Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Road Goes on Forever (and the Hakka Party Never Ends)
My buddy Patrick whose sister is visiting from Illinois had an idea for a Sunday outing that sounded simple enough. Go to a neighboring township, Longgang, about 40 kilometers from Shenzhen to check out some ancient dwellings.
In this case it was a large combination fortress/living complex formerly occupied by a group of Chinese called the Hakka. According to resources dug up by my scholarly pal, James "The Laughing Buddha Temple Guy" the Hakka comprise about seven percent of the Chinese population and are a sub-culture of the Han which comprise the majority of the Chinese population. I'd heard about and met a couple Hakka.
Patrick's Chinese galpal (whom I'll call C2) is herself a quarter Hakka and she resembles the two I'd met, particularly with their cute, wide button noses (which will figure into this tale of a trip gone briefly bad later...).
Since the idea of maps and road signs to tourist attractions is still mostly an abstract concept here, our first step was to hire a driver or "black taxi" as the illegal cabs are called and to worry about arrival later.
C did the leg work after establishing that legitimate taxi fare would cost us at least 150 yuan (about US$18.75) one-way with no guarantee of a return trip. She negotiated a 200 yuan roundtrip fare with a gypsy cab driver who, in white and black spats picked us up with his newly washed and waxed black VW Santana at 1pm sharp. It was the last classy, efficient act he performed.
Armed with vague directions courtesy of James who'd been there previously ("We went with a Chinese driver who had to ask around quite a bit to find the place") and a friend of C2's, we found no bumps until we arrived at the outskirts of Longgang and realized that the driver was utterly clueless. Not just clueless as to the location of the Hakka MegaLove Shack -- which we fully expected -- but he seemed to have no desire or knowledge of how to ask for directions or from whom. Apparently his plan had been to get us inside the city limits, profess honest ignorance, shrug his shoulders and hope that we'd also shrug, give up and decide to return promptly home. (As events unfolded and he was forced to actually complete his agreed upon mission, his plan switched to whining loudly and driving increasingly worse upon our return to Shenzhen. But I digress....)
After two lackadaisical attempts on the driver's part to ask three random bystanders and many cell phone calls by C and C2 to Shenzhen pals who might know something, anything, I spotted a bilingual Chinese/English sign on a street corner with a phone number for the Longgang police.
"Police! They might know!" I sputtered.
C sprang into action. "I'll call the number. You talk to them."
"What? They don't speak English."
"It doesn't matter. Say anything, then give me the phone."
"Ni hao? Hello? Ni hao? Hello, hola? Police? Help, help! We're lost! Help! Help us find HakkaLand! We've fallen and we can't get up!" I handed the cell to C who rattled off an efficient sounding missive, conferred briefly with Mr. Whiny Moribund Driver who gave her a street name, and clicked off smiling a little.
"What did you say?"
"I told them that I was a translator with a group of important foreigners. American VIPs who want to see the Hakka house and our driver can't find it. They are sending someone to help us find it."
C2 was dubious. "They'll never come."
I was also but damn me if about 8 minutes later two smiling Longgang cops astride one Honda complete with a flashing red light pulled up, babbled with C and the driver briefly and motioned for us to follow.
We had an official police escort to the Hakka Hotel. No siren but the light kept flashing, even when they stopped for about a minute to, yes, ask directions from another cop. Nonetheless they got us there in style. Like the Alamo (which is smaller and better known, at least in the US) it's smack in the middle of bustling urban area. The combination museum/complex is made of bricks and mud and roughly, very roughly resembles Mexican or American southwest Indian adobe or pueblo dwellings in that it's combination fortress and condos with enough room for maybe 100 families in a rabbit's warren of living quarters.
"I'd be a bad Hakka," C said. "I'd get lost all the time."
Most of the rooms were deserted with a lot of old debris and broken furniture though showplaces included dusty bridal chambers, a bridal sedan in which C and I posed as well as Patrick and I as a bold social statement for same-sex marriage in China, a couple shrines, a grandparents' room or two and some wells.
One section was burned and gutted with what appeared to be bullet holes in the stone walls, evidence of, according to a long, mostly Chinglish description of Japanese soldiers invading in 1943.
A faded color painting of Chairman Mao on one courtyard wall gave Patrick and I some fun as did a combination money/Mao worship shrine nearby. The Mammon and Mao shrine sported facisimilies of currencies from around the world, including a Benjamin. We dutifully paid homage.
But we initially gravitated to about 40 yards of large photos with Chinese/English descriptions of prominent Hakkas parading along a wall inside the entrance. It's a Hakka Hall of Fame which includes mostly Excellent Communists, including one fellow who is a dead ringer for C2 especially in the nose department.
"See, the nose knows!" I said. "Hakka Love cannot be denied!"
As a keen reader I find it my constitutional right that you publish that "same-sex marriage picture" :-)
Heh. Yeah, your wish will eventually be my command. The camera that documented this ground breaking moment is currently in Beijing with Patrick and his sister. Rest assured that upon his return all will be revealed.
I'm reluctant to publish the picture simply because Justin appears way cuter than me in it. I'll do some photo-shopping next week and then put it up.
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