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10/09/2013

Riverine retreat I

Xiamei, a small village nestled in the mountains six kilometers east of Wuyishan City, in southeastern China's Fujian Province which is the famous travel destination for affordable China travel packages, is historically considered to be the starting point of the Ancient Tea Road. Today, it also holds two official honors: The village is part of the Wuyi Mountain resort, a World Natural and Cultural Heritage Site; and it is recognized as one of China's Famous Villages with Historical and Cultural Significance. A recent visit revealed why.

On an autumn day in late September, I exited the Wuyishan Railway Station, booked a minibus and set off for Xiamei Village. There are no means of public transport from urban Wuyishan to Xiamei and, at 20 yuan, a private minibus is the best option. If you're not in a hurry, you can wait until the driver books another four passengers. Usually, the driver charges each person four yuan. In fact, this is the way in which Xiamei villagers get to and from town. You can roam the road for your top 10 China tour packages.

In the scorching sun, the minibus jostled all the way to Xiamei. Upon hearing a running stream murmuring at the entrance to the village, I all at once relaxed, as if the air suddenly became cool. A stone wall with a faded slogan translated as "Taking grain production as baseline" stood alone, like a has-been and aged actor beside an abandoned stage. Not far away, the Ancestor Bridge crossed the Dangxi River, which runs through the village. The bridge was built by local guilds in commemoration of the founders of ancient professions. The original Ancestor Bridge was demolished during the Cultural Revolution, and it is now a two-story wooden structure with four upturned eaves. Here, one could imagine hearing the carpenters crafting the wood with axes, blacksmiths hammering in the workshop and boat trackers singing in unison … Those ancient professions have almost disappeared with the passage of time, and the Ancestor Bridge is perhaps the only reminder of the village's past prosperity.

The Dangxi River flows gently from west to east, dividing the village into two parts. Along the old stone-paved road in the village are preserved more than 30 residences dating back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911, learn more via China guide). The ancient structures with white walls and black tiles, as well as gate towers, girders and windows decorated with superb brick, wooden or stone carvings, reminded me of walking through an old lane in the water regions of South China. Glancing up, I caught a glimpse of a beautiful girl, her head leaning out of a window. Several young ladies were picking tea leaves along the riverside, and such a scene reflected on the water was reminiscent of an impressionistic oil painting. In the setting sun, a group of women, just having finished washing their clothes at the riverside, chatted all the way home, their laughter ringing in the air.

The locals built long benches with wooden planks against the balustrades by the river, and these they gave a poetic name: "Beauty's Backrest." Here is where the villagers take a break, chat and drink tea in their spare time. On this hot afternoon, however, I encountered only a few people here. Even the ducks hid themselves in the shade of a stone bridge over the Dangxi River. Strolling along the riverside street, I came across three dogs dozing on the ground. Hearing the steps of strangers, they opened their eyes, barely, seemingly reluctantly, and did not bother to move their heads.

I stayed at the Xianmei Guesthouse, the only hotel and the tallest building in the village, and the only brick-and-concrete structure along the local stretch of the Dangxi River. Although built in 1998, the hotel maintains the architectural style of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasties, behooving the overall look of the village. Since 1999, when Wuyi Mountain was inscribed to the World Heritage List, to preserve the village's original look and charm, new structures must comply with official processes of design approval.

My vision blurred with the change of light when I stepped into the hotel. At that moment, I saw nothing but an expanse of red. A moment later when my eyes began to clear, I saw that the red expanse was actually 20 jars of waxberry wine on the counter. Then, local products for sale, such as snake-infused liquor, tea, mushrooms and bamboo shoots in bottles, barrels or plastic bags, came into sight. Local residents maintain a tradition of making waxberry wine. Each May when the waxberry matures, locals will gather the wild fruit in the mountains and soak them in wine. Wild waxberries are too acidic for people to eat, but they add a special flavor to wine. You can learn some traditional Chinese way for your popular China tours here.

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