Today was the first day of China’s annual three day Labor Day holiday but we get the whole week off so we boarded a plane early this afternoon and flew to Jinan, the capital city of Shandong province, southwest of Dalian. Jinan is nicknamed the City of Springs because of the vast number of artesian springs that are concentrated in the downtown district which is also circled by a moat.
Our hotel is located in the heart of that area but we had a little difficulty locating it because we didn’t realize that it’s located on the upper floors of a building with only an unassuming elevator entrance at street level. The streets were filled with people in a festive mood so it was easy to find someone to ask for help. I randomly chose Michael who turned out to be a first year university student studying tourism management. He was absolutely delighted to assist us, leading us up to the hotel lobby, helping us with the check-in procedure and walking us to our room. There, he gave us his cell phone number and suggested that we call him if we needed any more help or if we wanted him to act as our guide. He wanted nothing more than the opportunity to practice English with us.
After settling into our room, we headed out to explore the area on foot quickly discovering the moat directly across the street from our hotel and wandering along it until we arrived at the city’s central square which was one big party. It was crowded with people frolicking, flying kites, and shopping at the many booths that had been set up.
Deciding that it was time to find some supper, we left the square and continued walking turning in at nearby Furong Alley, a pedestrian street festooned with hanging lanterns and bright red banners. I immediately recognized it as the street of restaurants and food booths that I’d read about in our Lonely Planet guidebook. It was absolutely packed with people! As we made our way through the throng looking for a place to eat, who should appear out of the crowd but Michael, the only person we knew in the entire city of 2.27 million people! He and two of his roommates had just finished their supper but they happily led us to a restaurant, helped us order a delicious dinner and left us to eat it telling us that they’d be back in half an hour to continue showing us around! We spent the rest of the evening with them enjoying the party atmosphere of a country on vacation and seeing some of the sights of beautiful downtown Jinan.