A Village of Ancient Earth

In my last post I wrote a little bit about tulou. These circular and square earthen community houses are a big draw card for tourists in the Fujian province, and there were plenty of tour buses shipping Chinese tourists along the roads we cycled.

There is an enormous amount of information about the tulou online, and writing a detailed description of them here would be like writing another detailed description of Angkor Wat – a pebble flung into a lake. What I will put in this post is a lot of photos, and in the captions I’ll describe a few basic facts and some of the history of these interesting, crumbling doughnuts.

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

The most instantly recognisable tolou are circular like this one. They are also commonly square, rectangle, and very occasionally oval – although we never saw an oval one.

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

There are more than 20,000 tulou in the Fujian Province alone. They are constructed of rammed earth, were built by clans of Minnan and Hakka people, and can be up to 800-years-old. This view is of the central shrine in one of the UNESCO heritage tulou

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

The tulou were built originally with defense in mind. There is typically only one entrance, and the structures are usually three or four stories high. The larger ones can comfortably sleep about 800 people within the safety of the walls, and they can also hold enough food stores to last for months. Of course, the closest thing to marauding clans today are tour buses filled with bored-looking people. Attacks from within the fortifications are directed squarely at the wallets of these invaders.

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

Not all the tulou are tourists attractions, and since they are essentially dotted all over the landscape it’s easy enough to find one in its natural state. Especially if you have a bicycle.

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

The tulou that fly under the tour group radar look a bit more like this. The woman in the picture was making strange whooping noises as we approached from the outside. When she spotted us she demanded tribute in the form of 20 yuan, and then she carried on whooping once we’d paid. Turns out she was calling the chickens to feed them.

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

A great deal of these unkempt structures are all but abandoned. Many of the younger generation are being attracted to city life and are leaving the older folk behind to wallow with the livestock. Walls aren’t maintained and they begin to crumble, and in this particular case most of the upper floors were off-limits for safety reasons.

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

This is a different one again, and was probably the most disheveled tulou we saw that still had a complete wall. It stunk of duck and chicken shit, and was gloomy and depressing. It’s understandable that people would choose to live somewhere else if given the choice – even if that choice was a concrete cube in the suburbs (at least the toilets wouldn’t be communal). We peered into a few of the abandoned rooms and found them to be reminiscent of cells. I’m sure the novelty of living in an earthen ring would wear off quickly.

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

Happily, they won’t all be forgotten. Tourism is the reason to keep some of these unique structures alive and maintained, and a lot of them now fall under the protection of being UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

Many of the villagers rolled out tobacco and then sold the cigarettes in tulou branded packs (see next photo)

Tulou cigarette packs

~~~

As I mentioned in my previous post, we unwittingly stayed at the Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village, which was a manicured, gated village that required an entry fee. The guesthouse we stayed at was inside the compound (which was news to us when we showed up in the pouring rain and learned we had to pay to get into the compound, even though we’d already paid online for the guesthouse) and it was run by a very friendly family:

The mother was a no-nonsense woman of few words. She cooked a mean egg noodle soup at breakfast time and let more and more smiles slip the longer we stayed. She spoke no English.

The father was always grinning, and split his time between brewing rice wine, fishing in the river that ran through the village, pouring and selling tea, and cooking wonderful food in the evenings. He spoke no English.

The son ran around performing guesthouse errands. He cleaned the rooms, did a little bit of fishing, and used a translation app to convince us to cycle to Xiamen on a route that we hadn’t considered. At the same time poured us cups of tea. He spoke no English.

The daughter wasn’t around much, but she could occasionally be seen tending the little store out front that sold cigarettes and packets of tea. She had the peculiar fashion sense of a certain breed of Chinese person which I will not be elaborating on here. She may or may not have spoken any English, but my money would be on the fact that she did not.

The crazy uncle just seemed to laugh and drink tea. He spoke no English.

There were two floors in the guesthouse with about four rooms on each. The rooms bordered a common area with comfy chairs, a shelf of books, a large tea setup, and a kitchen. We paid the absolute rock bottom price of 44 yuan per night and took the smallest room, but with the common area it felt like we really should have paid more. We were the only people staying on our floor for three nights. The guesthouse was called ‘Mengtian Inn’, and we booked it from here.

The cultural village was a happy, safe-feeling place. Structures that were hundreds of years old had been well maintained – presumably because of the entry fee paid by the daily influx of tour groups being led by guides screeching through tinny microphones – and the people living in the village carried on with their lives as though the barrier arms and ticket counters didn’t exist. Nothing about the way the villagers lived was done for show, and the tourists who arrived daily weren’t here to observe people anyway – they were here to be ferried around the old buildings before getting back on the bus and going to the next attraction. In spite of what it was, the place still managed to keep a feeling of authenticity in between the trinket stands.

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

The view from the common room window

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

The entrance.

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

We weren’t sure what these were, sorry.

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

A very faded sign that said ‘viewing partition’ had us trekking up a hill behind the village. We never found the official viewpoint, but we managed to see this scene.

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

A man sleeps under a giant banyan tree

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

A collection of 70’s-era comic books was for sale.

Fujian_Tulou_Kejia_Folk_Culture_Village_18

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

Once some sort of mansion, this was now an on-site hotel.

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

The owner of the hotel could speak English and told us to look around the rooms. He then gave us a business card and told us to stay with him next time. “In the morning we serve a breakfast of bread and coffee, and for dinner we serve chicken without bones.” His pitch reminded me of a time, many years ago, when I went with a group to an Indian restaurant in New Zealand and the waiter said to our table, “How many mild butter chickens?” and somebody I was with got offended. I wondered how that person would feel in this situation.

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

On our last night at the guesthouse we ordered yet another fantastic meal which was cooked by Mister Dad, then we took a stroll through the dark village to walk it off. The last of the tour groups had piled on to buses hours ago, and the people who lived in the compound relaxed by chatting, eating in groups, and forming little synchronised dance ensembles. On a particularly dark path, we found ourselves walking among fireflies with a soundtrack of frogs and the bubbling river. We didn’t want to leave.

Fujian Tulou Kejia Folk Culture Village

Left to right: Greens fried with garlic; tomato cooked with egg; Hakka-style tofu with mushrooms, spicy peppers and bits of pork. All absolutely heavenly – especially the tomatoes with egg. So simple, yet so very delicious.

Okay. Now I’m hungry.

~~~

Just an ordinary train

6 thoughts on “A Village of Ancient Earth

    1. Hehehe! It was so long ago, but I think there would have been at least two. I can’t remember what I had… ?

  1. My wife makes the same sort of meals for me every week, I am so lucky.

    Unfortunately she has also made these meals for our friends, now they suspiciously always want to come around for dinner to eat “Mins yummy Chinese food”! I can’t blame them :-). My 79yo step father is especially enamoured with Mins tomato and eggs, just like in the above picture!

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