Years ago, I was welcomed into a world I knew so little about, a world I had only heard stories about. Yet, with my bags packed, I landed in a city which was not usually mentioned whilst talking about the grandeur of China. That city was Fuzhou. Little did i know that, FUZHOU, the land of fortune would bless me with countless memories, lead me to uncover a lesser known facet of Chinese culture.
I was always told that China boasted of a heritage as vast as the skies, as deep as the oceans. At first, I could not relate my new home to any of the stories I heard about. Fuzhou was so different from the china of my dreams. It was said to be an ancient city but yet, all my searching eyes could witness was construction, noise, dust and pollution. To some extent, I could say i was let down.
However, a random encounter with a Fuzhou local made me change my perception. FUZHOU, i was told, was a blessed land and that for those who are true to themselves will find whatever their heart’s content be. Fuzhou was believed to be a blessed which had the power to calm the chaos of its visitor and turn it into their greatest strength.
My friend’s words awakened a deeply buried passion in me: Legends. And thus, began my journey of emancipation in the blessed land of Fuzhou.
My first quest was to master the language of my new home. Chinese is known as one of the world’s most difficult languages and I wanted to make sure that in my endeavor to unearth the deeply hidden history of Fuzhou, Chinese language would serve me as a vital key. In my attempt to master the language, I stumbled many times but I chose not to give up… With renewed passion, I began learning the characters and even the local way of speaking. This definitely helped me to adapt to Fuzhou better.
In my attempt to understand Mandarin better, I began digging into history books about Fuzhou. Thus, I realized that while present day Fuzhou is the home to roughly around 7 million people, Fuzhou is actually the root of many important cultural pillars of the Chinese Heritage. Through my journey in mastering the Putong Hua, It only dawned to me that while I was trying to use this tool as a key to unravel treasures, I had ended up mastering a 3000 year old language, which is one of the colossal pillars of the Chinese Heritage.
As I progressed with the language, I set out to discover my little city on my own. I didn’t want to form my opinion based on what other people would say, I wanted to live the whole experience by myself. A random stroll of mine to Fuzhou’s celebrated Three Lanes and Seven Alleys (三坊七巷- sān fāng qī xiàng) led me to stumble upon a piece of Fuzhou’s history which fascinated me. I walked through the ancient lanes of the Qing dynasty residential complexes; I came face to face to the life size statue of one of the man believed to have triggered the First Opium War, Lin Zexu. Lin Zexu,might be just a random Chinese name for many who hear his name for the first time. But this celebrated personality, born in Fuzhou, might be known as a National Hero for his contributions to this great nation. The day he confiscated chests full of opium, June 3rd, is celebrated as the Anti- smoking Day in China. Lin Zexu is regarded as a warrior of modern China. His statue stands in the middle of New York city and a wax statue of his in Madame Tussauds. I look up to Lin Zexu as my personal hero because he aspires young people like me to develop the virtues of integrity, honesty, selflessness and undying courage and love for the country… I could not believe I was actually wandering through the same streets that were once the home of a hero.
My discovery about Lin Zexu brought in a new sense of determination in me and my next outing led me to yet another mind-blowing discovery. By now, I had realized that Fuzhou was indeed a treasure trove for those who are ready to detach from the noisy hustle and bustle of routine life. This time, I was welcomed by the panoramic location of the Qi Mountain. The serene atmosphere is a welcome change for anyone who wanders around looking for inner peace. By the foot of the Qi Mountain stood a picturesque temple called the QI SHAN WAN FO SHI, in other words, the ten thousand Buddha temple monastery. Acres of land bestowed with peace and guarded by the titanic Buddha statues. Even though I come from a multi-cultural heritage, I had never witnessed such grandeur and splendor. The mere sight of those monumental Buddha figures nested along the Qi Mountain would quiet the chaos of any desperate soul. The monks of the Qi Shan Wan Fo Shi believe any genuine wish made in within its precinct will never go unfulfilled….
My enlightenment about Fuzhou was not complete until I learnt about the traditional Min Opera, which even though was an ancient art form, was still practiced throughout Fuzhou and was enjoyed by the locals and foreigners alike. It was then that I realised, the city I was in, had its roots deep into History and as years passed by, the people of Fuzhou took forward their cultural heritage and venerated it. Many ancient practices tend to get “forgotten” as modernisation take over but this was not the case in Fuzhou. The local people, proud of their native art form, worked together to make sure that their younger generation understand and celebrate their roots. The Min opera is orchestrated by many troups to depict important facets of Chinese cultures. It was indeed a pleasure seeing youngsters put together their efforts to enact the Min opera at school programs and cultural events.
No culture is complete without a touch of the traditional cuisine. When i first landed in China, I was very much apprehensive about Chinese cuisine but as I started getting used to Chinese cuisine, I was curious to taste the traditional Fuzhou cuisine which was part of one of the Eight cuisines of China. Hailing from Mauritius, I was used to having spicy food but the blend of sweet and sour in the savory sauces were a welcome change to my taste buds. While spending time with my native Fuzhou Friends, I understood that cooking was an art that was used to not only satisfy their hunger of people but to promote virtues of sharing, love, affection, solidarity and toleration. One of the notable dishes of Fuzhou city would the world famous “Buddha jumps over the wall” (佛跳墙; fó tiào qiáng) which incorporatesabout 30 diverse ingredients and 12 condiments such as quail eggs, bamboo shoots, scallops, sea cucumber, abalone, shark fin, fish maw, chicken, Jinhua ham, pork tendon, ginseng, mushrooms and taro.
Eventhough I traveled to many other cities in China, Fuzhou will always be my home and occupy a special place in my heart. I see this city as the perfect example where modernization and the ancient roots cohabitate in perfect harmony. There is an intricate balance in the development and the attempt to preserve ancient cultures and practices. True to my friend’s golden words, Fuzhou indeed provided answers to those who came with a genuine heart.
I call Fuzhou the Factory of My dreams because just as the city is going through different phases, I also grew up along with this city. I came to this land, as a young girl carrying many dreams but with little exposure to the real world. This blessed land taught me not just to dream but to dream as high as the skies and as big as the universe itself. This home of mine taught me to never be burdened by the weight of my dreams but rather to use them as my wings to soar high above all. Now, almost eight years after, as I thread onto the path my dreams led me to. Above everything else, Fuzhou taught me the importance of love, the power that Love entails and bestows upon those who sincerely believe in it…
This new larger than life journey had me stumbling, falling, hesitating, questioning but following this journey I can proudly say that I carry along with me all the teachings that this city imparted me with. And with this, I lift my head high up and smile because what my second home has taught me is priceless, timeless and magical. I went there as a small girl but I have been transformed into a determined adult, who dreams of spreading the word about all the fascinating treasures I collected from the factory of my dreams; Fuzhou.
Thank you Fuzhou for being the factory of my dreams.