During the week of Qingming, we went to see several clusters of Hakka Tulou in Nanjing and Yongding counties in the southwest of Fujian Province. From Hu Bin Nan Lu Bus Station in Xiamen, it took less than 2 hours to the Nanjing County seat, then about another hour to reach Shuyang Township. There we were met by Lao Zhang, the owner of the guest house (Gufengshu Guest House) in Taxia Village where we were going to stay. Lao Zhang took us home, walked us up to our room, and explained that the shower water was heated by solar power. Then he handed the business over to his old parents, while he returned to his pharmacy in the town.
It was the typical early April weather - overcast, humid, often drizzling, and quite chilly at night. Taxia Village was small, quiet, built along a waterway. On surrounding hills were rows of tea bushes, which were the villagers’ major source of income before tourists started to show up. Now each villager gets a token amount annually from entrance fees the government collects and some have opened guest houses. There were not many overnight visitors in Taxia though.
The main form of dwelling in Taxia Village is still Tulou - large enclosed earth building, circular or rectangular, with very thick walls, small windows, at least three storeys and only one gate. (Wikipedia has a good description of the structure and history of Fujian Tulou) From outside they look like castles; From inside, they can be quite spooky at dusk on a rainy day: dark and without much sign of lives except for a lazy dog or a few running chickens. Xiao Zhang, Lao Zhang’s son, who were driving us around in the following days, said many people deserted Tulous over past years for better living conditions elsewhere in town and they are now coming back to claim ownership for these dwellings. In some case, tension and disputes arise among relatives in a big family.
April 2 was also my birthday. We sat on the patio of the guest house in the evening, watching and listening to the rain falling on Tulous while having a delicious stew from a chicken they just killed and a glass of Tsingtao beer. Just let time pass. I said that I wish to have every birthday like this. Marcus said we don’t have to wait until birthdays. I know, but I just feel that if I can remember where I am, what I am doing and whom I am with on these symbolic days, life also becomes more memorable. After all, how many days in our lives can we really remember?
The very reliable Xiao Zhang took us to Tian Luo Keng, Changjiao, Gaobei and Chuxi Tulou clusters in the next two days. Chuxi is the most interesting and least commercial due to the hard road access to the village. Unlike clusters like Tian Luo Keng where people set up disturbing souvenir stands under colourful plastic umbrellas inside and outside Tulous, life appears to largely remain how it was in Chuxi before the World Heritage inscription. There’s a Tulou Museum in Jiqing Lou here with information on the major migrations of Hakkas since Tang Dynasty to escape civil wars, development, structure and functions of Tulous, and objects people used in their daily lives.
On the bus back the Xiamen, I still spotted Tulous here and there. I tend to think that one would not choose such an enclosed form of dwelling to live together with the whole clan inside one wall if not for the fear of war and the necessity of defence through unity. I would not like to live in a Tulou beyond childhood, but can imagine that everyone who has part of his life spent inside these castles must take on a permanent mark in his personality from such close and ever-existing human interactions that deprive any longing for privacy but shape one’s ability to find peace and harmony with the hustles and bustles of hundreds of other people at one’s door.