Archive forJanuary 4, 2011

¡Vacación! Part one: Fujian

  Hao jiu bu jian, guys! Long time no see. What a week, and now in the midst of finals! It’s been a real full time here and to be honest I’m not sure where to start.

I guess Christmas Eve? This is one of several parachuting Santa mannequins in the Xiamen airport right now.

I barely remember it. Lots of people wanted to go to bed early, so I hung out with a Chinese friend until it was time for my plane. Didn’t do anything special, just hung out, watched movies, 谈谈了. We actually passed out and I woke up “late,” at 6:00 2 blocks away from my apartment with my luggage when I had to be across town at the airport by 6:30. So I said goodbye and sprinted out to get my bags, called a cab, and ended up paying 100 kuai just to get to the airport. Then I found out from Professor Yang, who met us at the airport, that we weren’t leaving for another three hours. And that there’s a shuttle bus that leaves regularly for the airport to a couple of terminals within a medium-long walk of the apartment, or a real easy bus ride.

Edit: Actually, there was one that drops you off RIGHT by my house, but I didn’t find this out until after I bought the return ticket. 没办法.

Interjection: I really do think of it as “my” apartment or “our” apartment. Gao and Huang come by sometims and Huang washes dishes and the floors when we don’t, but it’s a lot more like a landlord-tenant relationship, like Phillippa says, rather than a family relationship. Which is too bad, really. They’re kind, smart, interesting people and I wish we had spent more time together this semester. Maybe the next one? We’re gonna do something nice for them this week, and I’ll probably try and do something on my own during Spring Festival, if I’m in town.


So we eventually get on this plane to Xiamen. It looked really small, only two big engines, compared to the crowed that was waiting for it. But we all got onboard and headed for Xiamen.

It was interesting seeing Beijing from the air again. The only other time I had seen it was the plane trip there, before I had even set foot in the city.

Flight was nice. Meal included for a three/four-hour flight, free drinks, etc.

After this I tried to stay awake to take photos and admire the countryside, but I was real sleepy and we started flying at or just above the cloudline, so there wasn't much to see except incoherent whiteness. Eventually I just went “you win, China,” and passed out.

Then Xiamen!

The name in Chinese is 厦门, the “door/gate to the mansion/big building.” It was originally a much more informal 下门,just the “back gate” or back port of the harbor strait it’s located on, but they changed it to 厦门 to up the general literacy of the name.

Think Miami if Guiliani Disney-fied it for about five or ten years, except replace all of the poor Hispanic immigrants with poor Fujianese migrant workers and all of the rich retirees and obnoxious students with obnoxious rich Taiwanese.

Our tour guide’s name was Alex Dong, sweetheart of a guy that became the yardstick by which everyone else we met on the trip was measured. From what I can understand he is one of the Hakka minority that grew up in or around 厦门 and works as a tour guide for a travel company based in Shanghai owned by Prof. Yang’s cousin David, who planned the whole itinerary, which altogether was quite nice. It was a very Chinese 关系/guanxi (relationship)-based affair.

As soon as we got off the plane we got onto a bus headed for western Fujian, for this community of houses called 土楼, tulou, earth buildings.

If you watch Chinese media or read travel magazines, you may have seen this picture with real Chinglishy ads telling you to "Visit Scenic Civilian Residence Building!"

Story time: So throughout  there was this general migration pattern of some people to move to China’s southern provinces, for all kinds of reasons. After the Tang dynasty fell, refugees came in the first wave, and then when the Song was established, people came south as well. When the northern barbarians were growing strong in the north during the Three Kingdoms, or for that matter any time life in the north got too aggressive, some people would head south. When the Taiping Rebellion was passing through the Yangtze River Valley to get to Beijing from Guangxi, the Qing were even encouraging people to move out of the way, thus reduce the available manpower of the Taiping state and military while maintaining some economic/agricultural stability.

So Han people moved south and east into these areas considered “foreign” or as good as such. They were known as 客家人 by the non-Han locals, which means “the guest people” or “the visiting families,” in their own language spoken as “Hakka.” To defend themselves from not-so-hospitable locals, gangs, dirt-poor famers-turned-bandits, and wild tigers, they built these things called 土楼, tulou, earth buildings.

Most of them look like little round western castles, or maybe like a post-cubist response to a traditional Pueblo village.

They built them out of whatever was handy, and they built them for defense. They share a lot of similar innovations with western castles. No windows on the lower floors, outer windows themselves real narrow, only one main gate closed by the last person to come in based on a series of signals, primitive bulkheads and sectioning to prevent fires, inner and outer keep rings in the larger ones (the inner one for guests, warmer and safer), wooden door covered with a half-inch sheet of solid iron to prevent it from being lit on fire, stuff like that. It’s always kind of cool to see peoples’ solutions when they don’t have much except labor and wits to solve problems.

Driving out of Xiamen, I really enjoyed seeing the massive harbor they have there. Rows and rows of huge cranes, although listening to Courtney it's nothing compared to Tianjin.

Oddly, however, they built them all pretty much entirely in the valleys around where they live, right by the hillsides–if they built any closer to the river running through the middle they’d risk flooding. So someone standing on a hilltop, or on the far side of it, could shoot down arrows into the open top without a whole lot of trouble. Weird. But building on the mountain would really expose you to wind, and possibly put you at risk for earthquakes. You just can’t win, I guess.

We had a nice little pattern going, driving through Fujian province. First we'd be in a dense but managable urban area, lots of green space and high-rises…


…then giant infrastructural construction wastelands…

…then seriously intensive banana plantations…

…and then a small industrial town. Then more infrastructure development, rice/tea/banana terraces, etc.

 Wow, I’ve not even finished the end of the first day, but it’s real late. I’ll post this as a post-in-progress just to get something out, and then throw the rest of our time in as I have time.

 Before I pass out, let me share a post of something I found online about the Unitarian Universalist church in China–as usual, we’re in committee discussing what we should call ourselves. It’s interesting, though. I didn’t know they had UUs in Hong Kong, but I guess…kind of disappointing I haven’t found any in Beijing. It’s certainly structured to be inclusive enough.

G’night for now.