A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving. – LaoZi (Lao Tzu)
My wife Hong likes to track down unusual places that her family and friends have never visited. In this way people exchange information and photos to both recommend a place and to brag about having visited such an out of the way place. She had read some articles about an unusual Li minority village with thatched roof huts. So we plotted our “off-the-beaten-path” adventure across the back-roads of Hainan Island.
We had a good breakfast, always a critical first step. I double checked the road food supply, and we added bottled water and hot tea. Chinese always carry personal water bottles and/or a thermos on trips. With all supplies laid in, we headed off the usual route around the island and took a far less traveled route across the center to “BaiCha Village Boat-Shaped Thatched Cottages”. Hong had discovered this destination via a few travel discussion groups. This place was very far from the major tourism sites, and so it whet our appetites for adventure.
Our route cut across the middle of the island before heading southwest. Years earlier, when my daughter was studying in China, we all journeyed to southern Hainan. After a bumpy ride on a three wheeled motorcycle taxi, we stayed in a fantastic rain forest resort in the Jianfengling Rain Forest. But that is another story. On the way to BaiCha we drove past the northern edge of that same rain forest and surprised the locals.
The Li people have moved from the old village to a nearby new village. We passed through the new village on the way there and back. The new village had been constructed during a modernization effort by the local government. The buildings looked more or less like any other village.
What made this place stand out in my mind was the livestock roaming the streets. Pigs and chickens wandered down the paved roads the same way they must have traipsed around the old village.
The old village was accessible via a partially flooded roadway. Many tourist sites like this have administrative offices and information areas. And these tourist sites are allowed to languish for most of the year except on special occasions.
The Li minority traditional “Boat-Shaped houses used wattle and daub construction techniques that have been used for thousands of years. This is the same style, more or less, that has been used around the world for over six thousand years.
There were a few people living in the village, but the place was almost completely empty. It seemed that everyone had moved either to the new town or further away to the big city
I found it very interesting that they had built raised storage rooms in a sort of precursor to today’s storage units. Some of the homes were in better shape than others. It was an interesting peek into the culture of one of China’s ethnic groups. Some of my fondest travel memories are of visiting ethnic minority areas in China.
After leaving the village, and consuming all our food supply, we navigated our way down to the coast and got a great room in a fine hotel. In the morning we had a large breakfast and replenished our food stock. Chinese supermarkets have a wide assortment of snacks and drinks. We headed north up the coast towards our ultimate destination – the Su Dongpo Academy.
The night before we had researched stories about the genius poet/scholar Su Shi (Su Dongpo) when he was banished to Hainan, which has been known in China as the “End of the World”. Su Shi is one of my favorite historical figures in all of China’s five thousand year history. But I digress – more about the “happy genius” poet later.
There is a very fine highway along the coast which greatly reduces travel times. Our next destination was the Yangpu Ancient Salt Field in Yantian. The unusual site has more than one thousand stones for evaporating seawater to make salt.
At high tide the seawater covers the shallow rimmed stones, and at low tide the tropical sun evaporates the water and the salt is collected. This out of the way place was first established over 1200 years ago. There are still a few people there who make salt this traditional way, as a part-time income.
The ancient salt fields are a bit hard to find, even when you reach the city. The gps guided us to the local neighborhood, but the last few blocks were not well marked. Hong stopped and asked a local business man. Instead of telling us, he just hopped in his car and drove there so we wouldn’t get lost on the narrow roads.
The parking lot had the usual local folks selling various foods and some souvenirs, but this was not a tourism hot spot by any stretch of the imagination. But we visit out of the way places because we don’t like the oversell of larger, more famous tourist spots. Due to the complete lack of crowds, it was a nice place to wander around. A hearty older woman was gathering firewood with her granddaughter when we were there.
Some little kids were playing on the water’s edge as they checked on their fish and crab traps. Looking across the bay, you could see the gleaming new high rises rising above the coastline. the juxtaposition of the ancient and modern was a familiar sight to me after living in the rapidly changing country for so long.
Plotting a course north towards Danzhou and the Su Dongpo Academy. Su Shi (Sue-Sure) was the poet-artist-scholar’s given name and Su Dongpo was his adopted literary name. To give you some idea about Su Shi’s character:
Su Shi was banished to Hainan for his political writings. Years earlier his wife summed up Su Shi well. One night after dinner he was walking around their home with a satisfied look on his face. He turned to his family, patted his stomach and asked, “Do you know what I have in here?” To which his wife answered, “Yes, a belly full of unpopular ideas.”
In addition to his many artistic achievements, Su Shi was one of ancient China’s most famous gourmets. And so, the next installment will feature a secret never-before-translated recipe for the famous Dongpo Pork (invented by Su Dongpo); a never-before-translated wine recipe from the genius poet and we begin our search for the lost wells of the artistic genius.