The next morning, I got to the bus terminus by hiring a motorbike taxi, riding pillion for about half an hour in the early morning to catch the first bus out. It was lovely watching the countryside wake up, seeing villagers on their way to the fields and catching fleeting glimpses of the first stalls to open in the little towns dotting the winding road. The first stalls were invariably meat stalls taking advantage of the cool morning to quickly sell their stock before it went bad in the fierce heat of the day.
And at yet another chaotic town junction masquerading as a bus terminus, I pressed onwards.
But not before sampling some local breakfast. Here, breakfast started looking slightly familiar yet not quite the same. These fat rice noodles were called laoshu ban or mouse noodles, most likely named after mouse tails. These tasted somewhat like the Singaporean laoshu fen but were of course much more rustic (a euphemism for “coarse”). The topping was pretty normal, pork balls and minced pork together. Of course, this isn’t the regular breakfast as I’d upsized it by adding more meat balls. Normal people have only noodles and a tiny sprinkling of minced meat on top.
Having fortified myself with Hakka msg-laden noodles, I was ready to head into Teochew territory for more msg-laden food.
Despite the gawking tourists, life goes in as usual inside a tulou. People move in and out of the place, though I suspect more out than in given the lures of big city lights for the young ‘uns.
Young and old still work at the main cash crop of the area, green tea.
They pick through the dried leaves that come out of special tea leaf dryers.
They also raise rather cute but slightly feral puppies. These puppies were gamboling about merrily by the tulou well until a villager walked over with some bloody off cuts of meat and casually tossed it at them. Predictably, the puppies tore at the meat with great gusto. I’d taken out my camera to shoot the meat fest but by the time it turned on and focussed, all the meat was gone and all that was left was five puppies with bloody mouths. They looked at me rather hopefully but I was afraid to pet them lest they think my hand was round two of lunch!
In another part of the tulou lay some cuddly creatures on the other end of the equation. I’m sure these cute white bunnies weren’t raised purely for the kids’ enjoyment. They were mighty adorable though. I wonder how the villagers cook them!
The inside of the tulou weren’t exactly the most luxurious. Inside the packed earth walls were struts and floors made of timber planks. Each room into the circular courtyard and all rooms in use were open to let in the light. Above each door hung a lantern now for purely decorative purposes as the tulou had electricity at night.
I especially liked the contrast of dark wood and red lantern but didn’t like it enough to stay the night in one. I opted for a modern guesthouse nearby instead as it had running water and airconditioning. Paying a small amount extra was worth it considering water was gotten from a well and there was no toilet inside!
Things were very much back to basics here. Some areas had to be accessed by ladder instead of wooden steps because of lack of space.
In the side alleys along the walls lay mud and starch bricks in stacks ready for repair work.
And along the walls inside the tulou, the baskets and pots of everyday life seemed unchanged from a hundred years ago.
Only the gas cylinder and the modern Chinese characters told of modern times…
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.
One rumour goes that during the Cold War, US recon planes reported these structures as missile silos!
Getting in a little closer, it’s hard to imagine how these charming structure could have any remotely military functions.
Some of these tulou have rather impressive front doors which are kept open all day to let the breeze in.
On a fine day like the one I was there, the unique curved roof makes a lovely juxtaposition against white cloud and blue sky.
Some tulou have a double circle structure. The smaller building inside is used as a temple for ancestral worship.
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.