24,000 steps, 50 kilograms...
This is Geng Yukui's daily routine. Shouldering two baskets of eggs and vegetables, Geng slogs his way up to the top of the mountain. From time to time, Geng shifts the pole between shoulders and wipes his brow with the towel around his neck.
53-year-old Geng is one of the porters on Mount Tai in eastern China's Shandong province. He is a thin but vigorous man with a permanent tan, black hair, and a printed cotton vest with a sketch of stairs and the South Heaven Gate, a landmark at the end of the long steps at the top of Mount Tai.
"I climb from the Midway Gate to Heaven to the South Heaven Gate twice every day. My daily salary is about 260 yuan (about $38)," Geng said with a soft Shandong accent.
Geng Yukui slogs his way up to the mountain with a shoulder pole carrying eggs and vegetables. (Photo: Gao Ke/People's Daily Online)
There is undoubtedly a lot of sweat. Since there are more than 6,000 stairs between the two gates, Geng has to climb over 24,000 stairs per day, a job he has been doing for over 30 years.
"It is hard work, but I am used to it and now love my job," he grinned amiably, noting that the job gave him freedom and a sense of pride.
Geng has reason to be proud of himself, as his job as a porter is not only part of the scenery of Mount Tai, but a symbol of spirit in the new era.
In 2018, President Xi Jinping hailed the spirit of the porters on Mount Tai during his inspection tour in Shandong province, calling on cadres and the public to become the "porters on Mount Tai" in the new era, with perseverance and bravery.
"The spirit of porters, in my eyes, is dedication, perseverance, with no fear of difficulty and pain," said Geng. "Rain or shine, we never stop working. In winter, we work in minus 30 degrees Celsius; in summer, we climb up the mountain even if the heavy rain reaches our lower legs."
The efforts of the porters paid off. Today, dozens of hotels and restaurants dot the top of the mountain, as the porters provide them with daily necessities. Tourists around the world climb up the mountain pathway, which is paved with 2,000 steps, built by nearly 300 porters stone-by-stone for a whole year.
Geng Yukui and his colleague slog their way up to the mountain with shoulder poles carrying goods. (Photo: Gao Ke/People's Daily Online)
However, with the development of technology, especially the cable cars built in 2003, the once thriving career is fading away. "Twenty years ago, our team had over 300 porters, but now the number is down to 19," said Zhao Pingjiang, a retired porter of 69, the oldest porter on Mount Tai.
"The remaining porters are all aged around 53, so in five or six years, we will retire. However, few young people choose this job," Geng said with a note of sadness, worrying he may be part of the last generation of mountain porters.
The porters, Geng added, have already become a part of the scenery on Mount Tai, and he does not want it to vanish.
"It will be a pity if this job vanishes, but I hope that the spirit of porters will never fade away," he said while glancing at the lush mountain on which he has left his footsteps over the last 30 years.