Window into an ancient way of life

Trip Start Jan 15, 2010
Trip End Nov 09, 2010

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City exquisite hotel

Flag of China  , Fujian,
Friday, September 3, 2010

We flew to Xiamen for one reason: to see the Hakka houses in Fujian Province. These are large, multi-family communal living structures that are designed to be easily defensible. This building style is unique to the Hakka people found in southern China. Hakka people are not a separate ethnic group, but do speak their own language (in addition to Mandarin). The only way to get there is with a Chinese tourist bus or a private car. We decided to cough up the extra cash for the private tour! Our car and guide (Jane, who spoke good English- phew!) picked us up promptly at 7:30am. It was about a 3 hour drive, and on the way our guide told us that these ancient houses were unknown to even other Chinese people until the late 1950’s, as they are located in the mountains and there were no roads leading to the villages. She told us that the villages were discovered by the CIA during the cold war, using spy satellites. They saw the structures and thought they were nuclear stations, so they sent an American spy with his Chinese - American spy wife to investigate. His cover was as a photographer. As the story goes… they asked for special permission to see this particular area of China because the wife’s ancestors were from there and wanted to see if she had any living relatives. The Chinese government, after confirming that there was no military activity in this area, gave them an escort to the mountains. Obviously they just found agricultural people who had lived their whole lives never leaving the village, took a bunch of photos which were subsequently published, and voila, a new tourist attraction was born. Before going to the villages, I did not realize that people still lived in these villages--I thought we were going to more of an archeological site! Nowadays, it is mostly the elders and children who stay in the villages and the adults go into the cities to work. One of the multi family houses we visited had 400 people living in it! That would be like taking Bedias, Texas and putting everyone in the same house…

Other interesting things to note as you review the pictures-- the smaller houses have one outer ring and 3-5 stories, and the ancestral temple is always in the dead center. The 400-600 person house we saw has 4 rings. All the bottom floor rooms are kitchens, 2nd floors are for storage of food, firewood, etc and the upper floors are the bedrooms. One family would have a section of the houses broken up vertically. It was fascinating! After we saw the Hakka houses, we stopped at a restaurant and ordered a potporri of items, half of which were not particularly liked (by Tamara at least, Jeff was ok!), notably pickled bamboo shoots with mustard greens and taro root dough stuffed with mystery meat (again!) and bamboo and fried. I guess I don’t like bamboo!! But while we were eating, something interesting happened…. The sink was out in the seating area for some strange reason, in view from our table. The cook came out with a live chicken and broke its neck (that is when I turned away), but I pointed it to Jeff just in time for him to see the chicken’s feet get cut off with a pair of sharp scissors. I’ve never seen him look so green!! I was glad that we did not have any chicken on our plate and that we hadn’t ordered any!!! Yuck!
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Victoria on

Not sure why, but I am so fascinated by your adventures through China. I can't get enough blog updates about it. And the photos are amazing!

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