3. Yongding (永定）
15.01.2011 - 17.01.2011
As soon as we had stepped on the bus heading into Yongding County, we were immediately asked whether we wanted to stay in a tulou （土楼）- literally "earth building". I guess we (well, mainly Natasha and Elinor who had by this point joined us) stood out as tourists and the locals probably knew that the tulou houses were the main draw of rural Yongding County and for good reason. These traditional Hakka roundhouses are, in my mind, Chinese "castles" albeit made of earth instead of stone. Yet the earthy roots of these structures make them more organic and thus fitting with the surroundings rather than sticking out like British tourists on a local bus...
After driving on some really bumpy tracks, the three of us were bundled into a minivan and driven off to a destination then unknown. It was a bit worrying but kind of exciting as well. It's those kind of situations which could only happen *outside* of a tour group (note to mum and dad!). We finally stopped right outside a tulou which would turn out to be our residence for the next two nights. The guy who had driven us there owned a couple of the rooms in it and now he rented out. It was strange to think that as the locals moved out to more, how should I put it, modern homes, the tourists moved in to fill in the gaps!
The video below shows my evident glee at having finished bargaining for our rooms and being handed our keys (not that the tiny padlocks added any security!).
N.B. Those of you with some mandarin skills will have noticed that I didn't say "here's our tulou" but "here's our tudou" instead (!) which meant "here's our potato" :/. Oh dear. I should go do more revision of my Chinese....
A priceless moment during the bargaining had been when we refused the first room he showed us because it had no 'closeable' window to keep out the wind. To that, he immediately whipped across a piece of fabric and proudly exclaimed "WINDOW!". Man, that guy was classic.
There was definite rural charm to the tulou buildings - sharing a huge communal space in the middle with chickens and pigs definitely made the place feel alive and the fact that the structure looked like it was going to fall apart at any moment added to the strange thrill you got, especially as we were living on the uppermost floor. Come night time, the absence of lights made the night so very dark, it was as if I had never seen the true 'blackness' of night before. With wooden floorboard creaking with the wind whistling through the tulou, I (embarrassingly) have to admit to moving into the same room as the girls though the main reason was of course so we could play card games together (I taught them 'big two' which was taught to me by Cantonese friends from home - it soon became a stable of our journeys).
January the 16th
Waking up the next morning to the cockerels was a magic moment with slices of sunshine coming in through the wooden planks that made up the door to our room. Although it had been very cold (I didn't quite experience the 'cool in summer, warm in winter' tag line), I felt peculiarly rested. After a tasty and cheap bowl of noodles for breakfast, we spent the day visiting other tulous nearby and just taking in the countryside scenes. Vegetables were hung out to try in the sunshine whilst other villagers were making some home-brew plum wine in clay pots. Others still were tilling the ground and another was tending to his pigs. This heartland of the Hakka minority group was simply filled with beautiful panoramas wherever you looked.
January the 17th
After a second night in our tulou, we boarded our buses and sadly left our 'earth building'. Although modern amenities such as toilets (there were clay chamberpots instead!) were absent from the tulou, the overall bucolic charms of Yongding County made the experience truly memorable and I'm certainly glad that it was on my travel itinerary.