I've noticed recently that there are many coffee shops in China. Whether they are only prevalent in this area of the country or whether I have only picked up on this of late, I cannot say. Inside, they have the kind of luxury decor, service, western menu and prices that you would expect of a nice restaurant back home. They also all have wireless internet. So, I sat in one of these establishments I had seen from the bus window the previously night for a few hours before going to one of the bus stations for an early-evening bus to Qufu, taking a couple of hours.
Qufu was the home of Confucious, ancient spiritual Chinese philosopher whose teachings did a great deal to shape Chinese culture. Part of the city is still surrounded by historic walls containing an area including the Confucious Temple, the Confucious Mansions and the hostel I planned to stay at. Not that the bus went anywhere near here. This was not its final destination so I assume it did not want to spend time going all the way to the town centre and so dropped a handful of us passengers at some dusty roundabout in the middle of nowhere. Consulting the map and asking other people didn't help figure out where I should be going so I reluctantly had to engage one of the taxi drivers who were waiting at the drop-off point and get her to drive me to my accommodation.
The hostel rooms were built around an open courtyard on two floors. Probably this would have been a great place to stay during the Summer, but it was cold now and colder still at night. The fact that the door on my room opened to open air meant the room itself was ice-cold. Halfway through the first night, whilst out of bed to use the toilet, I figured out how to turn the heater on, but its 'hot' air draft was fighting a losing battle against the elements and I suspect that the dry air it created probably added to the illness that this gave me over the coming week.
In the morning I first walked down to the Confucious Mansions, a large complex that originally housed the great man and since then housed his descendents whilst also growing greatly in size. As was the Chinese style for these things and as was also true of the Forbidden City in Beijing, the geogrphical area is huge but not neccessarily the number of rooms in the terms of what you would expect to see advertised in an estate agent's window. Few buildings have more than one or two rooms and none have multiple floors. You almost find yourself thinking "A rich person lived HERE?". Not that it wasn't nice, just that it didn't seem that self-indulgent.
After that it was round to the Confucious Temple complex, all very impressive but partly more of the same vibe as the mansions and partly the same sort of thing at many other temples I have seen across Mongolia, China and South Korea.
The third of the triumvirate of prominent attractions in Qufu is the Confucious Forest, which lies a couple of kilometres out of town to the north. I tackled this the following morning, going part of the way in a horse-drawn 'carriage'. The forest is vaguely circular and contains the graves of Confucious and all his descendents since then. The tomb of the philosopher himself is in its own compound near the entance. After I had a look around this bit, an American man who seemed to be of Chinese origin stopped me outside. He was lost and couldn't find the tomb. "The dead dude's in there" I said, pointing behind me. "He's dead??" replied the American as if semi-shocked. I don't think he meant to say it quite that way, but it was pretty funny at the time. "Well, yeah. Sorry that I had to be the one to break it to you. Were you very close?".
The rest of the forest was a mixture of graves flanked by statues or monuments and those that were marked by tall gravestones randomly distributed through the overgrown trees and tall grass. A enigmatically relaxing place to stroll through on its winding pathways.
After finishing, I had time to walk back to my hostel, collect my backpack and walk down to the bus station and buy a ticket for the town of Tai'An, an hour and a half away.