The day I left Kinmen was probably the busiest of my trip so far. I travelled by taxi, boat, bus, minibus, motorbike, car and train to get from the island to the Fujian Tulou and then on to Dongguan.
Tulou are round, rammed-earth buildings built to house and protect whole communities. Many of them are still inhabited hundreds of years after they were built.
The bus company had a very effective scam. We passed through a small town with some huge tulous and then the bus stopped. The conductress told us (me and some Chinese tourists) to get on a minibus to take us to the tulous. Actually, the minibus had been arranged by a hotel in a valley 5 kilometres away. Once we got out of the minibus, we were stranded in a tiny village with no public transportation and seemingly no option other than to stay in the hotel (which was in a tulou that looked like it was about to collapse).
I was mobbed by touts – two of whom followed me for 15 minutes shouting at me to stay in the hotel.
I didn’t want to stay the night – and objected to the hard sell tactics – so I tried to find transportation out of the valley, but everyone was demanding extortionate amounts of money. I started to walk back to the town we had passed. After maybe two kilometres walking uphill with my heavy backpack, a man stopped and offered me a lift on his motorbike. I rejected the offer because I thought he was trying to get more money out of me, but he said ‘no money, no money’ so I got on the bike and he took me up to the town.
I had planned to spend two hours there and then take the last bus to Yongding, a small city from where I could catch the overnight train to Dongguan, but due to my unexpected detour, I had missed the last bus.
I looked around the tulou – still inhabited by dozens of families – and then tried to find transportation. More touts tried to get me to stay in their hotels. Eventually, I found a man who had a friend who was travelling to Yongding that evening and, for 60RMB, would take me. The man who arranged the transportation took me to his home in the tulou and we drank tea while I waited. I spoke with his little boy and some other children living in the tulou. When I left, a little girl – a toddler wrapped up like an Inuit– reached up to grab my hands and said ‘bye-bye’.
The friend arrived. He was in a boy-racer car with DVD players and neon lights in the front grill – not the kind of transportation I had expected. He took me to Yongding, which was much further away than I had realised and then refused to take my money – a refreshing contrast to all the money-grabbing I’d witnessed that day. I had a two hour wait in the train station before the ticket office opened and then took the night train to Dongguan.