We spent Chinese New Year (which changes every year as it’s based on a lunar cycle, which sounds like a heavy duty washer setting) in one of the round houses I mentioned earlier. These round houses, we were to learn, were known as toulous by the the locals. And these locals, we were to learn, were known as the Hakka people. Now apart from having beautiful women, the Hakka people seemed largely very hospitable and a bit more relaxed than the rest of China. Their toulous were pretty incredible. The one we stayed in was about four storeys high with dozens of wooden rooms facing inwards on to a huge circular courtyard. The outside wall was made of packed mud, which sounds pretty basic, and it is, but some of these things have survived 800 years of attacks (by bandits, rival families and angry pandas), tropical storms and even major earthquakes. So there. To sleep in, however, they’re bloody cold.
Before hitting the hay (well in this case bed) we wandered to the nearby village to see what the locals were doing to celebrate their New Years Eve. Kids were setting off cheap fireworks everywhere. This seemed to be about it. Then a bloke invited us in to his house for some New Years dinner. His entire family joined us, including his insane 90 year old granny, who managed to digest the food despite having no teeth. We struggled to digest the food because it was awful. The local speciality here is beef balls. The trick though, is they taste nothing like beef and more like balls. Not that I know what balls taste like, but I think that now I have a rough idea. Trying to hide my gag reflex I did brighten up when the rice wine was produced, a family made variety that actually tasted great. But suddenly, as quick as it had started, it was over, with all the men becoming very drunk very quickly (seriously they need about two beers to get hammered), they left us at the table to go and play with fireworks. So we bid farewell to the 90 year-old snail women and headed off ourselves. On the way back to the ranch, one of the family approached us unsteadily. In mumbled chinese he tried to charge us 100 RMB each for the meal. This left a sour taste in our mouths (which admittedly tasted better than the balls). We ended up haggling with this drunk chancer and paid him half. Still, not really the spirit of New Year is it? Upon return to the toulou, we found everyone setting off explosives. It genuinely looked like a war. During the day there were ‘no smoking’ signs in the toulou as their insides are almost entirely made of wood. But here, grown men were laying hundreds of metres of bangers in giant fuse type arrangements and setting them off at both ends. I felt like a Guy Fawkes dummy. At about 9pm everyone looked bored though. It suddenly dawned on us all that this is essentially all they had to do for the whole night. Don’t get me wrong, fireworks are awesome and I almost blew my groin off by lighting one at the wrong end (an 8 year old kid had to help me) but they have a weeks holiday. For that? It was basically bonfire night in a round house. But there’s no cool fire, the council aren’t putting on a show so kids set off 20p death-trap bangers and the locals try to rip you off. I’d take the Stonehaven Fireballs any day!