So near, yet so feared: round the twist
Cecilie Gamst Berg
I have often wondered if I'm psychic or just your common or garden-variety, lesser spotted mind reader. (I have also often wondered if "lesser spotted" means "seldom seen" or "with not so many spots".)
I'm now convinced I must be psychic. How else do you explain that fact that, when L said, "There's something in Guangdong I really want to see but I have forgotten what it is," I immediately knew it was the round Hakka walled villages? OK, I knew that partly because I had wanted to see the traditional Hakka houses, arranged in perfect circles rather than in rows, for many years, too. But still.
L, F and I googled away and established that Meizhou, in northeastern Guangdong, was where we'd have to head for to see these wondrous dwellings.
The Hakka village we finally located, an hour's drive from Meizhou, appeared to have some kind of tourist hub built around it; but hey, that was only to be expected. Woo-hoo, tourist hub with Hakka village, here we come!
Having paid the 80 yuan (HK$100) to get in - a bit steep, we thought - we were met by a gigantic car park the size of a sports arena, and empty. Where was everybody? It was Sunday.
We started walking - into the oddest landscape I've ever seen anywhere in the mainland. There were large swathes of tea bushes, yet the place managed to look like an English garden on steroids. Actually, it was like a Stepford Wives garden: every tree and bush, every blade of grass, seemed manicured to within an inch of its life.
The park attendants were dressed in red, their uniforms reminiscent of colonial British Redcoats, although their martial aspect was rather ruined by the kind of silly hats last worn by grandmothers circa 1967.
It was just them and us, almost as though we'd been scooped up from bustling Meizhou and dropped in some fascistically tidy, parallel, people-less mainland.
Eventually, though, two things reassured me that we were still in the People's Republic: two-thirds of the park, or whatever it was (we never really found out), was closed off with a tall metal fence; and, sure enough, we really had just paid 80 yuan to look at some tea.
The photos of round Hakka buildings plastered over the websites and brochures were actually our park's conference centre. Yes, there was a Hakka village - one with square buildings - in the area, but in a part of it that had been closed off. I should have known. Not because I'm psychic, but because I've been travelling in the mainland for 24 years.