Xiapu / Sanshazhen Areas
After a flight from Kunming to Fuzhou, a night’s stay there, and a quick one-hour ride on China’s Shenzhen to Shanghai fast train line, I reached Xiapu. From there, I took a taxi to Sanshazhen – a fishing town that is about a 40-minute drive northeast of Xiapu. Once you get off the main autoroute, the winding road leading to Sanshazhen passes by many villages; on either side you can see the nets and bamboo poles of the fishermen preparing for their outings at sea. I did not know where I was going and thought I’d just wing it; this was the place that was recommended to me by multiple people I’d spoken with after getting off the train. It is a grungy village but is surrounded by beautiful landscape and has its own unique charm and culture.
Through sheer luck (and again, by speaking with people who knew people – when I arrived in Sanshazhen) I found a very sweet man, He Kai, who is a photographer in this town (and whose photos appear on the local where-to-take-the-best-photos-of-fishing-villages map). I met him over tea at his home and after an hour we agreed that I would spend the next two days on a photography tour with him – leaving at 5:20 a.m. and 4 a.m. for the best photo ops on our two morning outings and going out, as well, for late afternoon shooting! As we travelled together, I realized that finding the places I wanted to photograph would not have been an easy feat on my own. I’d highly recommend taking a tour if you wish to visit these parts!
As I’ve described, I generally try to avoid tours. But, this was not a typical tour. Since I was the only person joining He Kai, I paid as much as a larger group would have. The upside of this was that I was given lots of attention and got to spend extra time with him both at his home and on site. I received the added benefit of some photography instruction and post-photography processing tips from He Kai. I was reminded, once again, that Chinese sensibility is very different from that of the West. The Chinese believe that landscape shots should display the vastness of nature: humans are small in comparison, and should be seen accordingly in photographs. We (and other avid photographers we encountered on our outings) focused on our subjects from high vantage points.
He Kai is a well-read man, has travelled Fujian extensively, and enjoys imparting his knowledge and thoughts on life. From him I learned that Xiapu is part of the municipal Ningde region and stretches ~400km along the East China Sea coast. Much of the shore and inlet areas are surrounded by mountains. Bamboo structures and poles jutting out of the water, fishing nets, and vessels in the mudflats during low tide, provide human scale counterpoints to the area’s vast natural beauty. The coastline is well known for its fishing and seaweed harvesting. The coastline is decorated with the intricate patterns created by these bamboo poles and mudflats at low tide. With the right light, photographs taken here can turn out amazing. The distant mountains were enveloped in fog, which moved even closer during the two days I was there. I considered a third day with He Kai but decided against it; as luck would have it, that third day was rainy, extremely windy, AND foggy. The weather does what it pleases! Despite the fog-limited visibility, I was able to get a few decent shots. Timing is key; if there are boats in view and fishermen doing their thing, that’s a perfect moment to capture. Shadows on the water are also worth paying attention to; they can enhance a beautiful shot.
Unfortunately Sanshanzhen is not known for its cuisine or accommodation. There are a few places that sell soup but other resto stalls only offer buffets of lukewarm, pre-made food consisting of preserved and fresh vegetables cooked in lots of oil, meat, and fish. But!! If you want a great photography contact there, He Kai is your man. Here is his website: http://xphxs.cn/ (tel: (011 +86) +139 5937 1505). I highly recommend him. His price is 1000RMB/day but you may be able to join a group so the cost will be divided by the number of participants. He Kai also does tours of Tulou. I have heard very good things about Vicky Yeow’s tours as well: http://www.vickyphotographyworkshops.com/
The small, coastal city/island of Xiamen is surrounded by beaches and mountains. Jimei and Haicang, are both just across bridges, on the mainland, and Gulangyu island (a large tourist attraction), is a five-minute ferry ride from Xiamen; it is administratively part of the same city. Xiamen has been an important port for centuries, and is a gateway to China. In fact, the cargo ship that brought me to to this part of the world from the U.S., stopped in Xiamen, although I debarked in Hong Kong!
The first night, I stayed at the wonderfully comfortable and quirky Yoga Village Guesthouse. This guesthouse is centrally located and the perfect place to chill should you desire to do so – somewhere to get away from the hustle and bustle of the central part of the city. It was exactly what I needed that first twenty-four hours, and I barely left my room, though they have a lovely courtyard for relaxation too. To boot, the guesthouse has best shower I’ve come across in my seven months in China. What a pleasure! The rest of my time I couchsurfed with a welcoming, interesting, and fun Israeli couple in Jimei.
I spent my days in Xiamen strolling through alleyways, the Bai Lu Zhou and Zongshang Parks, and winding my way to Nan Putuo Temple (a Buddhist temple that is considered a pilgrimage site and thus full of worshippers and monks). It is a stone’s throw from Xiamen University campus, (known by locals as Xia Da) via Siming Nan Lu and back streets. Many of the streets in Xiamen are tree-lined. Xiamen University is a spectacularly landscaped campus and close to the botanical gardens, but could itself be considered a botanical garden. It has a park and large pond in the middle of the campus and is green throughout. I was initially skeptical about wandering XiaDa but it is definitely worth a stroll. The city’s waterfront was full of people out enjoying the spectacular weather. I was lucky to experience Xiamen’s mild spring temperatures and bright sunshine.
Xiamen, is probably not known for its food – there are many street stalls and vendors and so much of the food appears to be made of pure oil. BUT!! on my second night I feasted with a group of CouchSurfers at the Da Fang Vegetarian Restaurant, not far from the Nan Putuo Temple. Here the meal was excellent; I highly recommend this resto. Not only is the food terrific, but the restaurant itself happens to be in a very convenient location, near other sites you’d want to visit. I spent my remaining days in Xiamen babying a cold and resting up so that I would be ready for an almost-week-long trip along the Mekong Delta during the first week of April.
Places to Eat:
Much has been written on the Fujian Tulou. Please take a look at the link at the Unsesco website for all the the vital information. You can also watch the CCTV English series, ” Secrets of the Fujian Tulou” I will therefore keep the writing here brief and let the photographs speak for themselves.
There are many Tulou houses (also called roundhouses — although some are square) throughout the region and one can either take a tour, or rent a driver and car, or motorbike to see the various tulou in various condition, with many near collapse. Tourism is growing here and these buildings are gradually becoming reminders of a communal way of life that is disappearing. I had the opportunity to learn about both culture and architecture at the Earth Building Cultural Village; Nanxi Tulou; and Chuxi Tulou.
Some sites have entrance fees; both the Earth Building Cultural Village and Chuxi are Unesco sites. One of the five tulou in Chuxi acts as museum of the Hakka People, who still live in the area and occupy many of the Fujian Tulou villages. Admission fees allow you to meander through the area, where you will see dogs lazing in the sun, farmers working their land, many people selling tea, the elderly sitting and talking with each other, mothers or grandmothers carrying their babies on their backs, and vegetables and leaves drying in the open air.
The Hakka, who occupy this whole area, were originally part of the Han Chinese until they migrated to the southern region of China because of an infusion of minority groups into the region. Originally the Hakka were not an ethnic group unto themselves. “Hakka” first appeared in registries during the Song Dynasty; it was used to indicate “guests” who had left their homelands to settle in other parts of the country. The Hakka religion is a blend of Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism and ancestor worship; they are believers in warding off bad luck to improve their lives.
My couchsurfing hosts recommended that I stay in Yongding County’s Earth Building Cultural Village at the Fuyulou Changdi Inn. This square Tulou house was built over 130 years ago and the Inn portion was added about 110 years ago; it has belonged to the same family for four generations. The accommodation is a basic (and musty) room with a shared bathroom (squat toilets) and shower on each floor. The owner is friendly, helpful, and quite the businessman. The meals (and coffee) are excellent – unlike the other food I ate during my short travels across the Fujian coast. It is heavy on meat (predominantly pork), but there is a good variety of local vegetable dishes, too – many of which are pickled.