To get back to Hangzhou from the islands of Matsu, we took the overland route, along some winding mountain roads (sometimes just paths) of northern Fujian and southern Zhejiang. Along the way we crossed some of the many “corridor bridges” (廊桥) in these parts, most hundreds of years old and all built with an incredible “woven-timber” method that uses no nails for the underlying structure. For a couple of Vermonters who appreciate a good old-fashioned covered bridge when they see one, it was cool to see the Chinese version. Continue reading
Tag Archives: Fujian 福建
Out on “Fu-chien” Province’s Horse Ancestor Islands, Where the Strait is Narrow, Plans are Big, and Travellers find Rescue
Fujian Province is kinda like Kansas City: it exists across two separate, higher-level jurisdictions. Except unlike the governments of Missouri and Kansas, with their peacefully state-spanning city, the governments of mainland China and Taiwan don’t officially recognize that any part of their shared province belongs to the other. They don’t even agree on how to alphabetically write the name: to the PRC it’s “Fujian,” while the Republic of China on Taiwan insists on the old “Fu-chien.” Even after the Nationalists lost control of dozens of their remaining island strongholds off Zhejiang and Fujian in the 1950’s, a few pieces of ye olde Fu-chien have remained. The most famous of these is Kinmen, a large island of flat farmland and sleepy villages sitting just a couple swimmable miles away from the giant (mainland) city of Xiamen. Lesser known are the Matsu (马祖) Islands to the north, which are part not only of a divided province but of a divided county, written/spelled 连江 Lianjiang in the PRC and 連江 Lien-chiang in Taiwan. Continue reading
It’s felt like a busy few days here on the Fujian coast. Not because we’ve been doing all that much, but because getting anywhere has typically involved multiple forms of transportation: train, county bus, and ferry, with city buses and cabs in between. Cabs are the weak link; they seem particularly bad around here. Most of the drivers are participating in a racket, refusing to use the meter and never under-cutting each other’s exorbitant price quotes. We figure this may be a temporary chunyun “Spring Movement” (masses returning home for the Chinese New Year) scam, and a demonstration of the locals’ famous business acumen. This is, after all, the region that sourced most of the Chinese who emigrated in the 19th and early 20th centuries to Southeast Asia, where they and their businesses became crucial to the adopted countries’ economies. If our experience had any relevance, pehaps it’s not surprising that they weren’t always welcome.
Since our last update, we’ve been to three places here on the southern Fujian coast: Quanzhou, China’s long-ago glory-days center of maritime trade and (short-lived) exploration; Xiamen, a port city with some enjoyable European leftovers from China’s not-so glory days; and Jinmen Island, a defiant little outpost of the Republic of China (Taiwan) within spitting distance of the mainland, and now with direct ferry service for the mainlanders who can get approval to go.
Of all the above places, Jinmen was probably the most interesting. We’ve been to Taiwan before, but only to the big capital city if Taibei. Jinmen is more small town and countryside, and relatively isolated at that. On the island, we were struck by one aspect of traditional Chinese culture that could apparently survive modernity but not Marx: Buddhist temples, everywhere. Not like on the mainland, with one or two big ones in each city, where everything tends to feel very superficial (chucking coins at small holes for good luck? really?). In Jinmen’s main town, by contrast, there was a little temple on practically every block. They all seemed active and well-kept, and the people coming and going looked like they actually knew how to hold their incense. Perhaps more than any museum or historical sight we’ve visited in China, seeing the Buddhism on display here gave us a better sense of its prominence in traditional (or, as the Taiwanese might say, “real”) Chinese culture.
Owen also enjoyed Jinmen. While we left with the above impressions, Owen left with a stuffed Snoopy toy that’s about as big as he is. Someday he’ll no longer have restaurant owners scrambling to give him presents, but for now he’s still on a roll. Meanwhile, he can’t talk yet, but he’s perfected a technique where he clears his throat or gives a little fake cough to get the attention of strangers he wants to smile at. It works amazingly well.
I should mention that Bayley also came back from Jinmen with something new: a cleaver, fashioned by a group of local blacksmiths, from a shard of one of thousands of artillery shells shot at the island by the Communists. I thought it would’ve been cheaper than it was, though, considering that most of the raw materials were provided free-of-charge.
We head out to Guangzhou this afternoon on an overnight train. Goodbye Amoy, hello Canton.
We had a good blog post written for today, but sometime between writing it and getting near a wi-fi connection the whole thing disappeared off the iPod. And so an incredible piece of travel writing, perhaps the best in the genre, was lost to humanity forever. Also recently lost: my electric razor, which got left behind at the last place we stayed.
So here’s the annoyed, stubbly version: Southern Fujian is balmy and lush, a huge difference from frozen western Hunan a week ago. Yesterday we went up into the mountains and to see some Hakka areas and their well-known tulou (“dirt buildings”). In the original post I provided a detailed and entertaining explanation of both of those words, but that was before I had to shave with a lousy Chinese razor. Now you can just go look them up on Wikipedia yourself.
Anyway, we stayed in the area all day, relaxing in the warmer weather, hanging out with one of the local families (okay, they really just wanted to see Owen and have us eat at their restaurant), and venturing out on an afternoon hike up through the tea terraces. After a long dinner involving pig’s feet and local tea, we stayed the night in the main tulou for $4 per person. Surrounded by old paintings on the walls done by former residents of our room, and warm and dry under big blankets as the rain splashed down on the 200-year-old roof above and courtyard below, we crafted a richly-woven tale of our journey on my iPod.
Today, that tulou is still working as intended. Not so for my lousy 6-month-old iPod.