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Quiet lakes, gushing springs and heavenly eats

The many hot springs, dotting Jinan's
            landscape, are a popular hangout. [Wang Hui / for China Daily]

The many hot springs, dotting Jinan's landscape, are a popular hangout. [Wang Hui / for China Daily] 

Most Chinese know about Jinan even if they have not been there.

Winter of Jinan, an essay written by Lao She (1899-1966), is compulsory reading for high school students across the country. As Lao She describes it, Jinan's winter is unlike those of other northern cities. It is "benevolent" - warm, sunny and "without the sound of wind".

It is "an old city, with many hills and springs, asleep in warmth and comfort, waiting to be awakened by spring's breeze".

This "land of dreams" is where I was born and grew up.

Nurtured by its pleasant weather, Jinan people are naturally generous, hospitable, joyous, with a special enthusiasm for drinking.

This capital of East China's Shandong province is also known as the "city of springs", with 72 of them dotting the landscape.

While their locations, history, and characteristics have been meticulously documented, Baotu Spring is the most well known. It ranks alongside Qianfo Hill and Daming Lake as Jinan's top sight.

Water gushes from the three mouths of Baotu Spring all year round, feeding its people, and telling its stories.

Speaking of Daming Lake, besides its wonderful lake scenery and Spring Festival Temple Fair, its frog population is an odd lot - they never croak.

The story goes that once Qing emperor Qianlong visited Daming Lake and was impressed by its beauty, marred only by the noisy frogs who disturbed his sleep. The emperor ordered them to keep shut. They did - and have been doing so for generations thereafter.

No one as yet come up with a scientific explanation for this unique phenomenon, and so the legend endures.

Jinan is also a good place for foreigners to practice their Chinese. The local dialect shares the same pronunciation as Putonghua for almost every Chinese character, but uses different tones.

Hence, those still struggling with the four tones of Putonghua can easily communicate with the locals, as their less-than-perfect tones are very likely to match the correct tones of the Jinan dialect.

Shandong's cuisine is acclaimed as one of the four best cuisines in the country. Famous dishes include tangculiyu (fried carp with sweet and sour sauce), jiuzhuandachang (twisted large intestine of the pig) and baochaoyaohua (fried pig kidney).

But I prefer the street snacks. I bet Jinan's baked sweet potato is the best in China, even the whole world!

My classmates in primary school will surely recall when the teacher asked us to write about a local specialty, all 54 of us wrote about the baked sweet potato!

This is not to say Jinan does not have other special dishes worth writing about, but its baked sweet potato just tops it all. It's either because we have very good quality sweet potatoes, or the baking stoves are really magical. Who knows!