Monday, January 02, 2006

Chaozhou, China - Part 3 - The Fortified Cities of Guangdong

Chaozhou, China: January 2, 2006: The Fortified Cities of Guangdong. 

Up @ 9:15. Out and around about 10:00. Ate breakfast across the street at the same stand as yesterday. We only ate 3 RMB’s worth of fried stuff today. Had kungfu tea and conversation with the proprietor’s husband. We shared our bag snatching story. The owner has been to San Rao, our destination for the day and says it’s less than 80 km away and that we should be able to hire a car for the whole day for about 200 RMB.

Back at the hotel, the reception dug through a pile of business cards and called the number of a car for hire. We negotiated the price down to 200 from 300 over the phone and agreed on a pickup time of 11AM. We headed back up to the room, brushed our teeth, and then walked down the stairs. By the second day at the Feng Cheng Hotel I have become suspicious of the elevator which sometimes jerks, sometimes does not open when reaching the first floor, and has a sticker that says the next inspection is due on July 8, 2004.

The car arrived on time at 11:00. We highly recommend the driver. His contact number is 13903091737. A former soldier, he does not speak English, but we found him tall, gregarious, reliable and hired him again for the next day.

The first order of business was to stop by a book store so we could try to replace the book and map we lost the day before. We bought an English picture book of places around Chaozhou and book on the small towns of Chaozhou area (not as nice as the one we lost) for 53 Y total. We crossed the bridge, drove through some road construction, gassed up at 4.2 Y per liter (that’s about $2/gal), and headed north to DaoYun, an octagonal fortified city near San Rao. About 12 noon we stopped for lunch at small restaurant suggested by the driver, and had a nice vegetarian meal for 30 RMB total including feeding the driver who, in the usual way, ate with us.

Three on a motorbike on the way to San Rao.
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It’s an interesting drive north. While Chaozhou is just about at sea level, the area to the north has small hills that give way to small mountains and gorgeous valleys filled with terraced tea groves and orchards. Mid way up the hills we saw banana fields and corn fields that had been more than just nipped by a December cold spell. The terrain here is similar to that in Vietnam.

The traffic thinned dramatically after out lunch stop and at one point we saw some grain or small fruit that had been placed on the side of the road to dry in the sun.

View of the terraces and valley.
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Finally, we arrive in San Rao, and after driving around the roundabout, we take a sharp right, go about 500 meters and arrive at Daoyun Storied Building which is an octagonal, fortified village built in 1587. The admission is 10 Y each for a no hassle visit/tour of the village. First we saw a brief video over some kungfu tea. The tour was given by pleasant young lady who, at then end of the tour, left us to stroll by ourselves on the third floor balcony overlooking the town. Coming back town we chatted with a very old man whose photo was in our ‘new” book. He then invited us into his house for a chat and some kungfu tea. I took his photo. Sun-Ling is indeed a giant. He is the only one left in Daoyun from his family. The others are all over the world he told us. He lived in Saigon, Vietnam during the 1940’s. He is 85 years old.

The historic roadside marker for DaoYun.
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The north side of DaoYun Building. Conveniently, a small pond is right by the front gate for firefighting and duck farming I suppose.
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The North gate. Note the Communist Party star above the door.
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Children chasing geese inside the walled town. Notice the phone booth at right
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The houses face the center. That’s a well to the right.
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Our guide shows us an old hand mill (lower right).
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The old man from Daoyun town who invited us in for tea.
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Even though the town appears to be circular in this photo, it is actually octagonal. This view is from the 3rd story balcony.
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The dwellings face the center and extended back to the city walls in a pie shape. The front room is one story high. The back room is 3 stories with several courtyards and rooms between. See below.
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Some of the wood grillwork on the 3rd story balcony.
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And another.
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And one more.
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Finally, a panoramic view of DaoYun town.

After leaving DaoYun town, we headed back to Chaozhou, stoppingat a round, fortified village, Zhang Mei Lou town, where they now make mung bean thread noodles and sheets. There is no admission and no signs. We walked inside the village and were invited in for tea and were able to watch the women of the household make mung bean thread noodles. Sun-Ling took some photos form the 3rd floor window while the driver and I drank tea with the husband.

Drying mung bean noodles outside the walls.
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Drying mung bean sheets outside the city walls.
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View from the 3rd floor. Notice the mung bean sheets drying in the center.
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Sun-Ling and the driver inside Zhang Mei Lou town. The single entrance is behind Sun-Ling.
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View of town.
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Here you can see the north entrance, the curve of the circular wall, and firewood stacked outside.
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A last view of the walled town. Note the pond.
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Then back to town arriving about 4PM, paid the drive 200 Y, and got dropped of near the bookstore. We then walked back and forth among the lanes south of Temple Square, admiring the old houses, and taking many photos of doorways. After eating some local snacks – fried of course – we walked all the way up to the lake. SL’s theory is that is the in old Chaozhou, the north/south streets are for commerce, and the east west streets are for dwellings.

The best doorway photo of the bunch.
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We walked around West Lake and the are dinner at Tong Yi Life House Restaurant, an upscale modern restaurant sometimes frequented by Pete Townshend, where one orders and eats individual meals, not family style meals, and a glass of warm water and a glass of iced tea is served with every meal. I had a tofu dish and Sun-Ling had a Korean-style stone bowl. With a cold Heineken, the total was 49 RMB.

Walked back to the hotel, arriving at 8 PM, showered, and crashed.

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