We are still cycling through China, and every day I’ve been keeping a little diary which will soon become a big post. In the mean time, here is a post about Sujiawei a 600-year-old Hakka village that we visited. We took about 120 photos on this little excursion (I know, I know).
We had cycled to Heyuan (which for some reason I find immensely difficult to spell and have to keep asking Caroline how) and decided to spend a couple of nights there. The town is famous for two things:
1: Asia’s tallest fountain
Right off the bat I am going to admit that we didn’t witness either of these two things.
The fountain sprays heavenward to (presumably) jaunty Chinese tunes and colourful lights at 8 p.m. every evening. The first day we didn’t know this, and the second day we just kind of lost track of time and missed it entirely.
So on to the dinosaurs. The city of Heyuan is officially referred to as “The Hometown of the Dinosaur in China” and is in the Guinness Book of World Records after discoveries of 10,008 fossilized eggs were found in the area – many of them discovered while building new roads. We passed a large Tyrannosaurus statue guarding what looked like a faraway roller coaster, and a couple of Brontosaurus statues on a median strip. There was a large dinosaur museum and exhibition centre, but apparently it’s not very impressive and has only Chinese descriptions. Fair enough. We were in China after all.
We’d already visited perhaps the finest Dinosaur park in the whole world in Thailand, the “Dinosaur Kangluang Forest Park“, and so decided not to pursue anything dino-related in Heyuan, instead opting to find the little-known village of Sujiawei.
I asked at the reception of our hotel whether we could hire a motorbike. The village was 30 km from the city and we didn’t feel like cycling. No, she said (after a lot of translating and charades), hiring a motorbike wasn’t possible.
‘We can also take a bus’, I typed into Google translate. She browsed through a few forums to see whether or not this was possible.
‘you can ask bus for journey at station driver’ was her translated reply. Or something to that effect.
The bus station was conveniently right around the corner, and after asking several people and being redirected to all sorts of different corners, we found the right bus.
“When does the bus leave?” asked Caroline to an office full of people who were eating noodles.
“One hour” was the reply (in Chinese). This didn’t mean in one hour; it meant at 1 o’clock which was 5 minutes away. The bus ran every hour on the hour, and the ticket price was 11 kuai each. The trip took about an hour and ran alongside rivers through hilly farmland.
Reaching the village revealed it to be a paid attraction. From the small amount of information we’d been able to acquire about Sujiawei, we had expected an actual village that was still inhabited, not a park for tourists. Slightly disappointed, we paid our 30 kuai entrance fee, walked inside the gates, and then suddenly found ourselves under heavy rain. We ran to take shelter under an awning with the only other visitors – a Chinese couple. After a while the rain became a pleasant drizzle interspersed with fork lightning, and this gave the village a wonderfully gloomy ambiance. As we walked around we realised that although this was supposed to be a tourist attraction, its popularity was clearly low.
Sujiawei village has actually made it onto TripAdvisor, but contains only a single review:
Nothing there to see. Mostly just an old abadoned village.
2 of 5 stars
Reviewed January 1, 2012
And a Happy New Year to you too, wuttia.
A lovely aspect of Sujiawei was that some of the ancient houses were still occupied. The whole place appeared to be going into a reverse transition back from a tourist site to an actual functioning village. Old ladies pottered around and tended vegetable gardens, people sat about playing mahjong indoors, and chickens roamed the grounds. There was a strong feeling that this activity was not just put on for our benefit (although chickens are well known for their cunning and trickery).
There are many Hakka villages like Sujiawei, but this one fortified its place in history because of a famous resident: the writer, poet, calligrapher, pharmacologist, gastronome, and statesman of the Song dynasty, Su Dongpo (aka Su Tungpo, aka Su Shi. Yeah. Sushi.). This in itself is particularly interesting, because a little bit of digging reveals that Mr. Su only lived in the village for 6 years from 1094 to 1100. And the only reason he went there at all is because he was exiled for writing a scathing poem about the government’s monopoly on the salt industry. And to make matters worse, it wasn’t even the first place he was exiled to after writing that poem. Sujiawei is essentially an afterthought in the life of Su Dongpo, but they revere him there anyway and there is a large statue of him in the courtyard of the village.
In fact, all the people living in the village today are supposedly direct descendents of Su and share his surname. Evidently the rebellious poet – who was 57-years-old at the time – was hot to trot and didn’t like other roosters in the chicken coop.
But that’s enough about that. Here are the photos as promised.