Here we are, 5:00pm Saturday night in Xiamen, a seaport south of us an hour and a half away by plane. After a very busy Fall and no trips to Shanghai (other than to the dentist, which doesn’t count), we are treating ourselves to a weekend away and we chose Xiamen predominantly for the semi-tropical climate and the intriguing details found in the Lonely Planet.
Our hotel is in a brilliant location, just a block off Zhongshan Lu, a pedestrian shopping street and home to all kinds of street food. Deciding instead to take a seat in a Taiwanese restaurant, hoping for a spicy repast, we had passable hot pot/hot plate meals but too much fun ordering. The waitress knew just a few words of English so if we asked her any question about the menu, she said, “You want, yes or no?” Talk about pressure. “Is this spicy?” “You want, yes or no?” Definitely not a place to linger over details.
We were thrilled to be walking around after dinner without jackets or sweaters, reminding ourselves it was November! Today, the temperature rose up near the 80s. We took plenty of time to wander the small island of Gulang Yu, a short ferry ride across the South China Sea.
Xiamen and Gulang Yu have the least number of English-speakers anywhere we have visited in China, and it really makes a difference to how you do business. In Guilin and Tibet we had guides and in Beijing and Shanghai, we ask the concierge or people on the street. We tried the concierge here last night and didn’t get very far. (Ed. note: She kept saying “It is okay for you to go by yourself.” When we said, “Where do we get the ferry?” her response “Ferry?”) She did say that there was a tourist office on the 2nd floor, so up we went and began asking questions. “Wait a moment” (a standard phrase in China). In a few minutes, (Ed. note: Wait for it…) the concierge arrived from downstairs!
Gulang Yu is now a tourist attraction but over a century ago, it was the home of foreigners and their accompanying consulates made wealthy on Chinese trade . Sadly, all the amazing French colonial villas and mansions fell into disrepair following the reign of Mao and no one now can really afford their upkeep. Here are some of the highlights.
Many of the buildings are literally crumbling, with Banyan trees spreading their tentacles everywhere.
It was reminiscent of Italy in many ways, with the climbing alley-ways and terra cotta roofs.
(Ed. note: Okay, enough of the gratuitous China/Italy comparisons. Move on, already.)
There are some specific sites and we planned on seeing all of them, but it was so easy and fun to wander aimlessly that we missed a few. There are no cars on the island, so it’s either walk or take guided tours in elongated golf carts.
Next, how Geoff amuses himself while Terry views the sites. Strangers throughout the land have pictures of him in albums (Ed. note: MANY lands! Twice yesterday a “subject” didn’t even know until after the picture was taken. I am the new Kesler.) Fortunately, Chinese tourists enjoy these shenanigans.
Because there are no cars or trucks on the island, everything must be carted in or carried by hand. I was busy taking pictures and had lost site of Geoff when I heard “Hai! Hai!” behind me and turned to see these guys coming down the hill, yelling at everyone to get out of their way.
When I got to the bottom, they had pulled around the corner and over to the side and were preparing to start the next leg of their journey–uphill. Tough, tough work! I spotted Geoff just as he decided to give the guy a hand. One of these days, I am going to have to get him out of a rice paddy or off an island to health care! His heart was pumping pretty well at the top but he made it, and he was copiously thanked for his help. (Ed. note: both by the workers and the passers-by! I CANNOT imagine doing this all day, everyday!)
There were many possibilities to show you today. In the next blog, we will describe the “trip to the top”. However, you will have noticed that the roadwork is all brick – old and new and there are a lot of hills and stairs. And, it was 80 C!
We noticed her fairly early on and subsequently chatted with her and her friends. On the way down, she was sitting with them and I asked if I could take a photo of her shoes. “Very beautiful shoes” She said “Yes very beautiful but it is hard for me, but I try”. As I said, delightful!
Upcoming – Staircase to Heaven, Wedding Mania and We Paid for This!