July in Vietnam: More Cham Ruins

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The Cham ruins in the outskirt of Quy Nhon were much more spectacular, particularly because they were set in the rather prettier countryside that the drab concrete town. It was a lovely time of year to visit as the padi fields were in the middle of the growing season, with pretty patchwork fields of alternating green and yellow.

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The towers were situated on a hilly outcrop overlooking the fields and a still stream that watered the area.

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The good thing about being in an untouristy area was that there weren’t any marked out areas at which to pay entrance fees; the bad thing about being in this untouristy area was that I really hadn’t a clue what I was looking at, just that they were ancient and it was remarkable that they’d been standing for so long.

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Still, it was a lovely walk up the hill where there really wasn’t anyone about and I could admire the large expanse of the country below.

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I liked the unique barrel-like roof put on a few of these towers and wondered the significance of these barrel-topped ones over the others.

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Some of them were already being restored, the sharp lines being made more pronounced with new brick.

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The great thing about this place was that I had free rein to walk around and it didn’t appear that the roof was going to tumble down on top of me at any moment.

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I took my time, enjoying the views inside and out.

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It was nice seeing how the place wasn’t totally restored yet there was still plenty of detail in the unrestored bits. I liked the humour of how the leering toothy face popped out of nowhere in the relief.

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There were also other reliefs that looked like table runners or part of a bookmark design. It’s funny how similar designs emerge time and again in different cultures.

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As I was all alone, it took  a bit of fiddling with the auto-timer on the camera to get a picture of sorts with the ruins.

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Well, not completely alone as I had the company of this little lizard with the rosy body.

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August in China: Hakka Tulou

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One of the highlights of my trip in South China were the tulou (literally: earth apartments) in the Hakka region of southern Fujian. Here the Hakka tribes migrating down from the north some hundreds of years ago sought shelter in these tall structures made from mud and corn starch. These characteristic circular structures dotted the verdant terraced valleys, making very unique scenery.

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One rumour goes that during the Cold War, US recon planes reported these structures as missile silos!

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Getting in a little closer, it’s hard to imagine how these charming structure could have any remotely military functions.

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Some of these tulou have rather impressive front doors which are kept open all day to let the breeze in.

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On a fine day like the one I was there, the unique curved roof makes a lovely juxtaposition against white cloud and blue sky.

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Some tulou have a double circle structure. The smaller building inside is used as a temple for ancestral worship.

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Next instalment I’ll tell you more about what happens inside the tulou. Now I leave you with what happens when visitors enter: they get served local green tea and chat with the locals.

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August in China: Chengyang Bridge

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In Guilin, I met Willy, a Spanish fella who wanted to go off the tourist loop and see some real villages. We took off after lunch and headed up to Sanjiang (where?) in hopes of getting to Chengyang Bridge before nightfall. It was not to be. The minibuses had stopped by the time we rocked up and we had to take this modified tuk-tuk. It looks a lot sturdier than it feels and of course this photo opp was only possible because of a fuel stop.

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Chengyang Bridge is one of the most famous symbols of the Dong minority group. They are famous for their skill in carpentry, particularly in building bridges and drum towers. The bridges are called fengyu qiao (wind-rain bridges) and are very elaborate structures that look like several pagodas joined together. This is the lovely sight that greeted us.

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We were lucky to arrive so late because the entrance fee was something crazy like ¥100! For obvious reasons, I wouldn’t know exactly how much it cost. We called our inn on the other side of the bridge and the lady-boss came over to get us. She instructed us not to give in if anyone demanded payment and to tell them that any receipts would be at the inn. I guess this shows that the admission fees weren’t going back to the community!

Nonethelss, the fairy lights on the bridge were magical at night. Thankfully, the lights were switched off at 11 pm so it was relatively good for the environment.

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The bridge was also pretty darn good-looking in the day time. It was charmingly rustic and weathered. It was too bad that we couldn’t walk back across the bridge for fear of having to pay the dreaded entrance fee on the way back.

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Luckily, the complex of villages was on our side of the bridge and there was so much else to explore. We walked across several equally impressive bridges, none of them demanding entrance fees. However, all of them asked for a small donation in exchange for having your name carved on a stone tablet as a benefactor. Posterity for ¥10 sounded like a good deal, but since Willy had walked ahead and declined the offer, I didn’t bother and didn’t have the chance to ponder the consequences of donation and stone tablet.

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I thought this bridge was especially spectacular. It was a lot quieter and rose majestically above the fields. I guess it’s less famous for the simple reason that it was further away from the main road.

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One of the bridges led to the market and of course this was the most popular with the locals, especially the elders. It was a great place to hang out as it was breezy and there was a good view of the river. Some people played cards and dominoes while others just snoozed. What a great lifestyle choice.

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On this bridge I found a little niche housing the gods of the bridge. It was pretty old but well-tended. Cute.

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Quite serendipitously, we met this man who asked us what we were up to and invited us to his house for a cup of tea. Turned out that he was a great bridge builder who had done many projects in the big cities and even as far as Shanghai and Beijing. He showed us cut-out newspaper features on him and sheaves of architectural plans of bridges he’d drawn. He had shelves of models of bridges and drum towers all over his house. It was too bad he didn’t allow us to photograph those because he had plans to set up a museum featuring them. He was quite pleased to oblige us with a photo with him though.

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