by Kim Whitwell
For the first weekend in December, 19 InternChina staff and interns travelled overland to the rural area of Kaiping, China to experience the rural offerings of historic diaolou country.
Setting off from Zhuhai, we all made our introductions and settled into getting to know each other. It was the first group trip the PMSA Kiwi students were involved in since landing a week earlier, so friendships were formed pretty early on.
Met by our tour guide Peter, and newly opened hostel owner Rocky in Tangkou, the group arrived just in time for a cooked lunch made with local produce from the area. Bellies full, and smiles on our faces for the blue skies and green scenery Kaiping was providing for us, we jumped on our bikes and followed Peter for the first of our diaolou tours.
Diaolous are fortified watchtowers built by the overseas Chinese in order to protect their rural home towns. To ensure their families were safe during mass emigration in the 20th century, overseas Chinese sent money back from afar to build them.
Displayed to the public, the presence of dialous are a marker of Chinese history and heritage. It reflects the rich culture and influences from both immigration (styles of décor in the diaolous show western influence) and emigration.
We wove in and out of rice fields all at the many different stages of cropping. Peter provided the knowledge and the various rural communities provided the photo opportunities. We all soaked in the authentic appearance and operations of the locals who went about their daily business with little more than a “ni hao!” in response to ours. We saw drying bok choy, rice husking, traditional instrument playing and oxen all within an hour.
On return to the hostel, we settled into the night on the roof top area watching the last of the sunlight fade. The hostel kitchen provided another extremely delicious meal, which some interns helped prepare. After, Peter captivated us with more of his extensive and passionate knowledge of diaolou country.
More chat, more beers and more laughter followed well into the night with a great time had by all . The immaculate hostel providing the most comfortable place to lay our heads for the night.
Day two arose with breakfast (a personal highlight) of both Chinese and Western cuisine (peanut butter on toast)! Then onto the bus we hopped to travel to some unique UNESCO sites in the local areas.
Bamboo forests and a local wedding greeted us at our first stop. Peter continued his extensive commentary on the history and significance of diaolous, mansions and operations in the local villages. Stop number two provided the Instagram opportunities! Lunch back at the hostel concluded our weekend in Kaiping. Bellies full once more, smiles a plenty and memories made, we filed back onto the bus and travelled a fairly sleepy and quiet journey home.
Kaiping is an authentic display of Chinese rural life that draws you into a time machine back 30 years. The attractions aren’t crowded or over commercialised so the experiences you have are very much genuine. Peter’s knowledge of the area and history behind it was captivating. He helped bring to life a part of the world not well known or considered in the tourism industry. Rocky has created an accommodation space that also feels genuine and homely. Utilising the infrastructure provided by history within the area the place is quirky and unique. If you are looking for a relaxing, yet interesting, time out from city life, this trip is for you.