One thing you must know about me is I’m an INTJ. I like to have plans. My friend Rachael would say that I’m no good at planning trips and stuff, but the plans are comforting to me nonetheless.
After 5 days in smoggy Beijing, I was ready to get out and see other cities. For my two days in Jinan, I had a few things to do. At this point in the trip, I did not yet have a firm grasp on what was doable yet while still fitting in travel between cities and hostel check-ins. That being said, I had planned to go to legendary hiking mountain Tai Shan one day, followed by philosopher Confucius’s hometown of Qufu on the next. I had already missed a day because of my Beijing mistake, and was determined to buy my tickets to the next city right away. I didn’t have time for hiking, but figured I could maybe visit the “Thousand-Buddha Mountain” that was nearby to Jinan in my day there.
Jinan was one of the few cities where I couldn’t find a hostel on hostelworld. This should have been a clue, but the site does at least a little bit of vetting before letting a place list on their site, and no hostels existed in Jinan. The hostel I found on another site had a cute lobby, sure, but it was my first experience with a hostel where absolutely nobody spoke English. Google translator helped. The bathroom was just a squat toilet, fine by itself, but it also smelled like a port-o-potty, absolutely nauseating, and we paid to use this toilet as part of the hostel. The rooms weren’t great, either. Before I even slept the night, I was glad to stay there only one night. Seeing the hostel really underscored my need to get out of there at the earliest possible moment. Luckily, the train station was not far away, so I got my next day’s ticket quickly, and followed that up with a lunch of the absolute worst beef noodles in my life.
The goal was to find the bus to Thousand Buddha Mountain. I don’t like buses in foreign countries in general (even in Korea, I’m too afraid I won’t hear the announcement for the stop and miss it. It happened once after a trip to Everland and added 2 hours to my trip home). I kept walking down this road and never ended up finding the stop. Truthfully, I was just looking for a large enough mall or a Starbucks in which to find a western-style toilet, but they were laughably hard to come by. After hours of walking, it seemed, I found my way to this big plaza. There’s a huge mall and conference centers there, and it finally felt like I was back in civilization after the horrors that my hostel presented.
As a disclaimer: Jinan might be a nice place to go for a business conference, if you’re staying at the nice hotel and having a catered event and hang out at the nice mall. The rest of the city, there aren’t as many low-budget options and is really hard to navigate around if you don’t speak Chinese.
I saw the Baotu Spring Park nearby, which was probably the highlight of the day. It was a lovely manicured Chinese garden with natural springs to see (not bathe in), and randomly a pond with seals (the animal) swimming around in it? Jinan was wild, y’all. The big plaza outside had a lot of kite fliers, and I finally found a bathroom in the mall beside it. I walked through the Yanhuchi Jie night market and got some kind of flat samosa-like pastry for dinner, just as it was starting to rain.
I finally got Starbucks at the end of the night. I hadn’t brought anything to read, so it was depressing looking at all the missed opportunities in my guidebook while I sipped my coffee. Once more, I considered just high-tailing it back to Beijing and the airport and calling it quits. It seemed that China wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Back at the hostel, it was only 9pm or so, and all the girls in my dorm were there, full lights on, in bed just scrolling through their smartphones. Not a word exchanged. At least we could have turned the lights off and scrolled in the dark? It was weird.
You know a hotel isn’t up to my germaphobe dad’s standards when he doesn’t even take his socks off when he goes to bed. I felt like that in this hostel. I slept in all my clothes because I was so ready to be gone from there at first light. The front-desk guys sleep on a bed in the little bar-area next to the front desk. I ended up waking them up in order to check out. It wasn’t that early, by my standards, but it’s still pretty shit to have to be sleeping but on-call whenever you’re on duty. I felt better with some baozi and drinks in my bag and checked in for my new train journey. I was even more excited to be out of Jinan than I was to be out of Beijing. I hoped the next city would be an improvement, for once, as I headed down the coast making my way to Shanghai.