China was fascinating in being both surprising and exactly what I expected all at the same time. The cities were just as big and smoggy and crowded with traffic as I’d been warned; the people were far friendlier. The Hakka villages have running water and electricity, but no central heating. You’ll still find plenty of evidence of old ways of life, from drying vegetables on open screens to oxen farming to traditional building materials:
And they’ve brought back some traditional elements for tourists — for example, they’ve rebuilt these waterwheels (which, as far as I could see, did nothing functional; I think they just pound styrofoam for demonstration purposes):
The aesthetic is downright confusing; the rural villages offer a lot of scenic and architectural beauty, but new architecture is often ugly and blocky. And you never know what you might find on the walls. This was on the outside of a building (not a school) in the middle of our village:
And I found this hanging inside of a tulou (it seemed deeply random):
There are all sorts of signs on walls and doorways — these were underneath a pedestrian bridge:
And you’ll find red posters on pretty much every door, usually a remnant of Chinese New Year (note the bonus of a bunch of small onions hanging on the right in the second photo below).
I found this tile map near a semi-abandoned basketball court in our Hakka village (if you’ve been wondering, we were in Fujian province, which is the dark green blob on the southeastern coast just opposite Taiwan):
There is some effort to preserve cultural traditions in the rural areas. We learned how to make bamboo fans from a traditional weaving master (he’s over on the right — and his baskets, rather than our little fans, are the truly useful traditional item).
We also saw a traditional puppet show, the kind that would have been the only entertainment around as it traveled from village to village just fifty years ago. But I’m pretty sure that the tourist industry is the only thing keeping this iteration alive.
The SAS boys had fun playing with the puppets:
In the city of Quanzhou, you can still find people fishing in tiny boats in the shadow of skyscrapers:
The city has been building mega-apartment complexes (think ten or twelve matching buildings in a row, each about thirty stories high). It’s clear that things are booming. But to keep people connected to the past, they’ve developed a shopping/dining area that’s part Olde Towne Shopping Center, part history museum — they’ve imported old buildings and created a faux Qing Dynasty “village” where you can visit ancient houses and then go have a hamburger.
It’s beautiful, but surreal.
Also in the surreal category was the kids’ amusement part we stumbled upon on our last night in China. This offered a good example of the ways in which China shamelessly ignores trademark laws and borrows from US companies such as Disney:
But we had fun in the bumper cars:
And at the arcade:
The kids also got food from Pizza Hut, which was a bizarre shift after a week of nothing but Chinese food (not Chinese food like you get in the US — the food in Fujian province was not very heavily spiced and relied largely on meat and garlic for its seasoning).
I was sorry to leave China — I really enjoyed my time there, especially out in the countryside. It was sad saying goodbye to Vincent and Gary, our ever-helpful guides.