The Hakka Tulous

The earth buildings, known locally as tulous, are the reason that we made the trip all the way to Fujian. It only took one picture of these giant circular communal homes to convince us that the trip would be worth while (to convince me anyways, Yann had to actually see them in person before being convinced). The little information in our guidebook turned out to mostly be wrong, including train schedules, distances between tulous and village names. From Xiamen, we caught a train to Longyan, a city about two hours away from the main clusters of tulous. We didn't know where to go next, we had the name of a town scribbled down, but we had no map of the city nor any idea where the bus station was. We sat down in a little restaurant and were immediately joined by a crowd of people. We assumed they were taxi drivers, but most were just curious locals. The adorable owner of the restaurant impressed them with his English skills "sit down please, sit down please, thank you, monkey, tiger, orange, banana". We tried to explain where we were going, most already knew and were repeating "tulou tulou". After a few minutes someone arrived with three teenage girls, they had gone to fetch them because they could speak some English. They offered the taxi services of a driver, but they also were happy to give us the cheaper alternative, a city bus to the bus station, and then an onward bus to the tulous, they gave us all the instructions we needed. Everyone in the restaurant seemed happy to have helped when we set off.

We got a bus ticket to Hukeng, which was listed as the best base for exploring the nearby tulous. The tulous are actually scattered all over the southwest of Fujian and on the two hour drive to Hukeng we passed dozens of them, although many had been updated Chinese style with white-tiled additions. Before the turnoff for Hukeng, our minibus pulled over to the side of the road and the driver announced that anyone going to the tulous would be transferred into a van that seemed to be waiting to meet us. Under ordinary circumstances, we would have insisted that the bus continue its scheduled trip to Hukeng, but having little idea of where we were or where we wanted to go, we got into the van along with two Chinese tourists and a local farmer. The possibility that this was a legitimate transfer disappeared the minute we were handed the hotel business cards. We ended up at a very small village a few kilometers past Hukeng, our intended destination. Our sneaky drivers ended up being quite friendly and non-pushy, they seemed to have focused their attention on the Chinese couple, so we ended up in their hotel. From the huge illustrated map in the hotel lobby we realised that we were right in the middle of tulou country, the ones we were hoping to visit were actually here in Hongkeng and not in Hukeng as was mentioned in our guidebook. As the sun was setting we wandered through the quiet village watching the locals return from their fields for dinner. The next day we embarked on a full day of tulou sightseeing. Along with the Chinese couple who had been roped into the same hotel as us, we hired a driver to bring us to five nearby villages, each with notable tulous. The first place we visited was Tianluokeng, an impressive cluster of four annular tulous encircling a rectangular one. We arrived before sunrise and were the only visitors. Villagers didn't seem to be bothered by us wandering through their homes, I suppose they're used to lack of privacy. The huge communal homes were originally built by the local Hakka people to keep out bandits and wild animals. Most are still inhabited. On the ground floor are the kitchens, each one with a chimney exiting the mud walls of the building. The courtyard in the centre is used for cleaning, food preparation and socializing over a cup of the famous Fujianese tea. On the second and third floors are the bedrooms storage rooms (sometimes there is a fourth floor). The buildings are made almost entirely out of wood, other than the outer mud walls (from which the buildings take their name: Earth Buildings). We waited for the sun to illuminate each of the Tianluokeng tulous one by one. From Tianluokeng we drove to the nearby village of Xiaban whose main tulou is famous due to the fact that it seems to be on the verge of collapse. It is called Yuchang Tulou (translation, the dilapidated earth building). Shortly after it was built, its beams warped, some as much as 15 degrees, but it has been standing ever since (almost a hundred years) and is still inhabited. From there we visited Taxia, a charming village with a few tulous, which were just probably added to our tulou tour, so that they could claim we were visiting four different sites. We didn't mind that the tulous weren't particularly spectacular, because the village itself was. It was harvest time for persimmons and purple flower, with baskets of them set along the river to dry. According to one local man, the purple flower petals are used to make makeup, although we never once spotted a Hakka woman wearing purple eyeshadow. From there we got our driver to drop us off at the last group of tulous in the village of Gaobei. The Chinese tourists with us didn't want to visit them, because they didn't want to pay the full admission price. We found the huge Chengqi Tulou in Gaobei to be the most impressive. It is made up of a central square altar used for prayers, surrounded by three concentric rings separated by narrow hallways. As in Taxia, the village of Gaobei was filled with baskets of drying persimmons. We had lunch our lunch of a pomelo and peanuts to the distress of the old ladies of the village who didn't think it was adequate nutrition and tried to get us to eat with them. One ended up filling our bag with persimmons despite our objections. By the time we got to Hongkeng we had seen over a dozen tulous and were getting slightly tuloued out. But we forged on and bought out ticket for the 'Tourist Tulou AAAA Village'. This group of tulous around Hongkeng has basically been closed off to anything but local traffic, and golf carts whiz tourists past the numerous tulous. It is obvious why the area was chosen as the tourist village, there are many tulous grouped closely together, of various shapes and sizes in a picturesque setting along a small river. Tourism hasn't really transformed the tulou villages the way it has other 'minority destinations' in China. The villagers seem not to have given up their day jobs quite yet(read working the fields). We watched them as they picked, peeled, flattened roasted, and finally spread out to dry hundreds of persimmons. The amount of work that went into our 5 yuan bag of 20 dried persimmons is incredible. You can't really blame anyone for switching to postcard selling or golf cart driving. Even in Zhencheng Tulou, the biggest of the tulous in the 'tourist village' residents cooked together in the courtyard while tourists wandered around the balconies. We were happy to have gotten a glimpse of tulou life, before it changes forever (something that seems iminent).


Anonymous said...

Coucou a mes deux amours,

Eh bien oui, je suis de retour,meme si je ne vous ecris pas depuis quelques temps je ne manque pas un seul de vos reportages.
Encore une fois, je vous trouve bien chanceux et debrouillard.

Alors, le temps acheve N'EST-CE PAS!!!!!!!...

Dites-moi quand je dois faire du FUDGE pour toi ma belle Emilie et toi mon beau Yann malheureusement ton BIKE t'attend mais il neige alors....

A bientot, je REVE de vous revoir sous peu.

Mon Oncle Raymond vous salue et suit de pres vos aventures depuis le debut, d'ailleurs a plusieurs reprise il a tente de vous envoyer des "comments" mais sans succes. (ils ont disparu dans l'espace)

A bientot et on vous aime beaucoup beaucoup.

La belle matante Denise et le beau mon Oncle Raymond

mom said...

Denise et Raymond, Iv'e been practising on the stationary bike and have legs of steel. We'll all try the"defie" when our wanderers return.

paradiso(angry) said...

Si vous continuez à publier vos belles photos, je n'aurai pas le coeur à publier les miennes.Bon travail!