The Yaodong of Bai She Village
Planing my trip to Xi’an I was looking for interesting day trips and during my research, I saw that besides the terracotta soldiers there was something else buried nearby, houses that provided dwellings to some of the rural populace.
When I told the young tour guide that I wanted to sleep in a cave you could sense the surprise in her response. I told her that there were several “cave villages” near Xi’an and went on to explain that there were around 30 million Chinese who called caves their home.
She had read about how Chairman Mao on the Long March had slept in a cave but didn’t realize that many stilled did so in modern China. I asked her to look for the appropriate accommodations and warned her that I was not interested in a modern adaptation that I had seen listed on AirBnB but rather one that was still being used as a home.
After much searching about, she found an apple farmer whose parents lived in a cave and would be willing to share their home. The cave house was of the “sunken courtyard” variety (known as “di keng yuan” in Mandarin).
A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.Lao Tzu
We met our guide and driver and drove into the countryside where we met the farmer at his storage facility in town. There they were getting apples ready for shipment and offered us a bag to take. There were several workers there wrapping the apples individually and placing the small boxes in the back of a pick-up truck. After things were progressing nicely the farmer told us to follow him to his parent's house.
When we arrived at the villages with the cave houses there were a number of them dug into the ground, some which have gone into disrepair. Above ground, there was the outhouse, animal pens and a couple of storage buildings. We entered the house by walking down a ramp, the rooms with semi-circular roofs faced a central courtyard. The entire house was underground with only the courtyard exposed.
We were warmly met by our host family and shown to our room, furnished in pre-cultural revolution décor with a picture of Mao prominently displayed. The bed was brick and had a door where you could put burn wood in the winter. Essentially we were sleeping over a brick oven but the bed was surprisingly comfortable.
We were served a simple but tasty meal cooked on a wood-burning stove, the kitchen in a separate room. We spent a quiet evening and went to bed early. Sleeping quite soundly in the warm evening.
The next day we had a lovely walk around the surrounding area talking to some locals playing cards, in the neighboring town and a farmer tending to his apple trees. Each apple was encased in its own little paper bag to protect it from birds and insects, a form of organic farming.