Our Correspondent in China
Last weekend I traveled by train to Fuzhou province for the Tomb Sweeping holiday weekend. (Never heard of Tomb Sweeping Day? The Communist Party made Qingming Jie an "officially" national holiday this year in hopes of curtailing the massive and simultaneous movement of citizenry around the country on long holidays like May Day.) Since my Chinese friends "already" paid respects to their ancestors on Double Nine Festival or since they can't locate their ancestors' tombs, I went on a little excursion by myself!
Here are some pictures of my first stop: Xiamen City and Gulang Yu Island. This trade portal was one of China's Opium War concessions. The island (also known as Piano Island because it generates celebrated classical musicians) features narrow cobblestone lanes that wind around 1880s colonial architecture. I enjoyed the car-free lanes (even carts had to heed to specific traffic rules -- below), birds chirping (unheard of Guangzhou -- pun not intended), the cool sea air and Min Nan language -- very similar to Taiwanese.
From there, I hurriedly moved on to Yongding, a small town in the countryside seven hours away from Xiamen. I was nervous about arriving at 11 p.m. at a train station in a town few seemed to know, but I had no choice! Fortunately the clusters of drunk gambling men, brothels lit red, and leashless German shepherds on the otherwise desolate main road didn't pay much attention to me. Actually, there were two police officers at the train station who helpfully directed me to the hotels on the main road.
The next morning, I effortlessly made friends with people along the short main road -- actually since my arrival, it was the other way around. I experienced firsthand the hospitality of the Hakka (Kejia) people -- from investigating hotel rates, inquiring about how to get back to Guangzhou, eating a bowl of delicious beef and fried onion crinkly noodles, buying bus and train tickets, etc.
The bulk of these pictures are of the Hakka tulou (earth houses), many of which are hundreds of years old. The Hakka people originally migrated from the north. As they settled in the mountainous parts Fuzhou and to a lesser degree Guangdong, they built these tulou in order to communally protect themselves from invaders and wild beasts (i.e., tigers -- I'm told that now there are only wild fowl and boars that might wander over). Clans of up to 200 people would live in these houses -- which are round, rectangular, or oval shaped. Each family lived/lives in one vertical "column" -- the first floor was reserved for kitchens and wells, the second floor usually for storage, and the third floor for bedrooms. There was only one entrance but these mud, grain, etc.-mixed structures do not burn. Today, these houses feature electricity boxes, "fire exits" (the regular staircase ... just with a sign indicating "This Way"), and fire extinguishers.
It's true that after seeing one or two of these roundhouses, you sort of know what the deal is. But the cordial people, fresh mountain air and visuals (especially from above) made it well worth the trouble to put up with 30 hours of sometimes horrifically smelly/hot/crowded train rides and 12 or so hours of sometimes horrifically smelly/hot/crowded train-waiting time! When returning to GZ, I had six hours to kill in a very quiet town until my train was due to pull in (the earth houses were another hour up some hills but the mini-buses stop running after 4 p.m. ... Ah, small towns ...) In this time, I was overjoyed to bump into "old" friends -- one after the other! For instance, on my walk along the town's river (no name), the bus attendant from my trip up the hills called me over and we spoke for over an hour! The noodle soup shop lady and her son (below) also pulled me back into their shop and made me sit for tea for an hour and a half. At a certain point -- no joke -- I couldn't contain my enthusiasm and accidentally broke their teacup. They absolutely refused to let me pay for a new set!
OK, well, enough enthusiasm-frothing here! ... Next weekend I'm planning to visit two girls who are also from Grinnell and teaching in Macau. May Day weekend is also coming up, and I will stay here and save money ... or go to Chairman Mao's province! We'll see!