We travelled up the coast from Guangdong to Fujian to see one of the unique architectural features of southern China, the Tulou. These ‘earth houses’ are large multi-family dwellings, like a condominium with a courtyard. The round Tulou are especially notable. During the Cold War, Americans seeing satellite images of the Tulou though they were missile silos or fallout shelters.
The only military use was during the earlier period of construction, when they were constructed as a way for the immigrating Hakka Han ethnicity to protect themselves from bandits and other villages. The walls generally had no windows on the bottom, and the clay and bamboo walls were several meters thick.
We visited a coffee plantation and saw numerous tea plantations along the route.
We also went by but didn’t have time to stop at a tea plantation. The tea plants were very regular and neat.
The first tulou we went to was in the Gaobei cluster, and was called Chengqi Tulou; it is also known as the King Tulou because of its size. When it was fully occupied, hundreds of people lived inside, all members of one extended family. Originally, the ground floor was for kitchens, the second floor was for storage, and the top for living space. This one had mostly been converted to some shops.
We also saw the smaller tulou next door.
This tulou had a shrine at the back instead of in the center; it had an open courtyard. The shrine commemorated ancestors and relatives who had moved away.
We had lunch at a small restaurant; the food included small fried river fish and dried/salted mustard greens with pork belly. While driving around, we saw a number of elaborate temple roofs.
After lunch we saw the Tianluokeng tulou cluster. This included one tulou which was being restored and was a museum, and another which was an active hotel. We saw one tulou which had a rectangular shape.
In the museum we saw a number of items related to the way of life in the tulou, such as cooking instruments, decorative arts, and land contracts.
A short hike to a facing hill gave us a nice view of this tulou complex.
We finished the day driving home, stopping at a banana stand. They had a number of banana varieties that grew locally. Our favorite were the stubby, fat yellow ones; they have a apple-y taste and smooth texture. Our drive bought an entire branch of the banana tree with dozens of bananas on it!