formal wear while crowded into the men’s room at the hotel hosting this dinner. We are met by our host (and his staff) and enter a ballroom with dozen of people to wait upon us. After a nice introduction from the director and a Chamber of Commerce-style video touting Jinan, we are served up a complete dinner with duck, whole fish (and somehow fried fish squares like Mrs. Paul’s made it to our table too. Seemed odd to see among all the other items) and the typical trimmings of an authentic meal. We are severed up so tiny Chinese Twinkies (that’s what we called them – we have learned by now to never ask what a dish is that is placed before us, not for fear of the ingredients but the amount of time in an explanation that leaves us more puzzled) tipped in chocolate. Our entertainment is a local troupe of acrobats and the dated tunes of Mambo Number Five and some Backstreet Boys accompany the acts of children with tubes, a man juggling a pot on his head and a woman with Hula-Hoops. I am invited up to help with a magic act, waving a yellow handkerchief then cutting into the middle, as I mimic my performer. We put on a show; with a bit of dancing and silly-looking movements, and her hanky returns to its original state, while I’m peering through the whole I’ve cut. For a brief moment, I thought mine would be whole too, but no such magic for me.
More bowls and plates are presented to us until were are about to pop. The host stops by our table to offer up a toast and we leave the banquet happy and full. Leaving we are offered a view of old Chinese design on a hill top across from us, with the new architecture of the city encroaching into view.
Some students stay behind to explore the city, and we take at 20 minute ride (that turns into an hour as our driver gets lost several times, hops out to call for directions at two stops and then calls a cab we follow to our destination) back to the hotel. Along the way our guide tells us the greatest fear of Chinese people is not the heavens or the earth, but Americans speaking Chinese (his little joke to us, as his conversation the entire time is punctuated with ya-ya on a regular basis). Seems the are indeed laughing at the Big Noses and are shocked if we reply in their native tongue, in case we understood their comments. They are safe with me.
This morning we ascend a mountain and explore before leaving Jinan.