Tour of my ancestral land – Part 2 – Dabu and Tulou

While my dad is from Fuqing, my mum is Hakka. Specifically, from Dabu 大埔. I didn’t plan for it initially, but after checking the map, i discovered that Dabu is not too far from the Tulou area. Well, afterall, the Tulou are built by the Hakkas. So, i decided to add on an itinerary to check out Dabu, even though my mum wasn’t so keen.

Dabu is located in Guangdong province, just bordering Fujian. Just so that we could do some sightseeing (because there isn’t much to see in and around Dabu, other than ancient dwellings which does not interest my mum again), i chose to visit the terraced paddy fields of Pingshan (坪山梯田).

Enroute to Pingshan, we passed by Pinghe (平和), and they are famous for Pomelo (蜜柚). I have not seen Pomelo, or anything at all for that matter, grown in such a scale.

Hill after hill covered with Pomelo trees
Do you see the Pomelos?
All the trucks transporting Pomelos were overloaded this way
Abandoned Hakka house – interlocking triangular roofs with grey tiles and white walls characterises them

The cement road in the direction of Dabu was under repair, and it was in a very bad state. When we got to Pingshan, we were the only tourists around. I guess Pingshan is not on the radar of even local tourists. There was a “shop” next to the tourist office with the label saying “农家菜”, and that was what i had in mind for lunch, to eat home-cooked food. It was a family run business that was ever ready to serve customers at any time.

“Store front” with 2 tables set up as the dining area

Now, this meal turned out to be the most memorable one of the entire trip. It was delicious! And it was also the cheapest meal. The moment we settled down, we were treated to their homegrown Pomelo, which was very good. These were honest people (usually the case in rural areas) serving up their best, and it left me so contented.

Very pretty pink hue
Red coloured flesh. It was sweet, but not as juicy as the Pomelo from Ipoh, Malaysia.

The dishes were in Hakka style, and we picked the classic ones.

Bean curd with pork. The bean curd, by golly, was so damn good.
梅菜扣肉 Preserved mustard with pork belly, a famous Hakka dish. The preserved mustard was so good. We bought some to bring home.
Yau Mak. The leafy green from Guangdong and Fujian are just so so good.
Steamed/Cooked Yam. It was so creamy and tasty! Just WOW. Yam is a specialty throughout Fujian especially.
Steamed fresh water fish. It was a huge fish! The flesh was so thick, and they took care to ensure it was cooked through by slicing it up this way. It was only 58 Yuan!

All in all, the meal that filled 5 adults and 2 kids came up to only 166 Yuan (about S$35). You know what, meals like this make me want to visit rural China over and over again.

After the meal, we set out to see the terraced paddy fields. It was harvest time.

An area that is done up for tourists. If you’re wondering, 520 sounds like “I love you” in Chinese.
The leaves of the rice crop are actually bright yellow
Farmers are harvesting top down (see them at work in the centre left of the photo)

I had intended to make a stop in Baihouzhen (百侯镇) to take a walk along the 老街 (old street), but the driver did not find the place and was not willing to try, so we made a brief stop at the European style mansions instead. I wasn’t so keen to see these actually.

Haiyuanlou (海源楼) Mansion in Baihouzhen (百侯镇), built by a businessman who made his fortunes in Malaya. Another exhibit of the “modern” building style in Fujian and Guangdong inspired by that in South East Asia.

I wanted to visit the ancient area in Dabu town (大埔镇), and partly because i did not specify the exact location to the driver, we were brought to yet another mansion built by a businessman who returned from Malaya. And so it was a wasted trip zooming past these age old towns. Granted, the sun sets at 530pm this time of the year and the driver wanted to just quickly get to the Tulou area where we were staying for the night, so i couldn’t blame him completely.

The building material of this mansion in Dabu town was brought in from Malaya
A consolation to be able to observe some of these ancient Hakka houses along the way
Convservation effort underway
The driver made a wrong turn, and i was rewarded with this view
Tombs set into the hill that were so huge you could see them from far away. Such luxury.

And so we got to the Tulou area at night. Specifically, we were at Yunshuiyao (云水谣). There are many Tulou throughout the region, and a handful of them are turned into ticketed tourist sites. I actually left it to the driver to decide which Tulou site we were going to visit, and i was glad he brought us to Yunshuiyao, an ancient town.

There were two Tulou open to visitors, one upstream and the other downstream.

Century old row of shops that mainly cater to tourists now
One of the ancient Banyan trees (榕树) along the river
Drying of rice grains. The tall building behind, a Tulou, was built in 1720
Simply. Awestruck. Beauty.
I’m glad that the residents still go about their lives despite tourists who were pouring in
Foggy. Mysterious. Beautiful.
Heguilou (和贵楼), a five storey high rectangular Tulou that is the tallest among all known Tulou in Fujian. It is built on a marshland, which makes it all the more amazing.
The well in the outer courtyard that supplies drinkable water
My very first glimpse into a Tulou. Note the supporting beams made of pine tree timber. Hundreds more were injected into the ground to form the foundation. It is cost-prohibitive to build a Tulou today.
Weathered wall
This Banyan tree is said to be the largest one in the whole of Fujian province. It looks magnificent, truly.
Stream running through this ancient town. I could spend hours just checking out all the nooks and crannies.
Savour the sight while it lasts
The waterwheel that is the symbol of Yunshuiyao
The Hulu (葫芦) mainly serves as an ornament
They sure know how to pose
Huaiyuanlou (怀远楼) is said to be one of the most intricately crafted Tulou, and this is evident from the elaborately decorated entrance
Couldn’t help it – laundry art
All the groundfloor units were selling tourist souvenirs. And i suspect the residents here are no longer descendents of the original residents.
Two things of note: 1. Poor translation 2. Poor taste of China Mobile to sneak in their advertisement on a notice board like this

Our driver told us that, despite one of the Tulou claiming itself to be the “King of Tulou” (土楼王), there was another Tulou – Shunyulou (顺裕楼) that is the largest one. Well, since he said so, we had to check it out.

According to the head of the Tulou, there is no plan to turn Shunyulou into a tourist attraction. Visitors are actually free to walk in to check it out. I hope they will receive minimal disturbance from tourists like us (although they didn’t seem to mind at all). Sorry.

Not unexpectedly, old folks sitting at the entrance lobby.
This should give you an idea of the size of this place. Improvement works are underway to make it look closer to the way it would have when it was built (in 1937). Modern looking sheds that were added-on later are going to be demolished.
It’s huge
Each room is pretty small
Kitchen
This little boy was literally trying to block our way by waving his pole 🙂
I wonder if the cigarette lighter belonged to her
What used to be grass is now a muddy patch, temporarily
Wood fired kitchen
The village where Shunyulou is located. What a pretty village, with a cascading river

We were done with our Tulou visit very quickly. Before we went on our journey, we made a final stop at the lookout overlooking the Hekeng Tulou (河坑土楼群).

Hekeng Tulou

Having concluded our Tulou visit, there was actually no other agenda for the day except for the meals. We were headed to Putian (莆田). The driver suggested that we could make a brief stop at the Nankeng (南坑) coffee plantation. I thought it was not a bad idea, to get a sip of coffee. Now, the people of Fujian basically drink only tea and not much else. No, not even alcoholic drinks, which is pretty amazing for China.

A nice cuppa actually. The beans were too expensive though, at 100 Yuan for 250g, so i passed.

I was looking forward to try the food in Putian, since it has become quite popular in Singapore. Based on reviews, i chose Ah Wei seafood restaurant (阿伟海鲜楼). I highly recommend this place. The food was good and very fairly priced.

As with most restaurants in Fujian, outside of Xiamen, you order your food at the corner where they display their inventory

I was most keen on comparing the Lor Mee or braised noodles (卢面) they serve with the version in Singapore. Well, as you can see in the photo below, the soup is a darker colour. It is thicker and has a richer taste. It is better! I will attribute this to the abundance of low-cost seafood ingredients they have access to.

The signature dish of the restaurant, also the famous dish in Putian itself, braised noodles (卢面)
Pan fried yam on hot plate. I felt the yam was too soft.
Another signature Putian dish, seaweed pancake (紫菜烙). I discovered that food with jelly-like texture is quite common in Fujian, and this is one of them. They’re very good at doing this jelly thing!
Steamed deep sea fish (小龙胆鱼), costing only 68 Yuan per half kg
Bamboo clam (大竹蛏) at 12 Yuan each
Premium hairy crab at 28 Yuan each
Spinach

All in, a total of 8 dishes, the meal cost only 395 Yuan (S$81), which is a steal.

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