Saturday, December 25, 2010

Hong Village

It was with immense relief to find out that residents are still living in Hong Village (Hongcun), a village dating from the Ming and Qing dynasties, after it has been named UNESCO World Heritage Site. Especially since it has been branded by UNESCO, the relevant authorities would, as usual, take special care to ensure this golden egg laying "goose" will generate more monetary returns. Their usual approach towards villages with historical and cultural value is building an official entrance for the purpose of charging each visitor, follow by the removal of the residents of the village, so as to re-design, re-build the buildings for businesses/rental. I have visited a once-beautiful village that is emptied of its soul to eateries and souvenir shops. It was a painful sight.

Hong village resides in the region of the Yellow Mountain and was the location for the movie "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon".
Hong village is famed for its Hui architecture, that is, the white-washed wall (now coloured by age), the grey tiled-roofs and pointed gables. I would add another element to the charm of this village--water. Without the reflection from the waters, Hong village will be far less interesting without the symmetrical effect. Not to mention the perfect reflection of the bridge, the houses and the surrounding hills during calm days, giving a sense of tranquility.

Visitors are greeted by the lake immediately after passing through the gate. And a narrow footpath spans across the lake with an arch stone bridge in the middle of it. And this footpath leads to the village. It was said that the layout of the village was constructed according to the shape of a buffalo, with the lake as its stomach.

In the centre of the village, there is a pond in the shape of a crescent, surrounded by stone houses that stood next to one another. The idea of the crescent was symbolic (nothing in the Chinese architecture can seem to pass without symbolism) and it represented imperfection, relative to a full moon. Therefore, with a crescent, there leaves space for good things to come to fill up the crescent (to a full moon). The pond which lies in the centre of the village is actually the spring of life, providing water source to all the households.
Villagers still live in a very basic manner. Or eco-friendly. I wonder if tap water, save for the hotels that are there, is accessible to the villagers living here. Some are seen washing vegetables and their utensils by the pond, which in the past was their portable water source and I wonder if it still does.

In stark contrast to the prudent feel of the white and grey theme of the village, there were wealthy merchants who lived in the village in their magnificent houses--exquisite carvings on the wooden columns and beams, colourful wooden ceilings..... the wood used as columns are insects-repellant which are especially useful in the summer. Also, the skills of carvings that show vivid facial expressions and mannerisms of people are very impressive! Looking at such craftsmanship reminds me of those days when real skills were much appreciated and valued, unlike these days, the skill of generating money is much appreciated than any other real skills. Therefore, a banker is paid more than a doctor; a fund raising officer of private schools are paid more than the school teachers......

Enjoy walking through the winding alleys of the village, soaking in the feel and the smell of the village itself and seeing "authentic" villagers out and about running their chores, save for a handful of businesses targeting mainly at the tourists. The claws of tourism are still bearable. And it was easy to avoid the winter crowds as they mainly gather at one or two scenic spots before they move swifly to the next destination--another historical village near-by. Hong village is actually an open-concept village with no village walls. Apart from the main entrance, there are other ways into the village. If I have not struck a deal with the taxi driver to include the entrance fee into the fare, I would have walked round the village to find a way in (like I always do).

Considering the living cost of the locals, entrance fees to places of interest in China is very expensive. A village like Hongcun demands £8 per entry. And I certainly do not see how that money benefited the villagers living there.