Too-da-Tolou

Lost in a dream world. Lost in a fantasy. And then suddenly I’m falling. Falling…

… Being shook. Shook awake. Oh. The train attendant. Its dark outside (4 in the morning) and we are approaching our station.

Another gloomy linking of train; to another train; to a wait in a bus station; a bus and; then our destination, awaited us.

But it was no matter. It was worth the minutes (and hours) of waiting and travelling. We were heading to Yongping in Fujian province.

An area famous for a unique way of life. A unique architecture. A unique people, the Hakka, and their Tulou communities.
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Buildings hundreds and hundreds of years old built up from bricks and coated in clay, braced by timber and; housing hundreds, more likely, thousands of people.
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Why is it so special? The buildings themselves are feats of ancient engineering that enclose a unique, and unfortunately fading, way of life…
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Behind thick plank doors lies the courtyard of a community. The ground floor full of life. Kitchens at every point in the circle; chickens (and children) running amok; pigs squealing and squelching in small pens and the friendly echo of ’Ni Hao’ resounding from the walls.

Creaky stairs lead up to store rooms and spare rooms. The wood worn paper thin from years of use; millions of steps and sprints over the centuries past. And out onto the top floor…
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… Our bedroom for the night. We were staying in a Tulou. A Tulou over 500 years old. For just a short time we were stepping into this one-of-a-kind way of life.
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This region of Fujian contains thousands of these Hakka Tulou’s and we spent some time touring through the rolling hills surrounding our village and peering in at this disappearing way of life.
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They differ in age, some only a few hundred years old. Some, like ours, very ancient. Mainly wood or mainly stone. Most round. But some square.
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But the one thing that remains unchanged. Community. The Tulou encloses a group of people. Behind those towering walls the community lives breathes and works together, closed off from the wider world.

It was a wonder to see it. It was a privilege to live it…

… Although we almost didn’t! The gates to our Tulou were closed at night and we thought as we walked back the gates were locked! A laboured push found the door give (relief), and therefore we avoided a cold night outside. Who knows how many minutes we were safe by?

The following morning dawned with the normal scuffle of rural life. The pigs. The chickens. The early start. A barrage of firecrackers – a gift to the ancestors welcomed in the dawning of a new day.
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As we continued to wander through this ’bubble’ of a life, meeting genuine Hakka people, and trying their traditional homemade fare…
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…it made me sad to know that in just a few hours we’d be living this fragile life behind, never to see it again, and to wonder how long the life would remain for them?
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The familiar heave of the rucksack onto the shoulders. A last glance.

Goodbye Hakka.
Goodbye Tulou.
Goodbye (one of many, many) chickens!
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