Tag Archives: Xiapu

Ningde: Where the sea became farms

It was so surreal. Bamboos rose out of the sea, all the way till eyes could sea. The boy from Babhnan was in utter disbelief a second time in China. Yet to come out of rice farming on the mountain terraces in Longji, and here the sea had become farmlands growing Bamboo… Like how come, he asked Lin, his driver and the guide in Ningde, the coastal prefecture in China famed for perhaps the most beautiful mudflats in the world! 

In Xiapu's Most famous sea farm
In Xiapu’s Most famous sea farm

Lin had a hearty laugh. They are farming seaweed, not bamboos, bamboos are there merely for drying weeds. It makes the autumn harvest easier. 

Mudflats, also called tidal flats are many things. Found in coastal wetlands, they are a very important part of the ecology, a refuge for many species both of flora and fauna. The last thing one could imagine about them, though, was beauty, breathtaking beauty to be precise! What can be so beautiful about long expanses of mud, just mud, the boy had thought before undertaking this journey. He had nonetheless as he was intrigued by the pictures scattered across the internet. Pictures screaming that these were perhaps the most beautiful mudflats indeed. 

See the girl in the mudflats?

They proved to be. They were a delight for photographers, even for the amateurish ones like the boy who would often keep the DSLR aside, daunted by its hundred controls and take recourse to his phone. Comes the sun, and the rays turn them into paintings capable of putting even the best of the abstract painters to shame! Former Sea Gypsies, the human ones, start their work walking on the mudflats, and they start looking magical! Whole villages, of course floating ones, on the sea. And the miraculous Kelp, a type of seaweed, that grows over half a meter a day and is sort of the hinge on which mudflats lives hinge upon. 

And of course, they were a refuge for escaping the maddening chaos called metropolitan cities, a gateway to the times gone by. 

Mudflats are also an opportunity for a mere human to emulate Jesus, and all others known for the legends like walking on the water! Comes the high tide and they disappear despite being firmly there- walk on them and those looking at you from far away can take you to be the next prophet. Not a bad thing, no? 

A such a convincing fakery of village life in Rural China, it was all staged!
A such a convincing fakery of village life in Rural China, it was all staged!

Mudflats are also a celebration of sheer human endeavor that can move the mountains as cliche would have it. They can also farm the sea, the boy was to know in Ningde. Yeah, all kinds of seaweed along with fishing and crabs and what not. All of this in beautiful gear in super vibrant colors, all of which are locally innovated. They could also build whole villages on the sea, a properly functioning ecosystem. 

Receding tides, leaving day's catch behind
Receding tides, leaving day’s catch behind

Why did they choose to live on the sea, it is not easy, the boy suddenly realized. Lin came handy. His English was very rudimentary, my Putonghua did not even exist. But we were both armed with the magic called smartphones with Baidu App though- you speak into it in English and it translates that into Putonghua and vice versa. As expected, the gut feeling of the boy proved to be true.

They did not choose to live on the sea. No one does, knowing the vagaries of nature. They were rather forced to as they were Tanka people. The Outcasts of China, with many theories of their evolution. The most plausible one of them identifies as the descendents of one of the ethnic minorities, meaning non-Han Chinese people, from the first millenium BC and condemned to fend for themselves ever since. That they did, and did with elan. Exiled from the lands, they converted the seas into farmlands. They were denied a life, they built another. 

Village on the sea… These huts you see are real homes

Tanka people are not treated badly anymore, Lin volunteered. They were brought back in the mainstream after the Peoples’ Republic of China came into existence, he added. You support the party, I asked Lin. A boisterous laughter was the reply- we do not talk about politics here in China. 

Sam and the Seaweeds
Sam and the Seaweeds

I am definitely coming back here, the boy from Babhnan thought, six days were just not enough for a place this enchanting. There was so much left to know, like that colourful parade he came across. Lin had made him tick them all. Dong Bi, Xia Qing Shan, Ba Chi Men, Xiao Hao, Beiqi, Nan Wan, Yangjiaxi, Sha Wan, Yantian, the ancient town whose name he forgot. Yet he got to come back. To celebrate human endeavour. To salute the Boat People! 

With Lin.
Lin, the local

Fuzhou: A fortunate surprise

Fuzhou was not really in my bucket list. To be honest, I hardly knew about this city, like most of the travellers and even more of the tourists. This, despite it being the capital of Fujian province and one of the biggest cities in South China- my neighbourhood for last 8 years now.

This is one of the entrance of Sanfang Qixiang- roughly translated as the "three lanes and seven alleys" aka  Beverly Hills of Imperial China! Founded in 708 AD, the 40 hectare complex has been home of over 400 of China's richest and most powerful!
Sanfang Qixiang- roughly translated as the “three lanes and seven alleys” aka  Beverly Hills of Imperial China

But one fine day I found myself in Fuzhou. I had just spent a few days in Yongding county famous for its community houses called Tulous whom the USA mistook for nuclear reactors at the height of Cold War. (You can read about my travels to Tulous here). Next in line was Xiapu, beautiful beyond words for its scenic mudflats and life on the sea- with entire villages on sea! (My Xiapu Mudflats memories are here). And the road connecting them passed through Fuzhou making me wonder why not give the city a chance as well! 

And lo and behold: It turned out to be one of the best of the decisions I had made in ages! Here I was in a city with a history of over 2200 years with the first settlements recorded here in 2nd century BCE! 

Some of the restored houses in Sanfang Qixiang decorated with lanterns
Buildings decorated with lanterns in Sanfang Qixiang

And then there is over 1400 years old Sanfang Qixiang- roughly translated as the “three lanes and seven alleys” aka  Beverly Hills of Imperial China! This one complex, slightly over 40 hectares in total area, founded in Tang Dynasty (618-907) and inhabited ever since is what over 400 of Imperial China’s the richest and most powerful men called home. Sadly, men alone as I found no mention of women despite repeated ‘family houses’. 

Inside Lin Zexu Memorial Hall: Remembering the man who destroyed Opium Trade and thus caused the First Opium War
Inside Lin Zexu Memorial Hall: Remembering the man who destroyed Opium Trade and thus caused the First Opium War

Talk about the man who sparked the First Opium War, Lin Zexu, a Qing official, Yan Fu, a Chinese scholar who translated Darwin’s theory of natural selection in Mandarin or Bing Xin who translated our own Gurudev, Ravindranath Tagore: they all called this complex home! 

Lin Zexu: The man who started the opium wars!

Ironically, many of these historic houses had been abandoned and become subdivided squatter homes before their restoration in late 2000s, a telling comment on the power of time. 

I had entered the complex doubting the famous saying that “One Sanfang Qixiang equals half of China’s modern history,” kept returning to it fully convinced. Exploring the lanes and alleys throughout the day and then a couple of drinks in one of the bars dotting An Tai Canal, marking the boundary of the Sanfang Qixiang. 

Then there is a majestic manmade lake West Lake- excavated in 282 A.D. by Yan Gao (Yán Gāo 严高), an official of Jing Dynasty. Yeah, in 282 A.D.! Go to the lake in the morning and it would be a riot of colours both on the water turned golden by the morning rays and people: People practicing Tai Chi, aunties learning ballet in groups, the elderly reading, couples on morning walks! Name it! They are there! And true to Chinese quirks when it comes to traveling- they have built a Dinosaur Park at one corner of the lake! Believe it or not, I could not hold myself back from getting clicked with one of them! 

majestic manmade lake West Lake- excavated in 282 A.D. by Yan Gao (Yán Gāo 严高), an official of Jing Dynasty. Yeah, in 282 A.D.! Go to the lake in the morning and it would be a riot of colours both on the water turned golden by the morning rays and people: People practicing Tai Chi, aunties learning ballet in groups, the elderly reading, couples on morning walks! Name it! They are there!
West Lake

Fuzhou has so much more to offer, sadly the small boy from Babhnan was short on time. So he passed by the majestic mosque so many times, yeah Islam is not banned in China despite whatever morons claim! In fact one of the most happening places I have ever been to in China is the Muslim Quarters of Xi’an with a huge, centuries old mosque that looked more a pagoda than a mosque!! 

Fuzhou Mosque: :Legend has it that Prophet sent emissaries to Fuzhou in 628 A.D.
Fuzhou Mosque: :Legend has it that Prophet sent emissaries to Fuzhou in 628 A.D.

There is Drum Mountain in Gu Shan revered for its Buddhist Temple at the top, about half an hour away from the City Centre. In the very centre of the city are 3 mountains and a lake- which actually is a river Min! 

A rather cheerful Chinese restaurant owner served me Onion Bhaji and Butter Naan and then sang a beautiful Bollywood song! Aah you gem of a woman, I miss you!
Butter Naan , “D”nion” Bhaji and live music : What else could one ask for?

Do try to steal a visit to China Shoushan Stone Museum for having a rare look at Shoushan stones and understand its history- how they are mined, carved and so on. These stones, also called agalmatolite are rare treasures and one carved stone may fetch millions of dollars in today’s market.

Of course the small boy from Babhnan could not squeeze the last two in his sojourn in Fuzhou. Mudflats in Xiapu were calling him. As it is, one life is never enough to see it all, but Fuzhou is close enough for a second visit! 

See you again, Fuzhou, and you too, mates, perhaps in Fuzhou! 

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Xiapu, the most beautiful mudflats perhaps in China

Xiapu? What is that? And where exactly- asked most of my local, Chinese friends, taking a little of my guilt of not knowing about this gem just 6 hours away by high speed aka bullet trains from Hong Kong- perfect for a long weekend getaway, okay even for a weekend one! Sample a few pictures to begin with while remembering that I am not a photographer- and think how this place would look in reality as well as to a real photographer! Quick facts about reaching there and other logistical details at the end…

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Xiapu has the most beautiful mudflats in China, perhaps one of the most beautiful even in the world! Mudflats are many things. The coastal wetlands also known as tidal flats built by tides depositing mud by tides or rivers are a delight for the photographers with sun rays falling on them making fantastic patterns, sea gypsies (human ones) working on the mudflats, whole village on the sea, kelp growing half a meter a day and so on. They are also a retreat for those getting maddened by the urban chaos, a gateway to the times gone by- and of course a magic of walking on the water during high tides! Well, okay, only the feeling- as it looks like one is walking on the water and not the real thing, but even that is worth dying for, no?

Mudflats are also a celebration of sheer human endeavour- human capacity to farm even the sea! yeah, they farm all kind of seaweed there, as well as fishes and crabs and what not with all the colourful gear one can ever think of! Just sample this- and I was cursing myself to not get a fisherman resting in his boat inside but then… what I managed to get was no less impressive in any case!

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And then there is the mother of it all! A blast from the past- a scene right out of a China of perhaps at least a few centuries ago- just that it is all faked. No, don’t let your enthusiasm dampen down even a wee bit, forget it getting killed altogether! They faked it with elan, down to the smoke from the fire by an old lady, but it is worth all the travel (some 30 kms from Xiapu town). It was, in fact, one of the highlights for me there!

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And then, while you are there- there are much more to come! Like an ancient village- more than 300 years old that we first passed by, and then returned to, small sleepy towns, devouring vegetables filled steam bun by the roadside shops, and if you get lucky enough as we got- a full throttle religious/cultural parade celebrating something we had no idea of- but which was just breathtaking with all the fireworks, traditional clothes and what not! And of course the whole cities on the sea! With proper wooden houses!

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How to reach Xiapu: Xiapu is just 6 hours away from Shenzhen on China’s High Speed Train network. It has a station of its own, well connected to the town.
Where to stay: Though very small, the town has many nice budget hotels. We stayed in Hotel Hanting Express, a nice chain hotel we had stayed in Fuzhou as well and will recommend that. Interestingly, the bathroom in our real big, almost a full apartment size by Hong Kong standards, looked strangely like a spaceship- really quirky. Hotel was spotlessly clean as well.
For Backpackers: Xiapu has no Hostels yet, but the hotels themselves cost just about the same- Ours cost us about 30 USD a night, that is it. (Photos at the end.)
How to see places: Xiapu has many places to see- most importantly Dong Bi, Xia Qing Shan, Ba Chi Men, Xiao Hao, Beiqi, Nan Wan, Yangjiaxi, Sha Wan, Yantian and so on. But as they are all located at distances some even 30 kms from town centre, and the timings would be odd- some for sunset, some sunrise, some mid day and so on- so best would be to book a Guide. It would be fun though- you watch sunrise, come back to hotel, have breakfast, go out again…

That said, Lin is the most famous, and celebrated on Tripadvisor and other travel websites, of them all! And he is miraculous! His WeChat contact number is: 15359700706. He is a local, a sweetheart who knows the place like the back of his hand! His English is just about okay, but he is a master of Baidu translation- like even if it looked bizzare in the beginning to converse like- we speak to Baidu, it translates, then he reads and he speaks to Baidu, and so on- but we had longish conversations even about his family, India! It made us feel so rooted!

What to do in Xiapu: Nothing much other than soak in the vibes of China that it had been a few decades ago- not too many malls, though a real big Wallmart- lazy, laidback life unlike other cities in China where they keep building something everyday! I loved to roam around in the night…

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P.S. 1: Fujian is a Mecca for vegetarians, such a pleasant surprise in China.
2. You can couple Xiapu trip with Fujian Tulous in nearby (just 2 hours by train) Yongding county in Longyan prefecture-level city. Wait for next post on that.

See ya soon..