By Matt Cutugno
Lin Hai, Zhejiang Province, China
Matt Cutugno on the Lin Hai Southern Wall
It was the poet Robert Frost who famously noted in Mending Wall that, "Good fences make good neighbors." Perhaps that's a cynical notion, but judging from the amount of walls and fences in this world, many of us would agree. And it's not just modern, neurotic man who believes in keeping strangers out.
These thoughts ran through my mind as I hiked along the so-called Southern Wall of China in Lin Hai, Zhejiang Province. It is the Middle Kingdom's "other wall" and certainly less known than its famed Great One, but impressive nonetheless. It is set in a lovely spot, rural and secluded. The wall runs and winds through tree-filled country and its elevation commands a fine view of the east lake of the town.
Construction began in the long-ago Jin Dynasty and the structure was initially intended to stem the floodwaters of meandering Lin Jiang―the Lin River. But too, throughout its history, it protected the city from invaders. I noted testimony of that when, as I walked along a section, I stopped at an old cannon that had been captured from the Dutch during a military engagement.
Later in my exploration, my companion and I came across a woman working among the stones. We noticed she was picking out plants that were growing in the cracks of stones. At first I thought she was gathering food (a common sight in the countryside). She told us she was tuán dīng, a member of a volunteer group keeping the great wall weed-free.
Old Town Street - Lin Hai
We then headed down a great flight of stone steps toward the well-preserved old town of Lin Hai, with edifices dating back hundreds of years. The neighborhood is constructed in the common hú tòng layout of alleys and courtyards, where people live in close proximity to each other. Children play in narrow lanes, under the watchful eye of grandparents, while their mothers cook in kitchens facing the street. There are machine shops along the road, with open garages full of mechanisms being worked on by bare-chested men, most of whom smoke cigarettes as they toil.
As we strolled the old town, we passed a woman and her son. She was preparing shŭ jiăozi, potato dumplings. The batch was not ready, but when she saw me, a foreigner, she hurried to accommodate her new "guest." Her son stared at me, then laughed at my poor Mandarin, as I thanked them for the hospitality and delicious food.
Later, we found a restaurant further into the neighborhood. It was a busy, appealing place with a great menu. A group at a table next to us ordered a dish we didn't recognize―deep-fried bread with red bean inside. My companion asked about it and they were only too happy to pass the serving dish to our table to share.
My favorite line in Robert Frost's poem is the first: "SOMETHING there is that doesn't love a wall,…" In the case of the Lin Hai Southern Wall, I must disagree.
Preparing Potato Dumplings
Town of Lin Hai
Volunteer Weed Picker