In Jinan, one-upmanship goes without saying
Now and then a person just has to get out of the big city and breathe some fresh country air. What better opportunity than the first weekend of the new year?
My wife and I left the hubbub of the Beijing-Tianjin metro area, with its 40 million people (give or take), and headed for the quiet, bucolic life of a small country village in Shandong province called Jinan — sparsely populated at just over 7 million.
I like to describe China in these terms to people in the United States. It gives them a quick snapshot of the massive scale of Chinese cities. I can watch their eyes glaze over on WeChat.
My brother, who recently moved to Dallas, Texas — the
This Day, That Year
fourth-largest city in the US (also 7 million) — spoke of the new challenges of life in a large urban center. Our hometown, metropolitan Salt Lake City, Utah, would be swallowed up in one section of Dallas, he told me.
This was the opening I was looking for. Sure, Dallas is big, I said. But Dallas would be swallowed up in Beijing. Your fish is lunch for my bigger fish.
Of course it’s impolite to resort to the “Mine is bigger than yours” brag. But I couldn’t help it. Major Chinese cities are called mega for good reason.
Utah — one of those rectangular states east of California — has a grand total of 3 million inhabitants, or just 14 people per square kilometer.
My Chinese colleagues gasp at that low number (not to be confused with gasping for air in the smog) — and this provides an opportunity for me to brag that “Mine is cleaner than yours”.
To prove it, I will be happy to serve as a guide on a visit to Utah, which is packed with some of the most spectacular natural wonders on the planet.
If you tire of the massive stone arches and crisp blue skies, the remote slot canyons and spectacular waterfalls; or if you’re bored by Utah’s thousand-kilometer views, or the Milky Way at night (unseen in China this side of the Tibet autonomous region); or if you’re worn out hiking alpine mountains or skiing the best snow on Earth — then I’ll drive you to nearby Sedona, Arizona, which the New Age gurus says is a portal to another universe. That’s where my guide service ends and you’re on your own.
So it’s a win-win scenario for me: I can amuse myself with one-upmanship on either side of the Pacific. Then there was Jinan. Jinan features famous springs, neatly tended small hotels, a pleasant walk up Thousand-Buddha Mountain and a gigantic golden statue with a prodigious belly that practically cries out for residents to proclaim: “Our Buddha is bigger than yours”.
Yet the people we encountered in Jinan were invariably modest, genuine, kind and honest. They didn’t indulge in one-upmanship.
Instead, they showed true warmth, treating us like family at every turn. It was a comfortable visit — like going home.
And that’s something that simply can’t be one-upped.
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A family enjoys afternoon tea at a forest-themed area of a shopping mall in Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi province, on Sunday.