D40: 水口→安流 - Oh Hai - CycleBlaze

November 19, 2019

D40: 水口→安流

It's another day full of old buildings. Other than the cold weather (which turned out to be less of a 'sunset' thing and more of a 'late November' thing), the map had given me good reason to suspect that it might be. None of the old buildings that I visited today were actually marked as historic places but more than a few of them showed up on the map as discrete locations.

The poetic names that the families gave their homes are surprisingly similar to the poetic names that the current crop of developers give their complexes. For an area without gridded streets or traffic lights, it seemed unlikely that all (many, or even some) of the Thus-and-Such Building which the mapping software's AI had dutifully rendered as skyscrapers were actually going to be skyscrapers.

As it would turn out, many of the modern multi-generation dwellings around these parts are still getting poetic names and, since I never did specifically aim myself at any one of the Thus-and-Such Buildings, I never found out if they'd shown up on the map because they were old or because some other reason.

After breakfast, I began my day with a trip to a pagoda from the 1870s. It would turn out not to be especially fabulous or interesting as these things go (probably because I was afraid to climb the wooden ladderstairs with the missing handrail) but it was a convenient place to tell the GPS to send me in order to get back on the correct side of the Meijiang.

My first old building of the day was the 勤业楼 [Qinye / Work Hard Building]. Set up with a large central door leading to a communal hall (possibly with ancestor shrines) in the middle, it had two side doors (left and right) leading to the same U-shaped courtyard around the outside of the central hall. Opening on to this courtyard there were perhaps 30 or 40 single rooms (each one of which would have had a wooden ladderstair to the loft floor above), some with back doors, some without, some with windows fore and aft, some only with windows on the courtyard side.

The main door to the communal hall and all other doors I found to it were either locked or effectively blocked off.

In many ways, except for the individual households basically being ground floor plus a loft, it wasn't all that different from the Fujian tulou. Considering that this part of Guangdong is also heavily Hakka ethnicity, I wouldn't be surprised to find out (not that I'm ever going to find out for this specific building) if the family clan whose building this is are also Hakka. It seems like they were really into communal living since long before it was a top down government initiative that everyone hated.

I've only recently started having the balls to regularly go exploring abandoned buildings (particularly houses) and, if there's one completely baffling thing I've noticed, is how many of them look like the occupants got up and left one afternoon and simply never came back. While a few households had been left swept bare, and a few more had been transformed into storage for farm implements and straw, others still had moldering furniture (including a lusciously painted and carved bed platform that could have been worth quite a lot if it hadn't been half rotted), there were tables with dishes on them, shelves with bottles, trousseau chests, a pair of fluffy house slippers forever left to dry in a sunny window.

Previously, I've even found photographs.

You could tell that the residents of Qinye Building hadn't suffered over much from the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution-or at least no moreso than everyone else did-because the quotes from Chairman Mao and the stenciled paintings of Mao's head had been left as they were to slowly weather away.

In other buildings, like the 会氏宗祠 [Hui Clan Temple] which I would visit just before Wuhua [五华] and lunch, someone had buffed away a fair amount of the remaining propaganda. Strangely enough, not all of it. But, a lot of it. Scratched at the painted words not only until they could no longer be read but until the plaster underneath was starting to crumble. A place like that, or like the communal dwelling a few days ago where every single Mao slogan and Mao head had been sloppily whitewashed over, that's one where they really didn't like him or his policies. But not the Qinye Building. Here, the damage and decay to his words and likeness were just the damage and decay of time.

My next building, the 珍宝第 [Zhenbao / Precious Mansion] came perhaps na kilometer or two down the road from the Qinye Building. I came round a sharp curve and there it was staring at me from across a bit of water in all it's propaganda shrouded glory. Much much smaller than the Qinye Building (possibly not even as big as the Qinye's central hall), it was actively being used as a residence so I couldn't really wander about the insides the way I had at my first building.

However, I could stand outside it and try to puzzle out the slogans. Which got the nearby residents, who probably hadn't actually looked at some of those slogans since they were new, to come stand with me and also try to read them. The two main topics of conversation that I could pick up from the cognates were a) me, and b) whether or not it was or was not a specific character because it did or did not make contextual sense no matter how much it looked like that character and it clearly had to be this other character.

The 腾芳楼 [Tengfang / Soaring Fragrance Building] was another one of those buildings that I could only look at the outside of but which had lots of interesting outside to look at. The Maoist quotes were more or less intact (or as intact as anything is a minimum of 43 years after it was painted on the outside of a building) while the stuff in black (something to do with the military) had been deliberately whitewashed over and the remaining large flat space suitable for Big Character Slogans had gotten so many Big Character Slogans one on top of another another of another that none of them were the slightest bit readable.

Shortly after the Tengfang Building, I found myself on an actual through road instead of a network of little farm roads constantly turning left and right and going around this building or that building and I picked up considerable speed. Coming from any other road, I would have found the road I was now on to be very pleasant and rural with all kinds of interesting scenery; coming from the roads I had just been on, it was kind of prosaic and boring.

As I approached Wuhua, practically as soon as I had reached that bit of just urban enough that I couldn't just find a bush and drop my pants, my gut started to gurgle something fierce. Desperately looking around for anywhere I could go and clenching (both my jaw and not my jaw) I noticed a intriguing looking potentially 19th century building of the east/west fusion variety but had more pressing matters to attend to. However, when I found a bit of unusually tall grass, it turned out to be next to the slip road that would take me down to that building... so I suppose (even though the source of the gurgles was not, shall we say, solid) my gut did me a solid favor.

The Hui Clan Temple clearly spent more than a few years as a school. The blackboards were still on the walls just inside the front door. If I hadn't been so terrified I was going to fall through the floor and kill myself, I probably would have had a much better time. As it was, I stuck to the inner edge of the balcony, tried to only put weight on the part of the floorboards with visible nails attaching it to the beams below, was incredibly relieved every time I opened an upstairs door to a room with a concrete floor, and missed out on all sorts of potentially interesting finds and photographs. In retrospect, the floor was dry (and thus not rotten) so I was probably safe the whole time, but it was really creaky and flexy in places.

After visiting the Hui Clan Temple, the recognized historic building that had been set as my GPS waypoint this whole time was deemed to not be worth visiting, partly because, as I passed by it on the road, it seemed to have been restored and was therefore missing all the interesting character like slogans, thornbushes, the twinkling sound of broken roof tiles crunching beneath my feet, and the possibility of tetanus.

I ate lunch in Wuhua. Claiming to be a particular kind of wide rice noodle that I quite liked in the US, it was theoretically the same thing I had for breakfast. Neither breakfast nor lunch bore any resemblance to the dish I know from the US or each other.

In my attempts to not be on a main road on my way down towards Anliu, I went with the road along the riverbanks again only to find that, this time, it had become a national road. Near the town it had a landscaped median strip with trees but later on it just became uglier and uglier until it was a jersey barrier and dirty shoulders. I hopped off this road a few times, once because the GPS was taking me the shorter straighter way, once because a sign pointed me towards a particularly uninteresting old building, and again because I had finally gotten onto the old main road (which, two kilometers later, promptly merged with my ugly truck road).

My final detour of the day was to the Ancestral Home of Lee Wai Tong. Covered in scaffolding as it undergoes repairs, I found more of interest talking to the one construction worker (who once biked 10 days from here to Shenzhen with three of his friends to look for work in the late 1970s) than I did in the building. It's entirely possible that, by this point, my brain may have been a little overfull with old buildings. Also, I had absolutely no idea who Lee Wai Tong was or why they were, according to the sign, planning on building a Very Large Museum to him.

A woman who might have been a cousin of Lee Wai Tong's or might have been a grandchild (definitely a relative) kept trying to take me around to point things out and explain them to me in eloquent and excited detail that was obviously not a script. Whatever language she thought she was speaking, however, it wasn't Mandarin. It may have been a Mandarin influenced creole of the local language but it definitely wasn't Mandarin.

I'd've liked to have gone a little farther than I did today but the next town after Anliu was another 15km and had less guaranteed lodging than Anliu. It would also throw a monkey wrench into tomorrow's lodging situation.

Today's ride: 57 km (35 miles)
Total: 2,402 km (1,492 miles)

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