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Copyright 2001-7 by Sue Brown & Dr.
Recreation Links Google
Adventure" (421 full
pages, including over 900 color photos, maps and drawings)
I Ended Up in Fujian!
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Second Home, or Homeless?
“I’m from Beijing,” a businessman boasted.
“What’s it like there?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “I’ve never been
I thought he needed a straightjacket, not a suit and tie. But when Chinese
claim as ‘hometown’ a place they’ve never seen, they
mean their ‘ancestral home.’ Roots are important to deeply
planted Chinese, some of whom can trace their ancestry for over 100 generations.
And they can’t easily relate to rootless Americans.
Chinese invariably ask me, “Where are you from?”
“California,” I answer. “Though actually, I only lived
there 7 years.”
“But where are you from?” they persist.
“I’ve lived all over America,” I say. “So I am
from America. I’m American!”
“But where were you born?” they demand, as if I’m harboring
“Louisiana,” I say. “But I left when I was six months
As comprehension dawns, they look at me
sadly, as if I were one of those homeless souls living in cardboard boxes
on the streets of East Los Angeles.
But I am not homeless. As Americans say, “Home is where the heart
is,” and my heart is very much in Fujian, my second home. Though
actually, I was originally headed for Australia,
I heard Australia needed immigrants and I hastily applied. The Australian
embassy responded, “Thank you. We need men of vision like you. Unfortunately,
the minimum age is 18, so please reapply in ten years.”
But they also sent me a stack of children’s books about Australia’s
history and exotic animals. ...
I still hope to visit Australia when I grow up. Of course I've wanted
to go everywhere and do everything. Probably in the blood. With a Norwegian
grandfather and an Apache grandmother, I've no doubt got dented DNA.
Alas, I never made it to Australia, but I did end up in the land of the
most adventurous and innovative people on the planet—China.
with the U.S.A.F.!
It’s a long haul from Bartow to Beijing, from Mike’s Fine
Foods to Xiamen’s sweet ‘n sour fish lips. It all began with
a poster that boasted, “The U.S. Air Force is not a Job but an Adventure!”
I signed up, volunteered for quiet Greenland, and instead was sent to
Taiwan, which had a bustling population of 20 million (20 million and
one). But once China gets in your blood, its there for life (like malaria!).
Sign from the Heavens!
The Jade Island, like most gems, was beautiful but small. Yet
just as island fever hit me, I received a sign straight from heaven!
A mainland propaganda balloon showered leaflets on Taizhong’s C.C.K.
Air Force Base. Taiwanese soldiers ran about like ants on the scent of
sugar, stuffing leaflets into sacks and shouting, “Anyone touching
these goes to jail!” So of course I stuffed my pockets with them.
That night, with lights dimmed and curtains closed, I pored over the forbidden
brochures in the secrecy of my room. The squiggly Chinese characters were
Greek to me, but I liked the photographs. And when I learned that 3/4
of Taiwanese were from Fujian, I determined to meet the rest of the family.
It was a full decade before Susan Marie, our two sons, and I pulled into
Xiamen’s Port of Peace (Heping Matou) on the Slow Boat to
We planned to study in Xiamen a year or two and move
on, but we’re still here 14 years later. Life in China was no ‘holiday
village’ but it did turn out to be an endless adventure—once
we got wheels…
Americans can’t survive long on foot, so right away we set off to
buy wheels. But clerks said, “Foreigners cannot operate pedicabs.”
“I’m not going into business,” I said. “I just
need it for family use.” And I plopped Matthew up on the counter.
“How cute!” the clerks cried. They played with Matthew’s
golden curls, pinched his chubby cheeks, and sold me the pedicab. I made
a note in my mental notebook, “Always take a towhead
when confronting officialdom.”
As I proudly pedaled my pedicab towards Xiamen University,
a youth pointed at me and asked his girl friend, “I wonder what
that foreigner charges for a ride to Zhongshan Park?”
A canopy of bamboo and brown vinyl above the dark blue wooden cab shielded
Sue and sons from sun and rain as dad braved the elements and pedaled
all over the island. I pedaled the entire family once on a five hour outing,
in blazing heat, over a mountain,
because we heard a Huli store had canned tuna fish. They didn’t.
But Xiamen is even smaller than Taiwan, so in January ‘93, we set
out to buy a van.
Toy Ota “Foreigners can not operate vans,”
customs officials declared. “Only cars, for private use.”
“It’s not for business!” I said. “I need a van
to drive to Tibet.”
They stared as if I were from another planet, which in a sense I am. After
all, Chinese would not need “Go into the World!” slogans if
the Celestial Kingdom weren’t somewhere else in the first place.
But in the end customs agreed, and three months later a ship from Japan
brought us the 15- passenger high ceiling van that we’ve named Toy
Ota. But how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!
Nibbling the Elephant
We first nibbled at Fujian and the nearby provinces of Guangzhou, Hainan
Island, Guanxi, and Jiangxi. Then, in June 1994, we made the 40,000-kilometer
trek to Tibet and back. We drove up the coast to Qingdao, and cut northwest
to Beijing and Mongolia. From Genghis Khan’s tomb we plowed south
through the Gobi desert to ancient Xi’an, and West on the ancient
Silk Road (which was not that silky). We climbed the world’s highest
road, the Qinghai-Tibet
highway, slipping and sliding over the hail-covered 17,300-foot Tanggula
Pass into Tibet. After a rest in Lhasa, we headed back to Xiamen via Chengdu,
Kunming, Guizhou, Guilin, and Guangdong. And except for getting bogged
down twice in Gobi Desert sand traps set by bandits, the only time we
got stuck was on the bad road on the hill 300 meters below our university
Toy Ota has now seen well over 100,000 kilometers of China,
and still purrs like a kitten! (Though with a hairball or two, perhaps).
And every corner has its own unique beauty. But nothing beats the places
and peoples of Fujian, which for such a ‘small’ place is amazingly
large and diverse, both geographically and culturally. The map on the
next page shows the places we will visit during our Fujian Adventure....
...........read about Fujian's places and peoples in "The
Fujian Adventure" You'll meet people like the "Bunun Tribe!"
The Bunun and the Gourd
The 35,000 Bunun are Taiwan’s fourth largest indigenous
tribe, but Fujian also has about 1300. Bunun believe the first man and
woman came from a gourd that fell from heaven and split open. Soon after,
a giant snake blocked the river and flooded the earth—which may
explain why Fujianese are such good mariners.
Bunun have unusual customs, like extracting adults’ front teeth.
They also bury the dead under the family hearthstone in a crouching position,
perhaps to pounce on whoever pulled their front teeth--or to flee the
The Paiwan number about 81,000 in Southern Taiwan and a few hundred around
Zhangzhou. Paiwan believe they were hatched from two eggs laid by a green
snake. Until this century, Paiwan hung enemies’ heads on stone pillars.
But sorcerers’ rites eased the souls’ passage, so they weren’t
totally heartless towards headless guests.
Paiwan had no trouble getting heads, but getting ahead was another matter.
Tribes were divided into hereditary aristocracies, and marriage outside
the tribe was forbidden. Paiwan youth won their bride by chopping down
as many trees as they could on the day of the “Five Year Rite”
and presenting them to the girl’s family, hoping they would not
be stumped by a refusal.
How they must have envied Chinese’ arranged marriages—or the
Miao maiden ‘flower houses’…
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Last Updated: May 2007
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