Xiamen, Fujian Province – Part 1

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.

Look at the BIG map and then the LITTLE map.

Look at the BIG map and then the LITTLE map.

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.

Choose one: A) Terry has become so adept at using chopsticks, she doesn't have to pay attention or B) she is waiting for the server (who really was quite nice) to kick us out?

Choose one: A) Terry has become so adept at using chopsticks, she doesn’t have to pay attention or B) she is waiting for the server (who really was quite nice) to kick us out?

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!

Welcome to Gulang You

Welcome to Gulang Yu

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.

Mansion #1 of a many- It must have been magnificent in its day.

Mansion #1 of a many- It must have been magnificent in its day.

We were amazed that the Red Guard hadn't razed all of them.

We were amazed that the Red Guard hadn’t razed all of them.

If is Saturday, it must be laundry day. Many - but certainly not all, have been turned into apartments.

If is Saturday, it must be laundry day. Many – but certainly not all, have been turned into apartments.

Many of the buildings are literally crumbling, with Banyan trees spreading their tentacles everywhere.

The grow on walls...

They grow on walls…

...through walls...

…through walls…

...over fences and....

…over fences and….

...across lost staircases.

…across lost staircases.

It was reminiscent of Italy in many ways, with the climbing alley-ways and terra cotta roofs.

The difference between Italy and China? The Ubiquitous white pvc drainage pipes.

The difference between Italy and China? The ubiquitous white pvc drainage pipes.

These connecting staircases were all over the place. Just like...

These connecting staircases were all over the place. Just like…

...you guessed it, Italy.

…you guessed it, Italy.

(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.

Let's play a little game: Spot the tour, spot the tourist.

Let’s play a little game: Spot the tour, spot the tourist.

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.

Geoff and his new friends. They travelled 13 hours by train from Guangzhou.

Geoff and his new friends. They travelled 13 hours by train from Guangzhou. Check out the map above. Xiamen is closer to Guangzhou than it is to Shanghai. Must have been a milk run!

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.

This guy is actually going down hill - a slope of maybe 4-5 degrees - and moving!

This guy is actually going down hill – a slope of maybe 4-5 degrees – and moving! About 75 yards ahead of him he makes a u-turn and starts going up.

Notice the rope across the puller's back to make it a "little" (Ed. note: edian in Chinese!) easier to pull.

Notice the rope across the puller’s back to make it a “little” (Ed. note: edian in Chinese!) easier to pull.

Now we are going up a slope of maybe 45 degrees - okay, maybe only 5-7 degrees, but it felt like 45. Check out those taut buttocks, ladies!

Now we are going up a slope of maybe 45 degrees – okay, maybe only 5-7 degrees, but it felt like 45. Check out those taut buttocks ladies!

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!)

The Shoe

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!

The young lady wearing these was delightful.

The young lady wearing these was delightful.

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!

3 thoughts on “Xiamen, Fujian Province – Part 1

  1. wendy wilson

    My coffee this am was made entertaining from your blog from Gu Lang Yu. I Love Banyan Trees but they sure need a lot of room to grow and spread their miles of roots. Like a creeping Root Monster! (So our 4 yr old grandson would say).
    And were you testing our attention span when you mentioned the temperature was around 80C??!! You must have meant Fahrenheit. This is definitely not a criticism , merely saying that I noticed! Enjoy Xiamen and the rest of the island.

    Reply
  2. Elena

    Was everything built by hand and carried on people’s shoulders, without any means of transportation on the island? Beautiful place.

    Reply
  3. Lois Marsden

    Kind of sad to see the old buildings disappear and given time they will be engulfed. Reminded me of the mayan ruins who disappeared beneath the forest. I suppose the people will live there until roots start to show up in the kitchen! Smile.

    Reply

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