Ah, Guangdong province! For some, their closest holiday destination, for others, scary black hole of death. Guess which category I belong to.
This time we decided to avoid transport hub Guangzhou at all cost, seeing it was the grand super finale weekend of the Sacred, Glorious and Righteous Asian Games, another opportunity for China’s goldsmiths to hammer out tonne after tonne of “China rules the world” gold medals.
Guangzhou, who needs it? Shenzhen is also a transport hub now. We got on a north-bound train which looked great from the outside and to a certain degree from the inside … except for the horrendous fact that there was no restaurant car. Yes, the 15.08 train from Shenzhen to Shantou is foodless and beerless, people!
Well of course there is a food and beer trolley thundering through the carriage every two minutes so you won’t starve. But oh! Half the joy of being on a train in China is to sit in the restaurant car gnawing on excellent cooked food, drinking beer and playing cards with geezers. Well, we managed the last bit at least. Five hours of cards with two geezers took all thoughts away from food.
Our destination, èˆˆå¯§ (Heng Leng) was a wonder, a joy and a dream, with hovelage that was just astounding. Every fifty meters or so, along any given road, bang! there was a huge walled village in various states of abandonment and disrepair. For Heng Leng is a Hakka Town, by Hakka people, with Hakka people and for Hakka people, and a feature of Hakka culture is these amazing walled villages that work like a classic Chinese courtyard (rich geezer, four or five wives plus children, servants’ quarters, execution ground) except it’s the whole village living within the four walls, in dozens of family units and with the village hall in the middle.
(You can see a walled Hakka village restored to former glory and made into a museum in Tsuen Wan, by the way.)
Unfortunately, because it was a Hakka town for Hakka people, etc, almost nobody spoke Cantonese. I had to make do with garbled Mandarin, or me speaking Cantonese and they, understanding but not speaking that language, answering me in Mandarin. But: What a great photo orgy! We only had to step out of the hotel and turn right, or left, or go straight ahead, and there they would be: Villages the way they had been for centuries, and with vegetable plots all around, with the inevitable new, tiled village houses and their Alcatraz-like metal window grilles and forbidding metal doors hovering like stern and malevolent communist party officials, on the outskirts.
These wonders on three wheels look, sound and act as what they are: Lawnmover engines with a metal frame draped around it and enough space for two at the back with some stuff to hold on to so you don’t fall off. If you’re a woman getting a lift in (on) one of these, make sure you wear an underwired bra. And don’t style your hair beforehand. It’s like riding on the back of a motorbike. With my hair looking like someone had poured a bottle of water over it before dragging me through a thicket, we hit the local youth disco-bar-gangster centre, the not very youthfully named 1881.
What seemed like hundreds of chandeliers with lamp shades flashed on and off in time with the music, while on the walls a myriad TV screens showed highlights from the mercifully soon-to-be-over Asian Games. And yes, Hong Kong’s own girl cyclist who heroically came in second after having broken a rib, featured prominently.
As usual in drinking establishments in China, 1881 also had a very high presence of security guards, but I think not many such establishments’ guards can be found casually doing the splits as you come out of the toilet.
Well, what do I know. What I mean to say is: I’ve certainly not seen it before …
But when I say “Youth disco” I certainly mean that. The guys crowding us with beer and Hakka/Mando conversation (mostly written down as the music was beyond talking loud, must have been only hoping one day to turn 19.
Where else? I ask. Where else than in China can you as a middle-aged woman be crowded and wooed by guys for whom shaving is but a faint glimmer into the future?
Dried cabbage? (Presumably?) In what dish do you find it? This and many other questions about this delightful town I hope to get the answer to next time I visit, which will be soon. Another victory for Guangdong, your closest holiday destination! Just: Learn Cantonese, Heng Leng people, and for god’s sakes: Get a bloody restaurant car attached to that train. People need cooked food, and lots of it!