Suitcase and World: An Ancient Village. Dangjiacun.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

An Ancient Village. Dangjiacun.

We spent the afternoon visiting an ancient village called Dangjiacun which is located several hours drive from Xi'an but only about a 20 minute or so drive from the city of Hangcheng.

The name, pronounced 'dung-jya-tsoon', literally means "the Dang and Jia clan village". Dangjiacun came into existence around 1331 AD, during the time of the Yuan Dynasty which was founded by the great Mongol emperor, Kublai Khan.  Even though China nominated the village for UNESCO World Heritage Site designation back in 2006, few tourists - foreign or local, seem to know about this place.  In fact, if you Google it and try to look for any sort of historical description about the place, you pretty much come up empty handed.  The only write ups are from people who have visited the place.  We came here based on recommendation by Genessa and again, I was a bit skeptical because of the lack of information about the place but my gut told me that was probably a good reason to come here because it's still off the beaten tourist path.

It took us almost 3 hours to drive here from Guanzhong Folk Art Museum.  It was a boring ride.  The landscape we drove through is nothing to be admired.

Our driver pulled into a pretty good sized parking lot and nothing that I would remotely describe as an ancient village was anywhere in sight.  In fact, the few buildings that were around were all very modern, clustered around well manicured green spaces that were intersected by concrete sidewalks.  A couple of small murals held promise that we would indeed see an old village....somewhere....near here...

As I got out of the van, I noticed we were the only people here.  Not a single other soul.  Just the way I like visiting my tourist sites!

We followed Nathan inside a small convenience store and he left us there to wait for him while he got our tickets.

We patiently waited, did a bit of scanning of the shop's shelves to see if there was anything related to the village that perhaps might tell us more about it.  Nope.  This place was like a Chinese 7 Eleven.  Bottled water and snacks, yes.  Information packet about Danjiacun.  Nope.

Soon enough, Nathan reappeared with our tickets and we followed out of the supermarket and down a road that led away from the complex of buildings we had just left from.  In very teeeny, weeny print, on one side of the ticket was some more information about Danjiacun.  My eyesight is not good enough to read it so I actually had to take a photo of the ticket and then enlarge the text to be able to read it.  Getting old sucks!

The road wound its way down the hill.  At first, all we saw were trees and plants and in the distance, some hills.  No village.

Then we rounded a curve and there it was.  The tiled roofs of the houses of Danjiacun and the village's pagoda.  We stopped at a view point to just take in the sight of this village, nestled in a valley, surrounded by hills.  It was interesting to note just how closely clustered the houses are.  You would think that with all the open space around them, the villagers would've spread out some but it looks like the ancient Chinese preferred to live right next door to each other.

It was quite a long walk down the hill but eventually, we reached the village.  I was expecting to see an Information Center with guards standing at the ready to take our tickets and rip off section to indicate they had been used.  But, no.  There was no Information Center.  There was no guard.  There were no souvenir shops or touristy eateries.  Just a tiny store selling produce and other daily living supplies.   There was a descriptive plaque for the village but all in Chinese so can't read.  What there was was a village that is still inhabited today though many of the Dang and Jia clan members have moved to the big cities.  The streets were as quiet as any suburban street would be.  A few residents were hanging outside their homes, watching a handful of tourists go by but otherwise, this place is really not a tourist site.  It's really a place where people still work and live despite the fact that it's now being touted as a tourist site.

Only a few of the residents here have opened up their homes for tourists to come inside and see.  Unlike the reconstructed and newly constructed houses we had seen this morning in Guanzhong Folk Art Museum, the homes in Dangjiacun are more rustic, more lived in, more real in may respects.

I had to take a photo of this section of wall.  I don't think it was deliberately left this way for tourists to see but it caught my eye because it shows exactly what these buildings are constructed from - rammed earth and straw.  Amazing to think that with this type of construction material, the buildings in Dangjiacun have survived more than 600+ years!  I think that's in a large part due to the fact that it's not humid in this part of China.

We saw much of the same architectural design elements here as we did in Guanzhong Folk Art Museum.  The Yuan Dynasty preceded the Qing and Ming Dynasties so these sorts of architectural elements actually predate the ones we saw at the museum.

From what I've read, intrepid tourists can arrange to spend the night in small family homes here and there are some restaurants serving up meals but I didn't see any signs that overtly advertised accommodations or food.  I think you just have to ask around for information.  I had forgotten about places to eat here otherwise I would've suggested to Nathan that we find a place for an afternoon snack.

I loved taking photos of this place.  So many interesting things to look at.  I loved all the wood and stone carvings.

.....and all the beautifully decorated entryways.

Nathan pointed out to us that to enter the house, you have to step over a barrier.  It wasn't until we stood on the other side that we noticed that the barrier also serves double duty as a stool.  How practical!

We entered a small courtyard that according to Nathan was where the village elders conducted business.  Nathan did go into an in depth explanation of how the village collectively handled business and finances but I have to admit, I was more interested in just walking around and soaking in the sights of the place rather than listening to him talk.  And....this is coming from the woman who just a few paragraphs earlier was complaining about the lack of historic information about this interesting village.  There is no pleasing her!  Sheesh.....

The village also has its watch tower where villagers shared the sentry duty.  At all times of the day and night, someone was keeping an out for strangers.

The village also had at least one communal water well.

And....there was one very wealthy lady who lived here.  As you might expect, she had the nicest home!

I very much enjoyed our leisurely stroll through Danjiacun and if I ever have the opportunity to come back, I would spend more than the hour and half that we did today so I could have a meal here.  I think it would be really fun to have a true home cooked meal made by the village people.  I'm certain the food would not be anything like you would find anywhere else.

It was almost 8p by the time we arrived back at our hotel.  It had a been a long day for all of us and we were sad to say goodbye to Nathan.  We really enjoyed his company.  Too bad he's not going to be guiding us around Xinjiang.  For a few moments today, I wished he was.  We thanked him with a generous tip.

The gang was more than ready for dinner since we basically had not eaten anything after our early morning breakfast.   Thanks to Yim, we already had a place picked out for dinner and the best part is that it's just a few minutes walk from our hotel.  We had stumbled upon the place on our walk yesterday and this enterprising restaurant had a display video hanging at its entrance.  We got a nice set of visuals showing the dishes they serve and of course, it all looked very tasty.

We think the place is called Shaanxi Alley and its located very near Defu Alley.   Just look for this sign and then head up the stairs to the restaurant :-)

The restaurant is not large but it's got a wonderful location.  It's pretty much on a street corner so you have windows running along two walls.

I liked this restaurant very  much.  The food here is local cuisine.  That is local Shaanxi province cuisine.  We had seen a video of the chicken dish and decided to order it.  It's called hu lu ji or gourd shaped chicken.  Supposedly the dish was concocted by a chef in the Tang Dynasty.  Only hens weighing a kilo were used.  To prepare the dish, the hen is boiled, steamed and then fried.  The result is a chicken that has tender meat and crispy skin.  I'm guessing that back in the Tang Dynasty, the chicken was served in an actual gourd.  Tonight, we got the wooden version of a gourd.  Not often is one served a whole chicken...with the head.

We also ordered a few more dishes.  The gang is hungry.  We had a fish dish which was more like fish soup.  Tasty.

Sauteed water spinach.  Yummy.

Braised yuba skin.  I don't know a single Chinese person that does not like yuba skin.  It's that soy bean thing.  Chinese love everything soy bean.

We all left the table nicely stuffed to the gills.  Not uncomfortably stuffed but happy stuffed.  So much so that I even passed up getting anything from the bakery next door.

Even these egg yolk puffs which I had obsessed over just yesterday.  Good news for me is that I will be returning to China in just a few short months so I can enjoy more of these in no time soon!

I can't believe we just ended our last full day in Xi'an.  I have been to this city three times now and I swear, I have yet to see all the tourists sites.  I had hoped we would've had time to visit the Shaanxi Museum which I highly enjoyed going on on my visit in 2009.  Mind you, this is coming from someone who ordinarily is not a museum goer so if I enjoyed, it must be worth it!  And we never made it back to Big Wild Goose Pagoda park.  I was hoping for another hot pot dinner at Mr. Prawn's Holy Soup and to see the nightly fountain show.  I guess I need to come back to Xi'an! 😁

In the meantime, I have to repack my suitcase and get ready for our departure from Xi'an and flight to Urumqi!  As sad as I am to be leaving Xi'an, I am really looking forward to arriving in Urumqi and beginning our visit to Xinjiang which I hope will be a very interesting time for us!

So....for now....and hopefully, not for the last time.

Goodnight from Xi'an!