One thing I didn’t do enough of when I was in Beijing was to travel on short trips on weekends and holidays. I only did my first weekend trip in China this April when I went to Jinan for a 3-day weekend. The city is the capital of Shandong Province and well-known in China for its natural springs but a modest tourist destination*, even in its own province which boasts the coastal city of Qingdao and Taishan, one of China’s most famous mountains.
Even still, Jinan has some good points – it is close to Beijing, just 2 hours by high-speed train; the capital of one of China’s most ancient provinces and cradles of civilization; and has a good provincial museum. I was glad just to be able to visit Jinan since I’d never gone to Shandong before. I hadn’t visited a different province in China since going to Anhui in 2014 (which I went during Spring Festival and still haven’t written about here). The city’s main attractions are Baotu Spring, the provincial museum, and Daming Lake, a small lake smack in the center of the city.
The lake is surrounded by shrines and pavilions and a lofty 52-meter-tall pagoda, which is a rebuilt version of an old one. It’s a pleasant walk though I had the silly experience of buying a ticket to enter the northern part of the lake, then realizing it wasn’t very big and that the rest of the lake was free. I left that part and strolled along the southern shore, then exited the lake and crossed the street to walk through Qu Shui Ting, a small street with cafes and shops alongside a small canal. Near the front of this street was a large pool, one of Jinan’s springs, with newly built old-style buildings on the far side and construction cranes looming behind. At a stream on the other side of the street, somebody was even washing clothes in it, a testament to how clean the water was.
There was also a church on a side street – a dignified, gray building clearly identifiable by a narrow triangular spire topped by a cross. Standalone churches are a rare sight in East Asia (in Taiwan there are virtually no standalone church buildings as churches are generally in regular buildings).
Taking a side street led me through a hutong, which was just like the ones in Beijing, but with small streams at the side. Several lanes had names that indicated their past like West Night Watches Street and Horse Market Street. Walking along the hutong took me to a food street that was filled with vendors selling buns, candy and other snacks. Perhaps because it was a Friday, but the street was very crowded and much busier than I’d expected.
After reaching the end of the foot street, there was a large, new mall and beyond the mall was Quancheng Square, the city’s main center.
The museum was relatively new, as are many of China’s major museums, having been built within the last 10 years. It was a gigantic grey building and free, which is one good thing about China’s museums, though it meant there was a modest lineup. There were a lot of exhibits, given Shandong’s place in Chinese history as one of the original parts of ancient China. There were bronzes, weapons, calligraphy and pottery, but what stood out for were the intricate and detailed stone sculptures of people and lively scenes. These sculptures were mostly found engraved on tombs.
Canal leading to Quancheng Square; this canal also goes to Daming lake
Shandong Provincial Museum. Unfortunately it was a very smoggy day which meant it was just like Beijing.
Engravings of animals and battle scenes engraved on walls of tombs (above and below).
Funeral procession figures found in mausoleum of a local dignitary
Museum main hall, the giant green circular object is an ancient Chinese coin
Hutong map and street name explanation
Jinan’s fancy large mall between the hutongs and Quancheng Square
* I actually had an sort-of unpleasant exchange with a colleague over my choice of Jinan because to her, a longtime expat from the UK, going to Jinan was worthless as it was just a plain Chinese city and the only good option for a weekend trip was Chengde. While her point was understandable, what made it obnoxious was that she made a big fuss both before and after I came back and I didn’t really appreciate that. We get along well generally so that was unexpected and unpleasant. Anyways, I’d like to say that travel is different for everyone and we all have different preferences and I think it’d be cool if more people could understand that.