Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Apr 11 2011

Back to town

We got up early the next morning to go have another look at the flower fields. As we approached, a loud buzzing reached our ears. I thought surely there must be a large bee’s nest nearby, but it turned out (obviously) that the field itself was full of the stinging insects. Chenbl didn’t seem to mind this and told me to go stand in the middle of the field so he could take a picture. “Now wave your arms!” he called.

“That sounds like a really bad idea!” I called back, and then went over to talk with one of the villagers in a safely non-bee-infested area. He was skinning a duck for dinner; guests were coming over, he said. He was Hakka, in fact, and his features reminded me of some of my Hakka friends in Taiwan.

As I waited for Chenbl and his co-workers to finish their flower-shooting, I took a stroll through the village, chatting with people I met, my Minnan getting quite the workout in the process. I talked with a man on a bicycle who said he lived in the nearby mountains, and an old woman with immaculately combed hair who spent most of her non-hair-related time gathering firewood. Everyone seemed to be surprisingly fashion-conscious when choosing their attire; every garment matched just so. Even the woman with a baby on her back collecting cowshit could have been on her way to a tea party.

After breakfast at Mr. Lin’s house (“Have some more strawberries!”), we walked through the open fields towards the village center. The Earth God Temple was reflected in the lines of the crops, along with the distant mountains. Farmers toiled as farmers do, and an older woman carrying bags of harvested veggies strode up to us along a stream. Her brilliant green jacket matched the color of her crops. She took us to her home nearby, where she was raising pigs, and she showed us a picture of a huge swine that was her prize possession.

Mr. Lin led us to the old part of town, a ghost town, really, as very few people still live in the ancient stone houses that formed a spooky labyrinth despite the bright sunlight. We followed the sound of singing through ally after narrow alley, only to find a large speaker propped up against one of the houses, facing an empty square. It was funeral music; someone had died, but there was no one about. The disembodied mourning did nothing to alleviate the eerie atmosphere.

We made our way to the town’s center to the local museum of the Chinese Communist Party. There was no electricity, but the girls who ran the place urged us to take a look anyway, so we used our flashlights to tour what seemed like a big expression of regret over decades of useless wastes of time like the Cultural Revolution.

Our next stop was the village’s claim to fame, in the form of a really big, really old tree. They used to have another, but it died, and so the tree’s corpse is the second-biggest attraction now. It is surrounded by beehives.

We had another delicious meal for lunch at a place opposite the big old tree. Chenbl and the others went out to prowl around more ancient alleys, but I found them depressing by that point, so I just sat in the restaurant and drank tea. Afterwards, we piled into Mr. Li’s van and headed out into the mountains, some featuring scorched sides that suggested deliberately set fires.

After a series of white-knuckle, brake-scorching hairpins that I’m sure Mr. Li’s van couldn’t have ascended under its own power, we were back in grey, smoggy industryland. We passed on what looked like a temple-themed amusement park and ended up at a somewhat more authentic temple that was, of course, over a thousand years old. The weather was chilly, the air full of smog, and the place gave off nasty vibes as I prowled the alleys in a mood of elusive discontent. We chatted with some more old people about what had changed in recent years, before stumbling upon the ancestral home of Taiwan’s legislative speaker, Wang Jyn-ping, an impressive structure empty of people but full of pictures of various famous Wangs.

It was a relief to get back to the relatively friendly, modern streets of Xiamen. Mr. Li dumped us somewhat unceremoniously in front of the train station, where we bought tickets on the high-speed rail to Quanzhou. Before getting on the train, we had a pizza-free dinner at an oddly deLux version of Pizza Hut.

The HSR wasn’t quite as HS as Taiwan’s version, only traveling at about 250kph, but it whisked us to Quanzhou in fairly short order with no fuss and very little muss. Chenbl’s seat wouldn’t recline, and when he asked the stewardess about it, the mere force of her glare unlocked the seat from whatever issues it was having.

The grand station that awaited us was practically empty, grand echoing halls with a lone security guard urging us to get out so he could get back to his game of solitaire. Outside, after we’d purchased return tickets, we found most of the taxis had buggered off as well, and we ended up in the car of one Mr. Cai, with whom Chenbl negotiated a package deal to take us around the area for the next couple of days. Chenbl’s negotiation skills are really quite impressive, I have to say.

It took us a while to get into town; it turned out that the reason the HSR station was so empty is that it’s in the middle of nowhere. Mr. Cai just happened to live nearby; his wasn’t a real taxi. It was just his car.

We were all tired by the time we pulled up our hotel, a refreshingly modern establishment, and I had flashbacks of pulling into the red-hooded alcoves of various Howard Johnsons motels as a kid whenever our family made the trek from one part of the country to another.

Unlike the motels of my childhood, however, here I could check my email on the free wifi in the lobby. This I promptly did, noting that Facebook doesn’t work in China, and I’m not sure if Twitter does either. I was planning on retiring to my room for a much-needed rest when Chenbl and the others came out of the elevator, intent on taking a stroll around town. As I said, Chenbl’s negotiation skills are legend, and I was persuaded to tag along.

We walked and walked. And walked. Quanzhou’s a nice town, interesting and clean, with remnants of the old architecture, broad tree-lined avenues and electric scooters whizzing about neat little alleys with all kinds of restaurants and shops, but I was dog-tired by the time we made it back to the hotel. More exploration would have to wait until the next day; now it was time for a lovely, long, hot shower.

posted by Poagao at 4:00 pm  

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