Tunbao Village 屯堡 and Dixi Opera

Step back in time and visit this fascinating ancient village in Guizhou Province.

Residents of Tunbao village shopping in Anshun Market

We didn’t really know what to expect when we arrived at Tunbao village 屯堡 (sometimes known as Tunpu), next to the larger town of Tianlong 天龙. We had heard that it was home to a special group of Han Chinese who still dressed in Ming clothes. They are descendants of part of the army sent to quell unrest in the region during the reign of the Hongwu emperor; the founder of the Ming Dynasty 13681398.

Dixi Opera in Tunbao Village

Although we had wondered whether it was going to be some themed, Disney-style village to amuse Chinese tourists, we were actually pleasantly surprised.

Young Tunbao Children

The first  thing we discovered came as a total shock: the women in Ming  dress were the same ones we had seen haggling at Anshun market, or working the fields in nearby villages. We had previously mistaken them for Buyi (Bouyi) 布依族; ( an ethnic minority who live in this area), but from our previous visit to Shitou Zhai we had learnt that they wear darker clothes, embroidered in the different way.

Tunbao Village

The ladies in Ming dynasty clothes were definitely authentic; there were not only old ladies, but many young girls too, who continued to sport these traditional garments. There seems to be an area of villages and towns around Anshun where this practice continues.

The Ming costume basically consists of long, calf- length blue tunics, black trousers, dark aprons and the embroidered cloth shoes that are common in this area of Guizhou. The tunics are usually bright blue, but can be turquoise, purple or pink as well.

Tunbao Ladies in Anshun

The ladies wear their hair in a bun at the back of their head, with a small white cap around it, held in place by a long pin, and they usually wear long dangling earrings as well. As is often the case, the men don’t wear anything special.

Tunbao village isn’t undiscovered. There is a 25- Yuan ticket that includes a guide, which we declined. However, it is far from over-run and a very picturesque place, which offers a much better example of the local stone village architecture than the touristy and over-priced Shitou Zhai.

While souvenir shops line the main street, the sales pressure is low and the haggling good-natured. Local woodcarvings and Dixi opera masks seem to be the main products.

The stone houses are well preserved and still lived in, many have a multitude of traditional farming implements spread all over the courtyard, as an indication that farming is still one of the main occupations of the villagers.

Tunbao 屯堡 boasts a few real architectural gems: one of these is the ancient Three Religions Temple 三教寺 (Sanjiaosi) which combines elements of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. In the Temple courtyard there’s a delightful wooden pyramid, adorned with carved figurines and ceramic bowls with tea-oil lamps.

Old ladies in their traditional blue dresses sit around sewing shoes, some are real ones, while others are miniature versions, something that seems to be another speciality of the village.

The second gem of Tunbao is the 19th century church school, built by a French priest, an unusual oval stone building with adjacent wooden halls that house a Dixi museum.

Dixi Opera

Dixi Opera in Tunbao Village

Dixi is the local style of opera, in which actors wear colourful wooden masks and extravagant costumes. The museum has a whole collection of these masks, some of them huge and frightening creations.

Dixi Opera in Tunbao Village

On the stage in the courtyard, regular mini-performances are held, whenever there are enough people around. The performances are lively and the mock fights are excellent.

You may have to wait around a bit in the plant-filled courtyard (look out for the dragon-shaped mini-tree) for a few other tourists to turn up.  The actors a quite happy for you to enter their dressing room, nose around and ask questions.

Click here to Visit Tiantai Shan and Wulong Si from Tunbao Village

Practicalities: Tunbao 屯堡

Getting there and away:

Buses leave regularly from Anshun’s 安顺 main bus station to Tianlong. It takes around 45 minutes, up to an hour, depending on the route they take.

Food and Accommodation:

There were a number of restaurants serving local dishes and a few small inns (kèzhàn).

Practicalities Anshun 安顺

安顺夜市 Anshun Night Market Gufu Jie

Accommodation:

Accommodation can be tight in Anshun, especially at weekends, holidays and in summer. You may have to search around a bit before finding a bed, most of the hotels that feature in the popular guidebooks seem to be eternally full.

In 2003, we stayed at the pleasant Huayou Binguan on Tashan Xilu (tel. 322 6020), where comfortable airy rooms went for around 150 Yuan and staff were very friendly. Unfortunately, it was completely full on our last visit.

In 2007 we really had a hard time finding a room. Eventually we were pointed to the huge Fu Yun Hotel, right next to the bus station on Guihuang Gonglu lu. Light, airy rooms, arranged around an atrium, were 210 Yuan, a modest breakfast included. Staff were extremely friendly.

Other cheap options that may have vacancies are the Ruo Fei Binguan on Nanhua Lu, and the Anju Binguan next to the train station.

Food:

Wok cooking at Anshun Night market Gufu jie 安顺夜市

The best food in Anshun is definitely to be had at the night market. At seven o’clock on the dot, stall holders start appearing from nowhere, pushing their carts, and within minutes the entire length of Gufu Jie and its surrounding streets become crammed with stalls and tents, selling all kinds of snacks and more elaborate dishes. Cauldrons bubble and grilles crackle and practically the whole of Anshun seems to turn up for the feast.

安顺夜市 Hot pot / Huo guo Gufu jie

Huo guo is extremely popular and the Anshun variety is one of the hottest we’ve ever tasted!

安顺夜市 Grilled fish at Anshun Night Market

Another popular dish is grilled fish: you take your pick from an aquarium and watch while your choice is plucked out, bashed several times on the floor, gutted and placed in a metal griddle on top of a barbecue. You pay according to the weight and type of fish (around 60–70 Yuan for two). The whole, grilled fish is served on a hot plate, covered by spicy vegetables and aromatic herbs. Washed down with a mini, portable barrel of draught beer it makes for a very tasty meal.

安顺夜市 Grilling the Fish Gufu jie night market Anshun

One more dish that seems all the rage is barbecued mixed meats, mostly innards and offal, which you cook yourself on a round hot-plate, teriyaki style.

Veggie Feast Gufu jie 安顺夜市

For vegetarians there is a real treat, something that seems unique to Anshun: at the top end of Gufu Jie there are two tents that specialise in vegetable pancakes. For 4 Yuan you get ten small pancakes that you can stuff with any of the vegetable fillings, meticulously prepared and attractively laid out on plates. Sauces and chilli are provided for dipping.

Veggie Feast Anshun Night Market Gufu Jie 安顺夜市

Noodles, Xinjiang lamb kebabs and a host of other snacks make up the rest of the market. Fruit shakes and shaved ice with various toppings, called baobing, provide the desserts.

Quanzhou 泉州: Revised and Updated

Quanzhou: A fascinating Chinese City with a long history.

Quanzhou 泉州/Zaitun: the City of Light! Or not!

The City of Quanzhou is a must for any History buff, such as myself. It was made famous by Marco Polo, who described ‘Zaitun’, the name by which Quanzhou was known then, as ‘… one of the two ports in the world with the biggest flow of merchandise…’.

Pagoda at Kaiyuan Temple Quanzhou

Quanzhou’s historical grandeur and importance have received further recognition in the book ‘The City of Light’, written by the historian David Selbourne; a work which has raised considerable controversy. Based on the diaries kept by a Jewish merchant, Jacob D’ Ancona, the book describes a city of enormous wealth and riches, built on commerce and trade with the outside world, as well as a vibrant political culture, with merchants, bureaucrats and intellectuals involved in heated arguments and violent discussions over the best way to confront and contain the impending Mongol invasion that would soon engulf all of China and bring down the Southern Song dynasty.

Traditional Fujian House in Quanzhou and excellent restaurant

Whether fiction or reality, Jacob’s diary makes for an interesting companion on a visit to Quanzhou. One of the most fascinating parts of the book is Jacob’s account of the many different foreigners living and trading in the city, in the years preceding Marco Polo.

Bustling Streets Quanzhou

He refers to Franks (Western Christians), Saracens (Muslims) and Jews, among others, all living in the city in their own communities, according to their religion.   Who were they? How did they get there? What were their impressions of China, and finally, what traces did they leave?

Traditional Fujian House in Quanzhou

A visit to the maritime museum and new Islamic centre provides ample evidence of the early presence of foreigners in Quanzhou, such as tombstones and carvings from the different religious groups.

Chinese Junk: Martime Museum Photo taken from: https://www.trip.com/travel-guide/quanzhou/quanzhou-maritime-museum-77527/

Besides the many Arab gravestones, there are Christian, and even Hindu, memorials as well. The Museum also houses a fascinating collection of miniature models of all types of Chinese sailing vessels, eloquent witnesses to the advanced stage of Chinese shipbuilding, in comparison with Europe.

Martime Museum Photo taken from: https://www.trip.com/travel-guide/quanzhou/quanzhou-maritime-museum-77527/

Finally, the Qingjing  Mosque, established as early as 1009, is further standing proof of the long historical ties that linked Arab traders to the legendary port of Quanzhou.

The Qingjing  Mosque, established as early as 1009 Quanzhou

For the modern- day visitor, Quanzhou is at first sight just another bustling modern Chinese City. However, unlike most of its Southern counterparts, Quanzhou still retains many of its traditional streets and examples of Fukianese architecture.

Old Streets in Quanzhuo

The square in front of the Confucian temple Fuwen Miao, in particular, has some beautiful low, red-brick houses, with the characteristically sweeping roofs that end in a kind of projecting forks.

Confucian temple Fuwen Miao

The vicinity of the beautiful Temple of Kaiyuan Si is another, recommended area for walking and exploring. Here, the traditional Fukianese courtyard houses rub shoulders with colonial-style buildings, housing all kinds of traditional shops, selling anything from candles and incense, to embroidered shoes and dried food.

Squid Seller Quanzhou

Moreover, the temple itself is well worth a visit. It was built in the Tang dynasty and reached its peak of importance during the Song dynasty.

The temple grounds are huge and shaded by venerable, ancient trees under which the locals gather to play cards, or practise tai chi.

Kaiyuan Temple Pagoda

They are home to numerous halls, some of which double as museums, and two outstanding, five-storey pagodas. Many of the halls, as well as the pagodas, have wonderful carvings.  Besides its architectural and religious charms, the Kaiyuan Si also harbours the hull of a Song dynasty sea-sailing junk, which was excavated near Quanzhou in 1974.

Monks in Kaiyuan Temple

On a practical note, Quanzhou is not an expensive city to visit. Good hotels can be found in the centre, along or just off Wenling Lu, for around 150 yuan, for a standard double with breakfast. 

Quiet old Street in Quanzhou

We stayed at the City Holiday Hotel, a typical three-star business hotel for 164 yuan for a standard double (Tel. 0595 – 22989999). It was pretty good value with spotless rooms, friendly service and a reasonable breakfast.

Street scene Quanzhou

As for eating, you can find some of the best and most reasonably priced seafood in the whole of China on Meishijie, (Delicious Food Street).

Traditional shop In Quanzhou

Apart from the prices, what makes Meishijie such a great place to eat is that there are restaurants specialising in all the regional styles of Chinese food, but with the added benefit of using some of the freshest fish and seafood you will find in China.

Old House Quanzhou

We discovered an amazing restaurant in the middle of the city in a traditional building serving wonderful seafood but we can remember the name or address. Sorry!

Old Restaurant

For old world comfort there is the Gucuo Chayuan/ 古厝茶坊 Gucuo teahouse in the old city. China, Fujian Sheng, Quanzhou Shi, Licheng Qu, Houcheng St, 后城122

Old Houses in Quanzhou

Finally, Quanzhou makes a good base for further exploration of the area, such as excursions to Chongwu  崇武镇 , or Anping Bridge 安平桥 . You can also visit nearby Xunpu Village (Oyster Village). Oyster shells are used in the construction of some of the houses.

Anping Bridge 安平桥
Chongwu  崇武镇
Quanzhou at night

Zhangbi Cun 张壁村 / Zhangbi village: Photo of the Week

 

Zhangbi Cun 张壁村 / Shanxi Province 山西省

Zhangbi cun 张壁村 Shanxi Province 山西省

Zhangbi cun 张壁村 is a tiny, beautiful, bucolic village in rural Shanxi Province.  The village is famous for its underground castle, Zhangbi Gubao张壁古堡, a labyrinth of tunnels dating back to the Tang Dynasty (more than 1400 years).

Zhangbi cun 张壁村 Shanxi Province 山西省

Here are a few of the photos we took. There will be more on Zhangbi Village and its underground castle in the coming weeks.

Zhangbi cun 张壁村 Shanxi Province 山西省

Zhangbi Village can be easily visited on a day trip from the ancient walled city of Pingyao 平遥.

Zhangbi cun 张壁村 Shanxi Province 山西省

The best way to get to Zhangbi Village is to hire a car and driver. You can also take in the Wang family courtyard 王家大院 on the same excursion. It all makes for a great day out from Pingyao. We paid 400 yuan and which also included stopping at Shuanglin Temple 双林寺 8 kilometers outside Pingyao。

Kongtong Shan From our Diary

Kongtong Shan and Bus Insurance Hassle: 崆峒山甘肃省

Kongtong Shan Gansu Province / 崆峒山甘肃省

Update

Pingliang has become a large prosperous town in the last decade and has expanded enormously. Along with that expansion there are more hotel and eating options than what we have listed here. Kongtong Shan has become a huge domestic tourist spot and has undergone a lot of renovations. Many of the old temples have been rebuilt and some of the authenic atmosphere of a taoist hideaway has disppeared forever. That said it is still a beautiful place. Transport to and from Pingliang has also improved. Especially the bus connections to other major cities such as Lanzhou, Tianshui and Xian. You also don’t need to purchase the Gansu Travel Insurance anymore (Click here.)

Part one: Lanzhou – Pingliang 

The first part of the adventure involves no more than going to the Western bus station and convincing the ticket sellers to sell you a ticket to Pingliang. In the summer of 2002 we had a tremendous battle with them, because they simply refused to sell us a ticket, even though we had previously purchased the (in)famous travel insurance that was obligatory in Gansu at the time. Finally we had to resort to the PSB to sort the problem out (click here for a full account of our bus hassle).

Pingliang and Kongtong Shan: 崆峒山

Once you get there, Pingliang is a small town which makes an excellent base for a visit to the Taoist Mountain of  Kongtong Shan, one of the most sacred in China, which is a mere 15 kms away.

Kongtong Shan Gansu Province / 崆峒山甘肃省

The best approach is to take a taxi to the reservoir (around 20 Yuan); a steep flight of steps will take you up to a road, skirting the reservoir, and on to the first temple. This is a beautiful ancient Taoist structure, guarded by venerable old priests, some of them with the pointy goatee and bun, characteristic of many followers of Tao.

After this, you come to the ticket window, from where different paths will take you up the mountain in around 3 hours, passing many small temples, nunneries, colourful gardens and Continue reading “Kongtong Shan From our Diary”

Lake Kanas / 哈纳斯湖

 

哈纳斯湖自然保护区

Lake Kanas National Park Updated

Xinjiang 新疆 China
Lake Kanas / Ha na si hu 哈纳斯湖

Click here for our original article and some updates on the magical Lake Kanas / Ha na si hu 哈纳斯湖.

Lake Kanas / Ha na si hu 哈纳斯湖
Lake Kanas / Ha na si hu 哈纳斯湖

Fanjingshan Guizhou Province:梵净山

 

Fanjingshan梵净

Guizhou Province贵州省

 

Introduction:

We have wanted to visit Fanjingshan, the sacred mountain in Guizhou province on the border with Hunan province, for many years. Unfortunately, we never had the time when we were in Guizhou. Last summer one of my students, Maria Vioque  and her partner, visited and climbed Fanjingshan and here is their review and photos.

 

Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve梵净

Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. According to the Chinese Tourism rating system for places of interest in China, this sacred mountain for Chinese Buddhism has an AAAAA rating (the highest score).

Just climbing up the infinite steps and walking through the lush green forest was an experience in itself, but better to get some tips in advance if you want to enjoy this unforgettable spiritual experience properly.

Starting the Ascent

On Arrival:

On arrival, it is necessary to buy two tickets to get into the Fanjingshan Nature Reserve; one to enter the park and another one for the shuttle bus (approx 100 CNY both) to the entrance.


Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve梵净山

It’s easy to feel dizzy and a little carsick on the shuttle bus as it wizzes up the narrow zigzagging road with hairpin bends, but the amazing landscape and the delightful river flowing by the side of the road make the discomfort all worthwhile. Continue reading “Fanjingshan Guizhou Province:梵净山”

Longmen Caves 龙门石窟: Luoyang 洛阳市

Longmen Caves龙门石窟

Without the hordes

 

Longmen Caves 龙门石窟:

If you would like to see one of China’s greatest Buddhist sites without the hordes, then turn up at the Longmen caves – 13 kilometers south of Luoyang – in the late afternoon and you’ll have them almost to yourself.

Longmen Caves 龙门石窟:

Arriving at around 16.30 is a a good option. This will give you about 2 hours to explore the site before you are chased out by guards anxious to go home.

Longmen Caves 龙门石窟:

Take bus number 81 from the train station, or a taxi if you are in a hurry.

Longmen Caves 龙门石窟:

Accommodation: We can’t really recommend anywhere to stay in Luoyang. We spent one night at a 7 Day Inn opposite the train station. The place was cheap, but also a bit of a grimy dump. In 2002, when we first visited Luoyang, there seemed to be far better accommodation options. You are probably better off staying in the city centre.

Longmen Caves 龙门石窟:

 Eating:There are a few decent places to eat around the train station, or you could try the heavily restored old town for traditional snacks.

Longmen Caves 龙门石窟:

Arriving: We arrived in Luoyang from Jincheng 晋城市(Shanxi Province). There is some dramatic scenery on the way as you drop down from the Shanxi plateau to the Yellow river plain.

Longmen Caves 龙门石窟:

Leaving: We took the high speed train to Xian 西安. Next day tickets were easy to get hold of even in August. However, the high speed train station is quite a long distance from the city center and the old railway station. You’ll need to take a bus or a taxi and allow yourself plenty of time.

Faces of Chong’an Market 重安市场的本地人

Faces of Chong’an Market

重安市场的本地人

Guizhou Province 贵州省

This post is a continuation of a post from a few months ago. While the previous post focused on the market at Chong’an and the ambience, these photos focus on the the people. I hope you enjoy them. There are some classic characters from rural China. The two main ethnic groups are Miao and Gejia.

Chong’an Market local men watching the world go by.

Lighting up and having a smoke

Miao lady Shopping in the muddy streets

 

Business seems slow for the fish trap seller

Gejia Lady inspecting the produce

Happy shopper

A little bit of Cupping while shopping

Continue reading “Faces of Chong’an Market 重安市场的本地人”

Chong’an Market 重按市场: Guizhou 贵州省

Chong’an Market 重安

Guizhou Province 贵州省

From our diary (August 2005) Updated

Chong’an Market 重安市场

Arrival

Chong’an Market 重安市场

The early morning mist and heavy cloud cover bestowed an eerie atmosphere over Chong’an 重安. The river was motionless and silky smooth like a millpond.  The town and the surrounding scenery seemed as if suspended in a  landscape painting. Silence reigned.

Chong’an Market 重安市场

Then there was a shout, a curse and the haggling began. Chong’an Market was open for business.

Chong’an Market 重安市场

The huge market held in Chong’an every five days is one of the best and most colourful in Guizhou. The local Miao 苗族 and Gejia 革家 ethnic groups swamp the small scruffy town in a frenzy of buying and selling that lasts the entire morning and carries on into the early afternoon.

Like the huge Sunday markets in Anshun and Rongjiang, Chong’an market is a farmers’ market, not a place to pick up souvenirs, but Continue reading “Chong’an Market 重按市场: Guizhou 贵州省”

Chejiang Village: Rongjiang Guizhou Province

Chejiang Village 车江

Rongjiang 榕江

Guizhou Province 贵州省

Chejiang Drum tower 车江鼓楼

Chejiang 车江

Just a few kilometers out of Rongjiang is the Dong Village of Chejiang 车江, A rustic place with a couple remarkable structures including an enormous Drum TowerChejiang is a peaceful and lad-back where locals get on with life and curiously observe the odd foreigner who strays into their village.

Chejiang 车江 Curious Local Dong Lady

Chejiang is really a cluster of Dong Minority 侗族 hamlets, spread out along the road heading east from the bridge. Bus number 1, leaving from in front of the Qingfeng hotel will take you there in less than 10 minutes.

 

Chejiang 车江

The highlight of Chejiang is an enormous Drum Tower that can be seen from quite a distance. It has been fenced in and provided with a ticket office (un-staffed after 5 o’clock), but in the late afternoon, after 5 or 6 o’clock, village life around the Tower resumes.

Chejiang Drum Tower车江鼓楼

Local ladies take their buckets to a well on the premises, while Continue reading “Chejiang Village: Rongjiang Guizhou Province”