Naturally enough it is a tourist hotspot, and I decided to give it a shot after missing so many highlights in Shanghai. It’s also on the way to Qingdao and the mountain of Tai Shan, which I’ll climb on Sunday. Arriving as the guidebook suggested at the nearby town of Yanzhou, I rejected the offers of a taxi to Qufu as I really needed to stretch my legs after the journey from Bengbu. Unlike the express from Shanghai this was a local train, ostensibly with reserved seating but in practice people just sat wherever they could. Discovering all the seats around mine were taken, I stoicly stood in the aisle and wore the stares with ease. I was the only foreigner on this train, I’m sure.
Almost immediately a guy nearby stood up and offered me his seat. I refused, so he started asking me some questions about where I was from and where I was going. Soon he shyly tried his English, which though basic was still far better than my Mandarin! We had a halting conversation over the next hour, and ended up sharing a corner of the bench as we chatted. He works in Inner Mongolia as a manager, and if I ever get to Hohhot I’ve got somewhere to stay. The journey was bum-numbingly slow though, over four hours on an aptly-named “hard seat”.
After a short stroll to regain feeling in my legs I headed back to the train station to get one of those taxis to Qufu. While walking through the carpark a guy approached me to ask if I wanted to go to Qufu, and indicated his brand new VW Passat. I checked the price (Y50, A$11), and as it was only Y10 ($2) less than I would have paid for a typically dilapidated Chinese taxi I said yes straight away. A soft seat never felt so comfortable! During the short journey we chatted, and when I said I planned to go to Tai Shan the following day he offered to drive me there. The price seemed steep at Y250 (A$55), but I thought about it and in the end decided I’d do it. It’s about 80km, and otherwise I would still have to pay for a taxi back to Yanzhou, then the train fare, and it would all be in much less comfort and take much longer than the luxury car. And I figured there’s nothing wrong with a bit of luxury on holiday, is there? Plenty of time to rough it again later on…
All this detail is to avoid talking about Qufu, which frankly is quite dreary. The attractions themselves are nice enough, but at this time of year tourists are rare and there is a desperate air about the place. Not to mention smog, which is worse than anywhere I’ve been so far. For you smog-watchers out there, it seems to get worse the further inland you travel. This is the first town where I’ve been openly ripped off (over food), and some of the trinket sellers are particularly aggressive. However despite that it is an excellent place to load up on said trinkets as the quality can be fine. I think I will do most of my gift shopping here 🙂