Nick 2: Looking to the East

Well, I feel pretty settled in right about now. We’re into the third week of classes this week and now starting our very first full week of classes with our freshmen and sophomores. It’s nice to finally have some stability, getting a feel for our daily schedules and beginning to develop our daily lives and routines. It also sucks to have stability – routines get boring. I came here to break routine. Routine and spontaneity – an excellent example of the Chinese philosophy of yīnyáng. I’ve been doing a small amount of traveling on the weekends here with some of the other teachers. Last weekend we took a day trip to Jǐnán, the capital of Shandong Province. It was a short trip – we took advantage of some of the city’s Western delights to ease our homesickness: pizza, hamburgers, enchiladas and CHEESE.

This past weekend we went to Tài’ān, a city about an hour away, and did a nighttime climb of Tài Shān (Mount Tai) one of the most sacred mountains in China. It has been summit-ed by the who’s who of Chinese history: Confucius (Kǒng Zǐ – born in Qūfù), Mao Zedong and over 70 Emperors from different dynasties.

We started hiking up the over 6,000 steps to the top at about 11pm and it took us anywhere from 2 1/2 to 5 hours to complete (pretty good times considering many take over 7 hours). Arriving at the top at around 3:30 am, it was cold and windy. We somehow killed the time (I must admit I got some shuteye after lugging my sleeping back to the top) and woke up to watch the sunrise with what we estimated to be at least 1,000 tourists (98.7% of them Chinese). With that many people staring off into the Eastern sky, the anticipation was palpable and, when it happened, the sunrise was beautiful; but what was more amazing was the sheer number of people that had made the pilgrimage to see it.

Climbing up the mountain the night before was crazy – it was impossible to get any space from others climbing the mountain. Many of them were students (I ran into 8 of my students alone on the train going to the mountain) but there was a fair share of adults too. Each carrying their flashlights, huddling together for warmth on the 2,000th, 4,125th, and even 5,999th stair, underprepared and seriously risking hypothermia each step of the way. It was eye-opening to see how important this was to each and every person. It didn’t feel like those people were going as sightseers or tourists but they were making the trek and pilgrimage just as it had been made 2,000 years ago. Max brought up the question: Do we have anything like this in the U.S.? And if not, why?

History. China has this immense cultural history and I think, as a result, they have a deeper historical understanding. Mount Tai, for example, has served as one of the most sacred mountains in China and been a place of revelation for Confucius, Mao Zedong and everyone in between. Not only that, but the mountain has been under continuous human settlement since the Neolithic period (about 10,000 years ago) with religious worship of the mountain has beentraced back over 3,000 years. Anything with that much history becomes a superstar celebrity like Mount Tai.

Do we have anything like that in the U.S.? Nothing comes to mind. Why not?
I think many would make the argument for certain sites in the “New” World that have just as an immense cultural history as Mount Tai. But the vast majority of European-Americans aren’t culturally linked to those sites. They belong to cultures that are no longer in existence for one reason ror another. And when you think about it, most Americans don’t have a cultural history or heritage that dates to beyond 500 years ago. This cultural history did exist and continued to until about 500 years ago. Now we Americans can only look at places of cultural importance as tourists rather than as participants continuing to make history.
Some photos:


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