Did you hear about the “goulash effect” that Tim Ferris mentioned in a recent podcast? He travelled Eastern Europe and tried to avoid tourist traps by having authentic conversations with locals. Some sincere interest gets a long way and is usually followed by “Why are you asking for restaurant recommendations, come meet my family and eat some authentic Goulash!” Today I had an unintended Chinese version of that. I had lunch in the home of a really warm friendly Chinese family of four generations in the mountainous region of Wenchuan 汶川. I wanted to get out of the city, so I set my alarm at 5 AM and took the bus from Chengdu Chadianzi Bus Station to Wenchuan (汶川). The pick for this spot was because it’s a direction out of Chengdu I didn’t had the chance to visit before.
Taken from a driving bus…
Mountains: here we come!
Whilst reading up in the bus, I discovered this was the epicenter of the 2008 ‘Sichuan earthquake’. Now, ten years later, completed rebuilding is plenty and tourists from Chengdu can explore this area in a day trip due the the new highway. My destination was:
“Luobozhai village (萝卜寨) which is a high village about 30 minutes by hired van or taxi on a turn off from the Songpan/Jiuzhaigou road going north from Wenchuan. It is in a marvellous location on a small plateau near the top of a mountain and has a stunning view of the main Min River valley. The original village was badly damaged in the earthquake but parts are being re-built and a new section of Luobozhai has been built above the old site.” (2018, wikitravel)
After arriving I could not find a community bus within half an hour so I broke my own rule and accepted a strangers offer to drive me up, a 36 year old, who called Luobozai his hometown. We agreed on a price and we drove up in his old Buick with loud Chinese Techno, whilst his six year old son was bouncing trough the back of the car.
Luobozhai, a (rebuild after the quake) stone and clay wall city with an open water arrogation system, was quiet. I saw only seven local people and two tourists during my entire exploration in the village.
I didn’t take pictures of collapsed buildings but this vegetable garden is typical for the town.
Following the signs, we arrived at the canyon. The view is just so grand I sometimes had to get used to the perspective.
My six year old new friend was posing on this scary rock.
Then the driver offered to show me to his family, a little further up the mountain. He showed me the acres of lemon trees and the whole town seemed to be up and about tending to the trees (spraying some insect repellant and trimming branches). There was a water fall that allowed us to climb the face of the mountain a bit.
We just hang out and relaxed with the view. On our way back to the family, I was greeted by three grannies, one of which was a stunning 96 years old. They were hanging out in the sun doing handicrafts, asking and laughing for the foreigner to sit with them.
I also played hide an seek with the ever growing group of kids, and some could fancy some English like “how are you”. Then it was close to noon and I got invited for a modest lunch in their home.
Typical Chinese house, with a side kitchen and open fire for heating. (Smells like charcoal inside)
It was just chit chat with his bigger brother. Us men ate first, and after we were drinking a beer in the sun, the kids were eating. I got to explain that in my home country, I’m from a fruit area as well, and that my country has no mountains. I found myself with this really friendly warm and curious family. I decided to take it easy and slow and enjoy their hospitality, not to race away for the next tourist hotspot. It made me think of the ‘Goulash approach’. Too often as a tourist you just follow the signs and not really meet the locals. This was a sincere experience.
When we headed back down to Wenchuan, I received walnuts and beans home too, and we split ways.
Before going home, I wanted to visit the large red Qiang museum with more background on the disastrous earthquake photos. I wasn’t living in China at that time but seeing the photos of so many man made buildings and bridges shaken to collapse was really shocking. Over 70.000 people died, and a million were homeless. The Richter 7.9 earth quake was so powerful it was felt in nearby countries and as far away as both Beijing and Shanghai—1,500 km (930 mi) and 1,700 km (1,060 mi) away—where office buildings swayed with the tremor. For this small town, buildings could only survive the quake if they could withstand a quake with Richter 11.
I noticed that everyone in this town has a P.R.C. flag hanging at their house, no wonder as this town has was destroyed by the quake and rebuild by the P.R.C. and international relief organisations. The Chinese president came to visit just two weeks ago to commemorate the decade passing after the quake. Soon after I took the bus back home. Hopefully to come back here some other time.