Though it’s hard to believe we attempted anything else after the snafu on Taishan mountain, we went back to the hotel, swam, checked out, and visited Dai temple on our way back to the train station. I wanted to visit because this temple is one of four prominent ancient Chinese architectural complexes- along with the Forbidden City, Confucius’ temple in Qufu, and the Mountain Resort in Chengde. It was built in the style of the Forbidden city with many courtyards and pavilions. Here at this temple, the emperors would sacrifice to the gods of Taishan mountain before starting their journey up the mountain. This place was huge! Originally built in 200 B.C., emperors and leaders added on and renovated it over the centuries.
The temples in China, whether they be Dao, Confucian, or Buddhist, all have a similar layout. There are many gates with Chinese lettering that are typically symbolic of passing into another realm. In front of the pavilion with the god, icon, or revered person, there is a large metal incense burner, and sometimes people stop and pray here, or light incense. Then they proceed to the main building, and pray there. At this particular temple, there were a few other things I had not seen before, including this place for people to put locks with a stone tablet in the middle. Worshipers also write prayers on the red wooden tablets in the background, and hang them around the outside edge of the building, in hopes that the god inside will answer their prayers.
If you speak Chinese and visit Tai’an, I would suggest getting a tour guide to explain all of the pavilions, icons and significance. As a foreigner with an hour to explore the temple, we did not hire a guide, but it would have been very informative to do so had we planned ahead and had more time at the temple. There were not English speaking guides available hanging around the temple, but there were tours of Shandong province, and individual tours of Tai’an that could be booked online. Typically we’re not really tour people, but it would have been cool to take a tour of this site, just because of the depth of historical and religious significance.
Like everywhere in Asia, I have to include photos of the protectors guarding the buildings. Here, the animals were different from one another, whereas in Korea, typically all of the animals are the same. Because this temple complex was so huge, there were many layers and side courtyards to explore. We entered through a smaller temple complex, with this giant, decorated bronze pot (with Austin standing beside it for scale). He’s 6’4”. As we walked through the smaller temple area, we couldn’t help but notice the really interesting sculpture with four faces, one facing in each direction. It looked worn and old. I wish I knew the story behind it! Soon, we reached the main part of the Dai Temple. It was surrounded by a high wall like a castle, with large gates and big, red doors.
About this time, Austin got an urgent call from work, and was on the phone most of our time here. Landon just wanted to dig in the dirt, and after his difficulty climbing Mt. Tai, I decided to just let him play in the gravel. I think I had Owen in the baby backpack, and went off exploring some of the side courtyards. I came upon a lovely fish pond and raised pavilion. There was a small crowd on top of the pavilion, and many of the tour guides were stopping there with their small group tours, so I decided to take a look as well. The pavilion itself was not really anything special, but the view of the mountain was spectacular. I could imagine visitors to this temple sitting here enjoying the view many centuries ago.
Going back to the central series of courtyards, I passed through several gates to get to the main hall and courtyard. The courtyard has in it some ancient cypress trees that were planted literally thousands of years ago by Emperor Wu in 200 B.C. Although some of the trees are dead, people still come here to touch the trunks and pray, remembering those who planted them. That just blew my mind that they #1- saved dead trees from thousands of years ago and #2- knew who planted them!
Tiankuang hall is the largest hall in the complex and was built during the Song (949-1279 A.D.) dynasty. It was undergoing renovations during our visit, but I was so happy that we were still able to go inside! Enshrined in this hall is the God of Mt. Taishan himself. Along the walls is a giant mural painted in the Song dynasty of the god of Mt. Taishan making an inspection and coming back to his palace. The mural is incredibly detailed and well-preserved. With the afternoon waning light and the darkness inside of the hall because of construction, it was hard to see it in person or adequately capture it in photos. If you come for nothing else, visit this temple to see the murals!
Even though it was under construction, the grandeur and human artistic effort evident in the main hall was amazing to witness. Even though it was a hard morning, we were so glad we made it to Dai temple to see this! I would highly recommend this temple for your Tai’an itinerary!
Our hard day unfortunately did not end on the mountain. After Austin got off a long, stressful phone call about work, he hurriedly checked out the main hall and then we *thought* we had plenty of time to hail a taxi and get to the train station. We started trying to hail a taxi an hour before our train was scheduled to leave. Well, it took HALF AN HOUR to find an open taxi. Given, it was Saturday night right around dinner time, so many taxi drivers probably weren’t working, and those that were out and about were full. But still, it seemed that there were not as many taxi drivers in Tai’an vs. other cities.
Anyway, we showed our driver our train tickets so he could determine which train station to drive us to (there are two in Tai’an). Well, when he saw what time it was, he freaked out and called a friend who spoke English to explain to us that we were going to miss our train. The friend helped us at least realize we were not going to make it, and we headed to the train station to try to change our tickets. All of the trains were sold out for the rest of the day, until midnight. I looked at our tired, sweaty children running around the ticket office of the train station and felt both complete exhaustion and failure. What were we going to do with these poor, hungry boys until midnight?! Should we hire another taxi to take us back to a hotel for the night? Owen spilled the entire bag of peanuts all over the train station floor, while Landon was running laps around the room. We did not know what to do!
All of a sudden, this angel railroad worker who speaks perfect English found us, picked up Owen, and said, “Follow me, I will take you to the train!” We asked her about getting new tickets, and she said, “You do not need new tickets! Hurry, follow me!” She escorted us through security, past the waiting rooms, onto a platform. A minute later, a train to Zibo rolled into the station, and she put us on the train. She said, “You will not have a seat, but you will get to Zibo tonight.” And then she left. The kicker is we only got to Zibo about a half hour later than we would have had we made our train. Riding standing or sitting on the floor in the ends of the cars is not super fun, but we made it back to Zibo and we were so relieved! We only had great experiences with China rail, and would recommend taking the train to anyone wanting a fast, easy, relatively cheap way to get around China. If you see photos of some sweaty, bedraggled foreigners on a China rail platform, it was probably us. They were definitely taking photos of us with the railroad worker as she helped us onto the train.