Published: July 22nd 2012July 16th 2012
Landed in Xiamen in the morning today. Just before the plane touches the ground, we could see the serpentine bridge between the island of Xiamen and the main land. And after a painful search for a long distance bus to take us to Longyan we found ourselves, mom and I, sitting in one, crossing over to the main land via the same bridge.
We hardly saw much of Xiamen, except maybe the traffic jam because of which we could have missed our bus from the travel distribution centre. (No idea why they prefer referring to us like cattle, distributing travellers?) Anyway, the bus was better than what I expected it to be, you see Longyan was supposed to be a really small town. We crossed some lovely stretches of hills, which slowly turned into layers of ranges one behind the other, just like an ink painting, where the hills are gradually fading into the distance. Almost like the mountains at the back are just profiles cut in paper suspended amidst the mist.
The highway was literally that- it’s an elevated road cutting across valleys and through the hills via tunnels! The road hardly curves even though it’s in the
hills. It probably makes sense considering the distances needed to be covered to get from one place to another, but strangely I missed the feeling when you realise you can still see the road you were on 10 minutes back. The countryside is marked with the horrible concrete town houses and commercial buildings all over; still there exist some rare sights of small earthen village houses tucked between the trees. Somewhere in the middle of our two hour journey it rained and made the sights even more beautiful! The wet road, wet green trees and the mist in the hills in the distance, all added to it. Mom couldn't help thinking how wonderful it could be if she could drive on this road in her favourite imaginary jeep.
Soon we entered Longyan and the fact that it was not a very small town sunk in. Tall buildings, shopping complexes (even spotted a KFC). Another 'travel distribution centre', but this wasn't the one, we needed to be at. I had my first experience of a dirty, primitive toilet experience in china at the old ‘travel distribution centre’. Finally it felt like we were actually in the interior parts of China,
less people who could understand us. Liulian was to be our final destination and mom had constantly been asking me exactly where we were going, Liulian even though excessively mentioned on the Lonely planet just cannot be located on any map. We even tried to find it on the Chinese version of Google earth. Anyway we did get a ticket to wherever this place was.
As our mini bus moved out of the city and the all so familiar development of modern china started to fade a new thrill started to set in! Till now we’ve only been looking at the surface, finally felt like we were really diving in, to get an authentic Chinese experience. I have increasingly been getting the feeling that people of India and China are really quite similar; it’s our systems that differ greatly. And this seemed to keep coming back throughout the trip. Just a couple of days before, I was speaking to a senior architecture professor in Nanjing and we had a discussion about how leaving the traditional ways of building people in India and China are increasingly using concrete and other synthetic materials to build their homes. This showed a lot
in the parts of the country we were now roaming. And I couldn’t help but wonder what it is, that’s making us loose the sense of aesthetic that shows in our traditional vernacular architecture. Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows comes to mind. What if we did have our own science and technology, would it be in keeping with our traditional sense of aesthetics.
Soon these thoughts disappear with the first tulou- the hakka dwellings coming into view. Perched on the hills in their symmetric beauty they really seem to belong there. The contrast between the earthen walls of the tulou and the bathroom tiles covered 2 to 3 storey concrete apartments that surround them is apparent. Yet the earthen walls scream out amidst it all and I was left wishing real life could work like a design software where one can hide the ugly parts.
As soon as we arrived in Liulian, it started to rain. The bus stop was actually just a shop with the words ‘bus stop’ written on top. A stone gate, marked the entrance of the scenic area, which is the Chinese solution to everything worth seeing. They pave the paths, plant all sorts
of ornamental plants, provide electric carts, line the area with shops selling hats, paintings, miniature monuments, key chains and other gifts that tourists might buy. What it does though is, take away the actual experience of the place. In turn you get a made up, decorated and exaggerated view of it. The locals are happy though. Since these scenic spots make it convenient for more and more tourists to come, it provides them jobs.
Lonely planet makes the idea of staying in a tulou extremely attractive; they talk of experiencing the timelessness of China’s rural life. As soon as the rain subsided a woman wanted to show us the tulou across the road so we can consider spending a night there. Obviously a lot of lonely planet readers have come to this place in search of that spiritual experience! So my mother and I as LP loyalists followed her across a small bridge into the Hauxing Tulou. I cannot explain the feeling of actually entering the building. The tall earthen golden walls of the outside give you absolutely no hint of what you may find inside. The Huge wooden doors lead you inside and as you walk out into
Tulou at night
the courtyard you are hit with the over whelming view of the dwellings inside. In a moment you are over loaded with flashes of what life in this place could have been. The space is so safe and enclosed yet, the sky on top is all open. The circular courtyard has a large circular opening which shows the same sky that was on top when you were outside yet it takes your attention to it. Feels like you have been zapped into a completely different world.
Slowly as we absorbed what we were seeing we realised this tulou is not really inhabited. A part of it was also broken and crumbling. After climbing three flights on a wooden staircase that creaked with every step we reached the top most floor to see the room we might spend the night in. The room seemed alright, we were expecting the most basic sort and that’s what it was. Mom convinced the lady to change the sheets as well, but we couldn’t get away from a horrible stench. As it turned out right outside the room was a bucket that was supposed to be used as a toilet! Now this was new to us, we were told the toilet would be outside the tulou but it being right here and now that we knew about it, we just couldn’t rid ourselves from the smell. We ended up staying in a room on top of a restaurant in the village run by a couple. For some strange reason the lady was perpetually angry with her husband and was always screaming at him. Right in the middle of a full-fledged shouting she was giving him, her manner took a complete u turn on seeing us. She asked in the most sugar coated voice if we’d like to eat something. And after we told her that we’ve already eaten and will just go to bed, she simply resumed her shouting.
While trying to find a place to stay I met an interesting girl, Alice. While trying to ask directions from a group of people, somebody called her over because she could speak some broken English. She helped us check in and after inquiring a little bit about our plans told us about her father in law. Apparently her father in law owned a motor cycle and could take us around on it to see the tulou. We agreed to leave at 7 the next morning, not thinking of how the three of us were going to travel on one motorbike.
In the evening Alice took us for a walk to see the nearby tulou. Apparently at night the gates of the scenic area are open and one can roam inside without having to pay the entrance fee. We saw a tulou from the inside where people were still living. Beautiful red lamps hung all over. Even though it was highly restored and one could see the woodwork, the stone, the paintjobs were all pretty recent, yet it gave you some idea of the tulou in its original glory. I slept well that night, extremely excited about seeing more of these dwellings the next day!