The weather isn’t as dire as predicted, but it’s still C-O-L-D. Looking out the double-glazed window of my room it seems like it should be okay as it’s sunny and dry, but it’s tough to walk around outside for more than twenty minutes. There is no thermometer around to tell me exactly what the temperature is and the news reports won’t be on until the evening, so mid-afternoon I put a glass of water outside my window to see whether it froze. After an hour it was part ice, after three it was solid. It’s windy too. [Note: the TV news just said today’s temp range in nearby Ji’nan was -11 to -4]
I don’t expect things to improve until Tuesday, so I’ve decided to hole up for three days in Tai’an. If the weather improves I’ll climb Tai Shan tomorrow, but if not this is a fine place to relax. My modern hotel room is excellent and cheap (Y200, or $A45, a night) with comfortable double bed, cable TV with flat screen, great shower with hot hot water and that holiest of holies: central heating. Perfect for hunkering down when icy weather closes in 🙂
Tai’an is a nice city, much more modern and clean than Qufu or Bengbu and its compact centre is easy to navigate. Apart from Tai Shan there is a magnificent Temple in the heart of the city and loads of internet cafes, shops and restaurants. As I write the sky is clear and has that sharp light that only a mountainous region can deliver, but even in the bright afternoon sun occasional wisps of snow float crazily through the air. It reminds me of hill country service towns in NSW like Cowra, or Canowindra: relaxed, almost sleepy, but outward-looking and welcoming to tourists. Amazing given that its population is about 800,000.
I bought Fuschia Dunlop’s foodie memoir Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper as part of my preparatory reading, but events of the last few months took over and I never got past the first chapter. Now, with time on my hands, I’ve dug it out and spent the best part of an afternoon lost in her tales of learning Sichuan cookery in Chengdu in the mid-1990s. Her delightfully descriptive writing is compelling at any time, but after a week in China I can now imagine her world with magical clarity. If you like food and/or China, this book is highly recommended.