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"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Take No Notice, a short story from China.

Confucius painting Qufu Shandong Province China

Take No Notice, a short story from China.

After a prolonged period of stability, I finally bid farewell to Belgium in the summer of 2009. Uninspired by life in grey, uneventful Brussels, my girl and I headed off to China for an unforgettable year of teaching and traveling.

I was beginning to think we’d never get to Qufu. The journey from Tai’an was only supposed to take an hour, but our sweatbox of a bus had been stopping at five minute intervals to pick up the entire province (and their mothers). As a result, the vehicle was now audibly straining under the weight of its occupants. Moreover, and merely adding to the misery, the overhead fans weren’t working and the man sitting behind me had farted. 

Another downside was our moron bus driver. He was a pubescent rake of a boy dressed in a silly cap and oversized trousers. He had no concept at all of how to appropriately use the brake. Rather, he simply honked his way through the entire journey as if he were Sandra Bullock in Speed. 

Take No Notice, a short story from China.

“Beeeep!!!! We need to get these people to Qufu before sunset!”

Take No Notice, a short story from China.

The guy honked at every vehicle he came across. He also honked at the people he was about to pick up on the side of the road. He honked at the sun for shining so damn brightly and when there was nothing left to honk at he honked some more, just because he could. When we finally honked into Qufu, there was a palpable sense of relief for everyone on board as we oozed out of the bus like molten liquid.

“Thank god that’s over!” puffed S.

Located in the walled old town, Qufu International Youth Hostel turned out to be surprisingly nice! It was a simple setup, just three dorms and half a dozen well-kept rooms set around a cosy courtyard. We grabbed a private double, before heading to the common room to chat with the receptionist.

I remember her being an exceptionally hardworking girl who seemed to run the place virtually single-handed. Furthermore, she had a decent level of English and a genuine love for being helpful and friendly. “It’s pronounced choo foo,” she told us with a playful wink. “Small town, only eighty thousand. Almost everything here is tourism, many Chinese people crazy for Confucius”.

Qufu International Youth Hostel Shandong Province China

Qufu International Youth Hostel.

Good old Confucius was also the reason we’d come to Qufu. To check out his hometown and the plethora of sights in his honour. These included Confucius Temple, Confucius Mansions and the so-called Confucius Forest. Not that either of us were Confucius scholars! In fact, beyond the basics –author of classic texts, speaker of wise words – I didn’t know much about him. “He was creator of golden rule”, explained the girl with a proud smile. 

Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself”.

She then handed us a map, helpfully circling the town’s key sights. Talking us through everything, she even even marked out the best walking route to get there. 

Qufu City Map Shandong province China

Take No Notice, a short story from China.

We were studying the map on one of the common room sofas when a tall, bald, middle-aged man shuffled over and sat across from us. Straight away I clocked the self-important sneer pasted across his creased face. He had a fountain pen in one hand, a large leather-bound notebook in the other. 

“Here to join the lines of scurrying rats?”

he drawled, in a thick Australian accent, his open mouth exposing an unsightly row of yellowing teeth. “Uh…” I began, but he wasn’t interested in my answer. “Come… see… take your photographs and leave… learn nothing”. With a sideways glance, eyebrows raised, S got up and made for reception to order a pot of green tea. This left me alone with Lord Pompous, who was now staring at me with a look of palpable disdain. 

“Oh I’m just jesting,” he chuckled, opening his notebook and flicking through its scribbled pages. “Well… sort of”. There followed an awkward silence, one that remained until S returned with the tea. “How long are you here for?” he eventually asked. “What length of time have you deemed appropriate to gauge a scrap of wisdom from the wisest of Earth’s sages?”

Take No Notice a short story from China.

Confucius, a wise old dude.

“Just a couple of nights” I replied. “Then we’re off to Shanghai”. He actually snorted at this, eyes fixed on his book. “How about you?” I asked flatly. “I have been here for eighteen months and three days” he answered, jotting something down on his pad. “And I shall remain here until my studies are completed”.

short-stories-from-china

Take No Notice, a short story from China.

As irksome as the guy clearly was, I nevertheless found myself intrigued. Thus we offered him a glass of tea, which he wordlessly accepted, and sat listening to his smug, humourless monologues. He was here to learn about Confucius, he told us. To spread the word of his teachings and to eradicate the ills of the modern world from his body and mind. Above all, he insisted, the goal was to “reach the state of true enlightenment”. 

“One day”, he said, sipping from his tea, “an ordinary housewife approached Confucius for advice on a private matter that was troubling her greatly. After carefully listening to her story, Confucius advised her to take no notice”.

Here our storyteller paused to glare at us with diluted eyes, presumably for dramatic effect. “Many years later” he continued, “the housewife was making dinner for her family when she suddenly remembered the words: Take no notice. She froze, dropping a carrot into the broth and realised that…. she was now enlightened”.

Confucius Chinese philosopher.

Smiling politely, S and I sat there waiting for more. But soon enough we realised that the story was finished. A short while later, Confucius groupie got up, cleared his throat, scooped up his stuff and walked off without saying a word. I had so many questions. 

What exactly had been troubling the woman?

What was the meaning of take no notice?

How the hell had this led to any kind of enlightenment?

Regrettably, the only conclusion I could come to was that Confucius’ wisdom had fallen flat. And that said knowledge had failed to teach the Australian to say goodnight to people when he left a room. Or indeed the importance of a simple “thank you” when someone treats you to a glass of tea.

———

We’d expected the Confucius sights to be busy, but wow had we been ill-prepared for the circus that awaited us! When we arrived at the ticket office it was absolutely heaving, a long line snaking out of the main courtyard onto the street. It was mayhem, with rabid taxi drivers and souvenir sellers aggressively hassling anyone in sight. Queuing patiently, we eventually got the vouchers needed to access San Kong, Qufu’s three hallowed sites. Passing through the turnstiles, we entered the temple complex and I Immediately knew we’d underestimated just how vast the place was.

Historical Plan Confucius Temple Qufu.

A historical plan of Confucius Temple, Qufu.

Take No Notice, a short story from China.

According to the historical info that came with our tickets, Confucius Temple is a 16.000 square metres complex that takes up one fifth of Qufu town! Inside, there are four hundred and sixty six buildings, halls and pavilions devoted to Confucius and his many descendants.

The approach to the main temple is a pretty one. Following the main path, we passed through numerous courtyards with towering trees and stone sculptures. Then, over a crumbling bridge overlooking an algae-infested stream.

Confucius Temple Qufu Shandong Province China

Confucius Temple, Qufu.

Arriving at the main temple, the charm of the place literally dissolved in an instant as we found ourselves consumed by an ocean of tourists. Parents yapped at their unruly children. Teenage girls took endless photos of themselves with their retched selfie sticks. We found ourselves poked, shoved and knocked as we went, a sense of claustrophobia rapidly setting in. What should have been a place of tranquility and reflection had been reduced to nothing short of a Chinese Disney World.

Temple of Confucius Qufu China.

Take No Notice, a short story from China.

Photo courtesy of Kanegen. 

The tour groups were the worst. Immense, antisocial blocks of people led around by guides with giant flags attached to their backs. Addressing their clients through loudspeakers, the guides blared out unbroken streams of information, their customers bobbing after them like cattle. I tried to take no notice, but the whole experience was too intense. Following a very brief look inside the temple, we hastily exited, resolving to get as far away from everyone as we could.

Fanmaker Confucius Hall Qufu Shandong Province China

My greatest fan.

Take No Notice, a short story from China.

Happily, things were more manageable at the various Confucius Mansions. In one building there was an elderly gentleman selling traditional Chinese fans. They were really handsome creations, so much so that I decided to purchase one. This brought a warm, wide smile out of the old guy.

Much to my delight, he proceeded to decorate the fan with a handwritten Confucius quote in black ink. Having asked my name, he dipped his calligrapher’s pen back into the pot and wrote Leighton in both English and Chinese. Satisfied with his handiwork, he applied his official stamp and handed me my new treasure.

Confucius Temple Qufu China.

Take No Notice, a short story from China.

Later, upon entering Confucius Forest, it was back to the distastefulness of tourist mania. The main path led to Confucius’ tomb, where the crowds jostled for prime photo positions. With no appetite whatsoever to fight our way to the front, S and I just stood surveying the situation. In the end, I had to wait over ten minutes to grab a shot of his gravestone unencumbered by arms, legs, heads and backpacks.

Confucius gravestone Qufu Shandong Province China

Confucius Forest, Qufu.

We were leaving the forest when I came upon the nearby grave of Confucius’ son. His headstone was faded, overgrown and largely ignored by the salivating masses. Now here was a prime example of people embodying the Take No Notice mantra. Although I suspect this wasn’t what Confucius had in mind.

Take No Notice, a short story from China.

Back at the hostel, the girl at reception was keen to hear about our experiences. She whooped joyfully at the sight of my fan and nodded politely as we described the day’s frustrations. Tired and hungry, we ordered some pork dumplings and spent the rest of the night chilling in the courtyard outside our room. Having checked out the following morning, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of hostel-cooked omelettes, complimented by a giant watermelon bought from a street vendor across the road.

Watermelon breakfast Qufu Shandong Province China

Take No Notice, a short story from China.

We were literally on our way out when the Australian guy appeared. Greeting nobody, he settled down on one of the sofas, switched on the TV and sat watching a crappy martial arts movie. I could have gone over to say goodbye. To wish him all the best with his studies and the rest of his stay in Qufu. Instead, I opted to Take No Notice. Even after much reflection I’m convinced it was the right thing to do. Who knows, maybe even Confucius himself would’ve approved. 

By the time our taxi pulled up at Qufu Train Station, what had started as light rain was now edging into torrential territory. Dashing over to the entrance hall, we were both soaked by the time we got inside.

“Oh crap!” I said, gazing up at the departures board.

“It’s delayed an hour”. Settling down in one of the rows of hideous, orange plastic chairs, I cast my eyes around the glum hall. Perhaps the loosest interpretation of train station I’d ever seen.

Qufu Train Station Shandong Province China

Qufu Train Station: I love what they’ve done with the place.

Sections of the stone floor were cracked, while a few of the windows were nothing more than unglazed frames. Consequently, the slanting rain had begun to spray inside, dampening people in the first row of seats. Realising there wasn’t even a vending machine on offer, I fired off a quick prayer to the gods of train departures.

But of course the hour came and went with no word, the rain getting heavier and heavier. Peering outside, I was discouraged to see serious flooding, an arriving taxi stranded in deep water halfway across the square. 

Parking lot Qufu Train Station Shandong province China

Take No Notice, a short story from Qufu.

Some people in the station were getting restless. A group had crowded around the guard who stood at the entrance gate to the station’s sole platform. With no way of effectively communicating with anyone, we decided to call the girl at the hostel. Handing my mobile phone to the guard, she conversed with him for a bit before coming back to me with some disappointing news. 

“There is a long delay… you need to wait”.

Leighton Travels travel reports short stories.

So wait we did. S read her book and I amused myself by walking around the hall listening to The Beta Band’s Dry The Rain on repeat. I was back in my seat and on the verge of sleep when a garbled announcement came through the speakers, followed by a sudden rush towards the platform.

Out we went, only to find ourselves among a large group huddling under a corrugated iron shelter. Everyone’s eyes were straining down the single track. Ten trainless minutes later the guard brought out newspapers for those who wanted to sit. Some more time passed. 

“Leighton… wake up!”

It was S tugging at my sleeve. Through my bleary eyes I could make out two distant headlights coming slowly towards us through the fog. Then its horn sounded out, a triumphant noise that got me up on my feet, securing my backpack and shaking the pins and needles out of my toes. It was late afternoon and the light was already fading. We were way, way behind schedule, but it didn’t matter. Because we were about to board our train. We were about to get warm and dry. We were going to Shanghai!

‘Take No Notice’ is the sixth chapter of my short story series ‘Challenged in China’.

I’ve also written hundreds of travel reports from all across China.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

Leighton Travels logo travel reports and short stories.

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3 Comments

  • Rebecca

    Sounds like the Australian Confucius has been “enlightened,” haha. I’m wary of people who go to historically-spiritual/philosophical places for enlightenment, but this man sounds like an interesting case! It’s the people you meet on your travels, good and bad, whom you remember years later. 🙂

    August 14, 2020 - 12:32 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Glad you enjoyed the story! Hope you continue to enjoy the journey. The next two out tomorrow.

      August 14, 2020 - 12:36 am Reply
  • Memo

    You have to be the most patient man in the world. Subtitled – waiting for the choo-choo out of Qufu.

    August 14, 2020 - 7:18 am Reply

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