Wednesday, October 24th, 2012 | Author:

 

My parents, my sister and her husband and kids are currently holidaying here. Last weekend we all visited some of the earth houses, or tulous, of one of southeastern China’s minority groups, the Hakka people. The trip put me way out of my comfort zone: we hired a van and a Chinese driver for 3 days, and so my family was forced to rely on my awful Mandarin to communicate with our driver. I’m still in awe of Mr Jiang’s patience in deciphering my mangled instructions. In a language where using the wrong tone can mean the difference between saying ‘four’ and saying ‘death’, I made mistakes I’m even now shuddering to recall.

Anyway, the tulous are enormous, incredibly impressive structures with outer walls made from a mixture of mud, bamboo strips, glutinous rice and straw. They’re usually circular or square, and feature a single entrance and an interior courtyard equipped with wells — perfect for enduring a long siege! Originally, an entire clan lived inside each tulou. Nowadays many of them are in ruins. Others have been converted into hotels; still others house tea shops, souvenir stalls and little eateries. 

With more than 400 rooms, Chengqi Lou, the ‘king’ of the tulous, is the most awe-inspiring. But my personal favourite is Yuchang Lou, which is kind of like the tulou version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa — all its vertical supports lean in different directions. It looks like it’s been frozen in mid-collapse.

On the last day of our trip, we met a local man in the restaurant of the hotel where we were staying. When he discovered that we teach English at Xiamen University of Technology, he very proudly told us that his daughter was studying there. Then he pulled out his phone, called her and ordered her to speak English to us (I could just imagine his daughter saying ‘Oh Dad, no, please!’). So I started chatting with her and it turned out she’s one of my students! Small world, huh? Once we discovered that, her father invited us to have a couple of drinks with him, Chinese-style. That involves cries of “Ganbei, ganbei!” (‘Cheers’ or literally, ‘empty glass!’), followed by gulping a whole glass of baijiu, followed by holding out your dry glass to show everyone you’ve polished it all off. It was all a lot of fun and, for my family, a great introduction to Chinese hospitality.

Category: Travel News
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2 Responses

  1. 1
    Brian Yatman 

    Wow, the tulous are amazing. They remind me a little bit of gladiatorial ampitheatres, or doughnut-shaped versions of the longhouses of Borneo.

    Also (and I may have made this connection before in regards chinese architecture), in their wonky sprawl I get hints of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast – perhaps not unusual given that he spent his childhood in China. Anyway, very interesting! B

  2. 2
    admin 

    Hi Brian! Wow, I didn’t know Mervyn Peake grew up in China. I wonder if living here will have a similar effect on my kids’ imagination? Certainly we’ve all seen some wonderful sights over the past couple of years.
    Hope the writing and music is going well! Cheers, Karen

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