A Travellerspoint blog

November 2012

The Luck of the Hakka

overcast 23 °C

After a hectic time on the peaceful paradise island of Gŭlãng Yŭ (sic) we took the bullet train through the mountains to visit the Hakka people in their homes near the city of Longyan. The Hakka were originally from northern China but fled south some seven hundred years ago to avoid wars and famine and, being very poor, they couldn’t afford proper houses so they built themselves huge blocks of apartments like this…
P1170803.jpg
Each of these ancient structures housed individual clans of as many as a thousand Hakka and provided safety from wild animals and marauders alike. Roughly 30,000 of these Tŭlόu survive in southeast China, although few date back to the thirteen hundreds, and most are still occupied…
Although traditionally circular in design some of the Tŭlόu are rectangular, but whatever the shape they all have one thing in common – they were built out of rammed earth. Amazingly, these massive dirt buildings have stood the test of time far better than many of the modern concrete ones we saw in India, although some of them need a bit of TLC…
large_P1170739.jpg
The Hakka lived a simple peasant life until fairly recently when someone realized that there was money in poverty and put out the word that to visit the Hakka's Tŭlόu would bring good fortune. Now even the President himself heads here to up his luck, and millions of Chinese tourists swarm the place in the hope of improving their health or wealth. It was good fortune for us that we stayed in the nearby city of Longyan so we could hit the road early and beat the busses. And what a road - eighty kilometres of newly completed super highway tunneling through miles of mountains interspersed with spectacular views of terraced rice paddies and tea plantations. We certainly beat the crowds and had the place to ourselves for awhile…
P1170784.jpg
However, despite the influx of tourists and designation as a World Heritage Site, the locals still appear to be very poor. Here’s the communal laundry and kitchen…
P1170777.jpg
And here are a few views of the dilapidated interiors…
P1170823.jpgP1170806.jpgP1170822.jpgP1170765.jpg

However, with a $15 visitor fee, and numerous other moneymaking ventures like tea ceremonies and extra charges for climbing their rickety stairs or peeping into their apartments, we can’t help wondering if it isn't lucky to be a peasant these days. After all there was no shortage of satellite dishes...
large_P1170772.jpg

Posted by Hawkson 05:46 Archived in China Comments (4)

Gŭlāng Yŭ - Recommended by Lonely Planet

sunny 25 °C

Travelling to far off places where we have limited language skill can be somewhat daunting without a guide, so we rely on The Lonely Planet to steer us in the right direction. However, a travel guide takes several years to compile and can be well out of date by the time it hits the street. Things are changing so rapidly in China that our latest edition of Lonely Planet could have been written in the last century. For instance, it advises us to take the high speed trains because the Chinese can’t afford to travel on them. Unfortunately for us no one told the Chinese this and, judging by the number of Rolex and Gucci stores, there is little the Chinese can’t afford today, including seaside holidays, as we discovered when we took the Lonely Planet’s advice to visit (Quote) “the sedate retreat” of Gŭlāng Yŭ island" off the coast near XiaMen. According to the book it is, (Quote) “well worth spending a few days soaking up its charm.” Ferries run every ten minutes, although there is no guarantee of getting aboard without some serious shoving...
1F5CF8B22219AC6817DBC191E44C48B3.jpg
There has never been a line up like this for the ferry to our Canadian island and this should have been a warning, especially when we read that we would discover a tiny island with (Quote) “buckets more charm than, gasp, Xia Men.” Maybe some people find mayhem and McDonald’s charming – but not us…
large_P1170666.jpg
“There really isn’t anything quite like it anywhere else in China,” the Lonely Planet guide gushes with the breathless enthusiasm of a real estate agent, and maybe they’re right – but not down this street…
1F71AB222219AC68174929D54121F013.jpg

We didn’t hear “The sounds of classical piano wafting along the meandering lanes and shaded warrens of backstreets," as the guide book said we would, before telling us that the island is nicknamed “Piano Island” by the Chinese." We only heard this guy pumping out Chinese pop on his trio of keyboards...
P1170697.jpg

"The best way to enjoy the island is to wander along the streets to catch a glimpse of colonial mansions before popping into one of the many cute cafes...," the Lonely Planet advises, but whoever wrote that has obviously not tried wandering through this mob...
1F6AD6F52219AC68171B0C89114FE93D.jpg
or eating at this restaurant...
1F753FA72219AC6817800B9C9E8BB246.jpg

And then we discovered that Gŭlāng Yŭ is the backdrop for almost every wedding photographer in China. Dozens of brides each trailing an entourage of groom, cameraman, dresser, hairdresser, make-up artist and best boy, artfully blocked the view of every scenic spot on the island...
P1170711.jpg

We finally escaped it to the beach, knowing that it is not mentioned in our guide book, and hoped to find a peaceful haven like this...
P1170695.jpg
We were wrong - the crowds had found the beach before us without the help of Lonely Planet...
large_P1170696.jpg

Posted by Hawkson 23:43 Archived in China Comments (5)

China at Play

semi-overcast 14 °C

We’ve been in China a few weeks now and one thing is clear – the Chinese are not easing ahead of the West; they are racing ahead. They are not rebuilding their country; they are building a new world – a glittering world of glass spires and mega-cities. Yet, for many who’ve joined the rat race, it may appear that the yoke of communism has merely been supplanted by the shackles of consumerism, and it is easy to believe that in their quest for the Western good life they no longer have time to stop and smell the orange blossoms. However, if that were true we wouldn’t have had to fight our way through huge throngs of locals with the time to sample the tourist sights of their country. Despite the fact that it is mid-November, the hotels, restaurants, trains and planes have been packed with Chinese tourists intent on enjoying themselves. So, after battling the crowded hotspots of Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai and Suzhou, we visited the city of Hangzhou – a supposedly peaceful oasis of just 7 million people – in search of a little tranquility.
Here at the city’s picturesque lakefront we found the quiet side of China where tourists and locals meet for moments of Zen, and we were moved to a little poetry.

As the dawn lifts the shutters of night a pagoda emerges slowly through the mist…
large_P1170635.jpg
The fisherman’s boat waits patiently for her master amidst the lotus fronds…
P1170643.jpg
A calligrapher pens his promenade poems with water so the warming sun can send them skywards to his ancestors...
P1170626.jpg
An old Diabolo player displays a long forgotten art with a teenage agility…
P1170647.jpg
An erhu fiddler sweetens the morning air with just two strings…
P1170592.jpg
…while sword dancers chase away the spirits of the night…
P1170633.jpg
…and fan dancers waft in sweet air from the misty mountains…
P1170639.jpg
The noonday sun brings out the crowds, but as dusk falls the singers croon praises to the rising moon…
P1170600.jpg
…and the twilight brings out the dancers for whom life in Hangzhou is just a waltz in the park…
P1170589.jpg
But enough of all this peace and tranquility, we still have a long way to go in our quest for the real China. Next stop Xiamen – a reportedly quaint seaside resort just eight hundred kilometres south; a short hop on a fast train.(if we can get tickets).

Posted by Hawkson 19:18 Archived in China Comments (3)

Back to the Future - Part 2

sunny 13 °C

Moviegoers will recall that Marty McFly time travelled in a DeLorean sports car at precisely eighty eight miles per hour in Back to the Future but we did better than that earlier in the week when we zoomed back in time at three hundred kilometres an hour on this bullet train from Shanghai to the ancient garden city of Suzhou...
P1170435.jpg
We sprinted the 100 kilometres in just 23 minutes and were surprised to see that there wasn't enough room to slip a sheet of rice paper between the two cities as we sped from one to the other. Shanghai's twenty million inhabitants have spilled over the surrounding countryside and collided with Suzhou's six million souls in a continuous sea of suburban sprawl. There are more people living in this mega-urban area than in the whole of Canada, however, at the core of Suzhou's factories and conglomerations of highrises, the old city centre is still an oasis of gardens and charming canalside houses. It's not Venice - not even close - but it does have some pleasant features...
P1170474.jpg
This is the 16th century garden of the Humble Administrator and, despite the crush of tourists, we managed to get a few shots of its more tranquil corners...
large_P1170488.jpg

Water is a major element of the Yangtze River delta and, in the past, a network of canals were the highways of this region. Suzhou's canals are no longer used for commercial transport, although the garbage is still collected by boat...
P1170511.jpg
The peaceful canals are now the preserve of tourist boats...
P1170506.jpg
Suzhou has far more tourists than is good for it and, even though we visited on one of its quietest days, we constantly found ourselves in the spotlight. Wherever we go we are politely asked if we would mind being photographed with mum, dad or the kids. There are few foreigners here at present and we obviously stick out - especially James who, to the average Chinaman, is a grey-bearded monster. One young lady delighted in getting this photo of the monster with her father and grandfather...
P1170518.jpg
Our last stop in Shanghai took us to the top of one of the world's tallest buildings. This is the Shanghai World Financial Centre which rises nearly half a kilometre above the city...
P1170573.jpg
And here's the view from the observation deck a hundred floors up...
large_P1170564.jpg
Now we are heading south again at 300 kph to Hangzhou - another 'quiet little' place of just seven million people.
Here's some food for thought - The U.S. is considering building its first high speed rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco, (and possibly even as far as Seattle), by 2018. While China will have sixteen thousand kilometres of high speed train lines by 2014!

Posted by Hawkson 05:51 Archived in China Comments (1)

Back to the Future - Part 1

sunny 18 °C

Close your eyes and imagine the future, when skyscrapers will soar effortlessly into the sky; when swift modern subways will whisk you smoothly between ultra-modern shopping malls; when sleek trains will fly you from the city to the futuristic airport at more than 400 kilometres an hour; when super capacitor electric buses will slip silently and cleanly along elevated flyovers and through streets teeming with electric motorbikes – now come to Shanghai and open your eyes to the future…
P1170358.jpg
None of these sky-high towers existed 25 years ago…
large_P1170362.jpg
Twelve lane highways like this keep the traffic flowing through the heart of the city…
P1170270.jpg
While the squeaky clean spacious airport in Shanghai is a picture of functional perfection…
large_P1170534.jpg
And this is the train that flew us the 40 kilometres to the airport in just 8 minutes...
P1170530.jpg
Yes, dear blog reader, this MagLev train actually flies above the track on a cushion of magnetism and can zoom along at an astounding 450 kilometres an hour. However, since a high speed train crash in China earlier this year all trains are temporarily restricted to a measly 300 kms an hour. We crawled along at just 301!
P1170529.jpg

The future is already here in this part of China and on the surface the Chinese are light years ahead of us. Canada seems quaint and old-fashioned – even archaic - in comparison. But whenever we find ourselves marveling at the futuristic architecture and technology here we only need to walk around the corner to get slammed back into the past. Beneath the gleaming glass towers the narrow backstreets are cluttered with the everyday stuff of life overflowing from the tiny shops and cramped one-room apartments…
P1170371.jpg
When the laundry gets too much for the family’s line there is always the public park…
P1170372.jpg
For many life here is lived on the streets, and the city’s open spaces are full of people playing mah-jongg and practicing tai-chi, while street vendors and delivery men struggle with inhuman loads on clapped out bikes…
P1170316.jpg
We still have a lot to explore in Shanghai but in the meantime here's the answers to the Beijing quiz. The signs are:- No vendors allowed: Slow Down: Falling hazard, and postcards are on their way to the winners. However, the puzzlers continue – our hotel swimming pool has an expensively engraved plaque warning that sufferers of “Venereal disease, acute sand holes and intestinal infections such as mental disorders” are not allowed.

Posted by Hawkson 05:40 Archived in China Comments (4)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 16) Previous « Page 1 [2] 3 4 » Next