Riding public buses can always be an exciting experience, especially in developing countries, and this proved no different. Bus drivers in China swerve around, speeding as fast as they can, heading into oncoming traffic to pass cars in their lane. When ever they pass a car or take a blind curve, they never slow down, but rather beep their horn loudly and erratically. The Chinese are also famous for their upchuck it seems, and on this bus there was one poor fellow who really suffered. Likewise, because it is in their culture to expel everything from the system (it has to do with Chinese medicinal practices), someone will occasionally hack up a nice big spit and send it out the window or in one of the buckets in the aisle. If you decide to use one of the rest stops, you may need to pay 1 yuan, and it may be one of the foulest places you've been to (but not always!). In contrast to some really beautiful scenery out the window, we were trapped in this sensory offending vehicle.
On the buses, too, everyone seems to just pass out immediately, so I did the same. I woke up about 1 hour away from Hukeng to some really beautiful, green, hilly and rural landscapes. The bus zoomed by the beautiful views while I secretly wanted to jump up and say, “Wait! Stop here so I can take a photo!” We passed terraced mountains, crumbling tulou, and villages with very beautiful stone and rustic architecture.
Fujian Tulou is a property of 46 buildings constructed between the 15th and 20th centuries over 120 km in south-west of Fujian province, inland from the Taiwan Strait. Set amongst rice, tea and tobacco fields the Tulou are earthen houses. Several storeys high, they are built along an inward-looking, circular or square floor plan as housing for up to 800 people each. They were built for defence purposes around a central open courtyard with only one entrance and windows to the outside only above the first floor. Housing a whole clan, the houses functioned as village units and were known as “a little kingdom for the family” or “bustling small city.” They feature tall fortified mud walls capped by tiled roofs with wide over-hanging eaves. The most elaborate structures date back to the 17th and 18th centuries. The buildings were divided vertically between families with each disposing of two or three rooms on each floor. In contrast with their plain exterior, the inside of the tulou were built for comfort and were often highly decorated. They are inscribed as exceptional examples of a building tradition and function exemplifying a particular type of communal living and defensive organization, and, in terms of their harmonious relationship with their environment, an outstanding example of human settlement.
|Locals try to maintain normal lives despite tourism|
Ever since 2008, the tulou have become a major sight seeing attraction. The only thing is, communities still live in and around the tulou. Going from quiet, rural living to high-volume tourist area has to be a challenging transition for the locals. You pay a park entrance fee, but most of that money goes to the government. In return, if the buildings in the community are in need of any fixes, the government will fix it immediately. However, it still seems a little unfair that the people's who lives have been disrupted get almost no payment. Hundreds of people seem to come through the tulou each day (though it's possible that because it is such small area, that number might be off), and they're very loud, walking right through people's homes. The lack of payment/investment in the community kind of shows-- outside of the main center of town, the community continues outward, but it's very dilapidated. Even inside the major tulou in the town, it is a bit of a mess-- not at all what I expected.
|People still live inside tulou and traditional structures, which tourists walk through regularly|
Overall, the area is really beautiful. I wish I spoke more of the local language or Mandarin-- walking through people's homes without being able to engage them by asking them how they're doing or thanking them for welcoming me, is awkward. I had a bit of that missed connection with the people and in many ways felt acutely aware that the locals were annoyed by my mute, gawking presence. Still, to see these historic structures in this lush, green setting was amazing. I really wish I could have done more biking there. My friend Bruce does bike tours in the region from time to time and if you happen to be in the area look up his website to see if he's doing a tour. You can read more about it here: http://sensiblereason.com/eco-friendly-china-biking-way-inspiring-places/
|The courtyard at Stephen's guesthouse|