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At home with Hakka legacy

At home with Hakka legacy

Updated: 2012-04-12 07:45

By Zhang Yue in Yongding, Fujian (China Daily)

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"We Hakka people pay great attention to education. But my father said he named me Rigeng, literally meaning 'farming every day', because he hoped for me to stay with the house."

Lin has followed his father's hope, staying with the building even when all his siblings have moved to big cities or overseas.

At home with Hakka legacy

Back in the early 1980s, Yongding was still a landlocked mountainous area where people had little connection with the outside world and its tulou attracted only a few backpackers.

At that time, Lin, like most of his neighbors, spent most of his time growing rice and tea in the mountains.

The tulou was nothing more than home, he said.

At first, he often volunteered to give visitors directions.

"The village was a poor, isolated place back then with no roadways," Lin recalled. "Visitors had no choice but to walk to our village to see the tulou, and they easily got lost."

Then he started to encounter many questions from visitors that he couldn't understand, or answer.

"My father told me that for our Hakka people, every visitor is a distinguished guest, and we should do our best to serve them," Lin said. "As owner of the house, I felt ashamed not being able to introduce my home to others."

So he started to learn, collecting facts and stories first from the elder generation in the family and the village, then from visitors who happened to be experts in history or architecture.

"My uncle is very keen on learning about this house," said Lin Shangsheng, a nephew of Lin Rigeng. "He writes down information about every description of the house when experts talk about them, and then looks them up on the Internet. The next time he receives visitors, he includes the new knowledge in his introduction."

Over the past two decades, Lin has become the most famous guide for tulou in his hometown, not only for his rich knowledge of the architecture, but his passion about the building and his job.

He starts each morning in front of the building wearing a black suit and wireless microphone. As soon as a tour bus arrives, Lin welcomes the tourists with a big smile.

"I'm the third-generation owner of the building," he says loud and clear with a strong Hakka accent. "I'm not as well educated as most of you, but I'll do my best to ensure you a good tour around my home."

Though Lin owns the building, it is shared with 70 other people from 14 households. Most of them have opened grocery stores for visitors.

Visitors on Lin's tour get to visit the family's living room on the first floor. Photos going back generations line the walls, and below each is written their educational background.

Most are graduation photos from prestigious universities. Under Lin's photo are the words "primary school graduation".

Lin looks shy whenever visitors point this out and laugh.

"I didn't have much education, but over the decades I have found tulou a profound book to read. In there are so many stories to tell and so much more still to learn," he said.

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