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10/09/2013

Riverine retreat II

Next to the hotel is Zou's Ancestral Temple, the largest structure in the village. Despite more than a century of weathering, the brick-carved mystical beasts sitting on upturned roof ridges still guard the old courtyard, while exquisite brick carvings decorating the gate tower remind visitors of the past glory and distinction of the Zou clan.

Built in 1790, the 55th year during the reign of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty you can learn more about via travel China guide, the temple is a brick-and-wooden structure covering an area of more than 200 square meters. In front of its gate stands a stone stake, which in ancient times was used to tie up the horses of descendants who came to worship their ancestors. Enshrined in the temple are steles with inscriptions of family rules and temple annals. The main hall is flanked with two side buildings. The second floor of the main hall was once a place for opera performances. The distinctively-designed corridor in front of the hall is supported by wooden arches, which are sometime used to hang lanterns. In the courtyard there is a small rainspout in the shape of ancient Chinese coin, and which is now covered by moss.

In northern Fujian during the Qing Dynasty, the Zou clan was known for its incredible wealth. According to the revised Annals of Chong'an County, in the 19th year during the reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty, Xiamei Village in Chong'an County was a place of many tea markets, and each day 300 rafts shuttled here to transport tea leaves to other places. All the local merchants were of the Zou clan.

Xiamei was once the starting point of the Ancient Tea Road, which extended from northern Fujian to Moscow. In ancient times, many merchants from the far north Shanxi Province travelled here to purchase tea leaves here and transport them northwards via Guangxi (houses many famous travel sites to help development of China tourism), finally reaching Europe across the borders between China and Russia. Today, the village is not as bustling as before, and only the remaining old residences remind us of its past prosperity.

At the end of the village is an antique store which, during the reign of Emperor Qianlong, was once a temple honoring Mazu, goddess of the sea. During the Qing Dynasty, water transportation thrived here due to the bustling tea trade. As a place of prayers for protection by the goddess, the local shipping guild raised funds to the temple. In those days, the temple was also a place for boat trackers to rest and have dinner, and each day dozens of boat trackers ate here. Still today, the proprietor sings several of the work songs sung by boat trackers. These he learned in childhood from his elders.

During my days in the village, I learned the way of local tea drinking. In my spare time, I often relaxed holding a cup of tea, breathing of the strong fragrance swirling from the white porcelain cup. When drinking tea, locals traditionally hold the cup with three fingers. The movement is popularly referred to as "three dragons guarding the vessel."

As I became acquainted with the local people, I learned of village legends. Most of the tales were fictional, but they add an intriguing ambience to the village. The prevailing is about Zou Maozhang, the founder of the local Zou clan. As legend has it, Zou, born to a poor family, made a living as a wandering laborer. One day, after reaching Chong'an County, beneath a plum tree he fell into a deep sleep due to irresistible hunger and fatigue. In his dream, he saw a fairytale village through which a stream ran in tranquility, its banks blanketed by blooming plum trees. When he woke up, someone told him the village was Xiamei. Zou reached the village, where he later married a maid serving in the family of a local lord. Using a piece of gold his wife stole from the lord as his startup capital, Zou began his business and finally became a rich merchant.

I do not expect to be as lucky as Zou. But, in my own dreams, I will revisit that village by the river, a quiet place hidden away among the blooming plum trees.

Travel Tips:

Transportation:

Xiamei Village lies six kilometers east of downtown Wuyishan in Fujian Province, eight kilometers away from the Wuyi Mountain resort famous travel site for your top 10 China tour packages. Visitors can arrive in Wuyishan City by air or train. There are no public means of transport from urban Wuyishan and Xiamei. Group travelers may take a tour bus provided by travel agencies. Individuals may rent a minibus alone for 20 yuan, or wait until the driver finds another four passengers, then the price is four yuan each.

Accommodation:

Xianmei Guestroom is the village hotel, with standard rooms at 50 yuan per night. Atop the balcony on the hotel's third floor, one can take in a panoramic view of the village.

Local foods can be eaten after China travel deals:

Stewed duck with red mushroom, preserved bean, boar pork fried with green hot pepper, stir-fried river fish, fried bamboo shoot, homemade waxberry wine.

08:58 Publié dans Voyage | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0)

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.

08:56 Publié dans Voyage | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0)

09/09/2013

Qingdao, a little slice of heaven

I had wanted to visit Qingdao for nearly 30 years. Why? Because of the beer, of course!

In 1979, when I first lived in Beijing where you can have affordable China tours, Tsingdao Beer was the beer in China (Yanjing did not come around until 1980). There were other regional beers, but few of them were very good and I looked for Tsingdao wherever I could find it.

I finally made it to Qingdao last month and I can report that along with the beer, there are plenty of great reasons to visit.

The original city of Qingdao was largely laid out by the German imperial government in the early 20th century during the period of colonial occupation. In spite of the bitter historical echoes, this legacy nonetheless makes Qingdao an exceptional city in which to wander.

Old German-style villas and townhouses with yellow walls and red roofs line tree-shaded lanes that wind into the hills. Qingdao may be a modern port and center of industry, but its old town largely remains a peaceful and relaxing refuge. That is, apart from the Number 1 Bathing Beach, where the crowds gather "like dumplings in a bowl," as I was told. Supposedly the beaches up the coast are less of a crush. so you should not miss it for your China best tours.

Despite their appeal, I had no time for beaches. I had the Tsingdao Beer Museum to visit.

The beer museum includes tours of both the original brewery and the modern facility. One highlight-looking down at the modern factory floor and watching bottles and cans whiz around on conveyer belts like a manic cartoon. Homer Simpson would be in heaven.

Best of all - we got to drink beer! First, a taste of the "raw" or unfiltered beer. This was absolutely delicious, a much richer brew than the usual lager. If you appreciate good beer and craft brewing, you will want to try this. After the tour, we adjourned to the bar for a pitcher of the lager. Here is my one complaint - Tsingdao brews a stout, a dark beer and the aforementioned wonderful "raw" beer - yet they are nowhere to be found in the museum. Why are these choices not offered to visitors for popular China travel package?

For my second day in Qingdao, my goal was simple: I wanted to see a few sights and more importantly, take a nice, long walk.

From the beachfront hotel where I was staying it was an easy stroll to Xiao Yu Shan Park. This is a modern park, built in the 1980s but in traditional Chinese style. Peaceful and cooled by ocean breezes, Xiao Yu Shan is a delightful place for a picnic and the views it offers of old Qingdao and the ocean are unparalled.

From Xiao Yu Shan's west exit, I walked to Ying Bin Guan, the former German governor's residence. Built in 1903, this imposing, castle-like structure is something you would expect to find in Bavaria, certainly not in modern China. Among other luminaries, Mao Zedong stayed here in the 1950s and his room is preserved as he left it.

My next destination was Zhongshan Road - old Qingdao's main thoroughfare. It is a long walk from Yin Bin Guan to the road and I finally gave up and took a taxi for the last leg (a caution: taxis can be tough to find in Qingdao during peak hours). Many striking examples of colonial architecture still stand here and off the bustling road are numerous allies to explore. I made my way up "European-Style Street," a remodeled zone that is still under construction, to the famous Catholic Church. Built in 1934, this gothic style twin-spired cathedral sits at the back of an expansive, cobblestone square. I took some time to sit for a while at a kiosk, enjoying a Tsingdao dark beer and watching locals lay with their dogs in the warm, fading sun of the late afternoon. A lazy way to end a day of sightseeing perhaps, but that is one of Qingdao's real pleasures - it is the rare Chinese city where one can truly relax, a great balm for stressed-out urban-dwellers used to the more frenetic pace of Beijing or Shanghai.

Another highlight of Qingdao is the food after your tired travel to China in Qingdao. It is not the most complicated of Chinese cuisines, but in general the food here is fresh and tasty-and inexpensive. Not surprisingly, Qingdao is best known for its seafood. I sampled some wonderful dishes, small, succulent clams steamed in ginger and red pepper, salt water fish, san xian shui jian bao - a type of "soup" bun steamed and then lightly fried on the bottom, stuffed with green onion, shrimp and pork and bursting with flavor.

I could have easily spent another day or two in Qingdao, wandering along the coast, exploring side streets, visiting the famous Laoshan (Taoist mountain) and I definitely plan on returning. For one thing, they are building a new "Red Wine Street" - and I have to see what that is all about!

09:13 Publié dans Voyage | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0)