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Full Circle

Day 57: Tai an

Michael Palin - Full CircleThe view from the Nantiamen Gate, the South Gate of Heaven, is obtained after more than two hours climbing and comes with the satisfaction of seeing an ant-like stream of figures still toiling up the pale white ribbon of stairs below. The centre of Paradise is a hundred and fifty steps away up the Scaling Ladder to the Gate of Heaven through Immortalization Archway and into the Temple of the Princess of the Azure Cloud. No azure clouds today, but a murky, clinging white mist which binds the cold air tight around me. The monks wear army greatcoats and rub their hands, and the pilgrims, having made the long journey, kneel at the blood-red doors of the temple, throw a money offering into what looks like a horizontal British pillar-box, bow three times before the Princess, raise their incense sticks, and move out pretty smartish.

As we retrace our steps away from this, one of the most revered sites in China, a sound drifts in the air above the chatter of the tourists. It's the sound of 'Moon River', played by Richard Clayderman.

We leave Tai'an in the evening on the overnight train to Shanghai. The station is spotless, as Mr Wang and Mr Wang had promised. Almost alone on the platform are a party of German tourists, a handful of Chinese businessmen, ourselves, and our fifty pieces of baggage. When the train is announced a rectangle of light spills out onto the platform as the waiting room door opens and a long silent line of shadowy figures is escorted by rail staff to their appointed position on the platform. These are the Hard Class passengers.

The difference between them and us in Soft Class is that we can enjoy the benefits of individual lighting, two layers of curtains and advertising in the corridors. There is even an ad on the door of the toilet. It is for a product called 'Love', which Susan tells me is an anti-haemorrhoid cream.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 57
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Tai'an
  • Book page no: 85

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