Water is very important to Jianshui, as it is to every city, town and village on earth. But here the really important story is about pure underground water. At the Zhu residence we’d seen photos and an explanation of the importance of these water wells.
Jianshui’s water is famous. The old name for the town was Huli, meaning the sea. There is no sea to be seen… but centuries ago many wells were dug to retrieve the water from underground aquifers. Even today, when tap water is available in all the houses, people still come to the wells to draw water… plastic buckets now replacing the barrels of old.
A photo in Jianshui which shows a city well in use in more recent times.
But the most interesting wells in Jianshui are the ring wells, with deep grooves left by centuries of drawing water. These are dotted all over the town and in nearby regional areas. As one sign says, in the poetic style of prose only found in China: ” Each well silently guards a corner of a house in a deep lane, staring at changes in the world without saying a word, gazing at the rises and declines of Jianshui.” The digging of these wells by the ‘ancestors’ of this town gave the people, and still give them, a constant source of pure water and an opportunity to be prosperous.
The wells are still in use. One can only imagine the stories that have been told around these wells as people met to draw water. These days, with the use of rope and plastic, there’s no sound of the clank of chains and barrels … but the water is still sweet and pure.
So pure is the water, that it has helped to make Jianshui famous for its Tofu making, although the soya beans used to make this Tofu are grown in Hubei Province, a couple of provinces away to the NE. Tofu is a type of cheese made from milk pressed from Soya beans, heated with water and a coagulant such as Nigari (Magnesium Chloride), or Food Gypsum (Calcium Sulphate), or lemon juice or vinegar. The less coagulant, the softer the tofu. Once the milk begins to coagulate, the curd is pressed through cheese cloth to remove the liquid. The result can be used in many ways as a nutritious addition to a meal, or as a snack.
Kenzo took me to meet a lady who has a small street stall where she sells cooked tofu to passers by. She remembered Kenzo from an earlier visit he’d made to this town… and he remembered her tofu as being good street food!
We, of course, stopped to taste the tofu that she was cooking on a small charcoal BBQ.
She cooked small squares of four different aged tofu over a low heat.
Part way through the cooking, she popped a lid over the tofu.
And then everything was ready for us to taste! It was an interesting experience for me, not being used to eating tofu. Some pieces were soft and fresh; others were up to four days old. The older pieces tasted a bit like blue cheese… I guess they were old enough to have grown some mould! There was a dipping sauce made from vinegar, soy sauce and, of course, some chilli.
We sat and talked for about 30 minutes and, apart from the tofu, I had a beer and Kenzo a soft drink. All up it cost ¥21 (AUD5). Great value and a great street food experience. I would never have tried this food had I not been with Kenzo. And, also thanks to Kenzo, I was able to enjoy a chat with a local… something you rarely get to do in a tour group!
The lady had two children, a girl who was six and was happy to talk to us ….
… and a boy aged eleven, who couldn’t take his eyes off the game he was playing on his Mother’s phone. A modern young lad growing up in a mediaeval town!
As we wandered on down the street we saw several more ring wells.
Kenzo took me down tiny alleyways… places I would never have explored on my own… but that’s where you find the wells that supplied endless sweet water to the houses of old Jianshui. Like the wells, the old lanes are cultural and historic symbols of centuries of the town’s history.
The largest number of rings we found was this set of four ‘mouths’ in a courtyard. Although there maybe a number of rings, there is only one shaft. Presumably the more mouths, the more people can draw water at the same time. These had obviously been much used judging by the chain/rope grooves on the sides.
As the sign back at the Zhu Gardens proclaimed: “These wells had nurtured generation after generation of Jianshui people, benefiting the life of every family and witnessing the people’s happiness and sorrows and their life realities.”
Our life reality at this point was that the day was beginning to draw to a close… it was probably time to explore a little more of the town before the sun set and night caught up with us.
All photographs copyright © DY of jtdytravels
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