01 February 2014

Xiamen, China 2014

Xiamen (pronounced "she-ah-men") is the part of mainland China right across the water from Kinmen and is a popular destination for Chinese tourists in the winter because of its warmer climate. From Kinmen/Jinmen, we headed there on a ferry, which apparently has only existed for the last few years because of the conflict between the two. I can finally say that I've seen a mainland Chinese city other than Shanghai.

KTV movies on the Ship photo 2014-01-03170621_zps2451397b.jpg
They played Chinese karaoke (KTV) movies on the ferry. It was a long short ride.

We were so fortunate that Michael's dad also had connections here. They brought us to dinner in a really fancy hotel restaurant and fed us an enormous seafood dinner for the (Chinese) gods. Unfortunately, I'm not a seafood lover (besides sushi), nor am I Chinese, nor am I a god, and I had a hard time with the food, especially since they kept noticing what I hadn't tried, and especially since I had thought I was done struggling through difficult meals for a while. The woman was especially friendly and energetic, the man was nice but seemed a bit like life has been annoying to him, and the driver (also a man) had the most interesting jaw I've ever seenit was really long and it went up in the middle.

I kept thinking about how I have a really hard time picking up people's Chinese names. Not only is it difficult for me to grasp the names because I have nothing to compare them to (I don't know anyone else with these names), but also because of the sounds I mix up in Mandarin (is it "Xiao Cai" or "Xiao Zai" or "Xiao Zhai"? And which tones are those?), and I get confused about if it's their last name or their first name and what it's appropriate to call them by. So yeah, I don't know what our hosts' names were.

After dinner, they asked us where we wanted to go the next day. I handed them a list. They looked it over and tried to figure out what each place was in Chinese, and then promised that the driver would take us to as many of the destinations as possible. It turns out that the people in Xiamen speak a dialect similar to Taiwanese (obviously they don't call it Taiwanese), so Michael and the driver exchanged a few sentences. I think they mostly spoke Mandarin, but I don't think I understood a single word the driver said to us.

While they were checking us in to the hotel, I noticed that the screen with prices in different currencies said, "Check-out time is 12:00am,Late [sic] check-out will be charged." I said to Michael, "We'd better get to sleep now if we have to check out at midnight!" Of course, we ended up wandering out to find some chocolate. We passed some interesting bakeries and coffee shops, saw stores with their inventory thrown everywhere (I will never understand that), picked up a passion fruit drink for me, and got Michael some kind of Taiwanese boba-type drink.

First stop the next morning after stuffing myself with donuts at the hotel restaurant: the Overseas Chinese [People] Museum. This place is the only museum in the world dedicated to emigrant Chinese people. It was kind of weird. Basically, it was filled with descriptions and mini-exhibits of what trips leaving China were like and what great things Chinese people ended up doing wherever they ended up. Not much was in English, and what English they had didn't always make a lot of sense.

Overseas China Museum Newlyweds photo 2014-01-041000IMG_8892_zps95033d18.jpg
These statues were on the most fabulous wooden bed. It turns out this is a portrayal of a Chinese emigrant couple on their traditional marriage bed. Michael snapped this picture because, "They look soooo uncomfortable."

Overseas China Museum photo 2014-01-041005IMG_8893_zpsd8e46d67.jpg
This tea set looked really cool to me. I wasn't really sure if it had belonged to or was designed by some emigrants or what.

Overseas China Museum Globe photo 2014-01-041015IMG_8901_zps1913c3ea.jpg
Saltlakecity made it onto the globe showing places that emigrants ended up at! Unfortunately, I couldn't find Salt Lake City.

Overseas China Museum photo 2014-01-041020IMG_8907_zpsd864fa2a.jpg
And then, somehow, weirdly, we were in a room full of stuffed dead animal displays. We think that was a separate museum.

Grounds of Overseas China Museum photo 2014-01-041030IMG_8918_zps84295295.jpg
This is what the lawn in front of the museum looked like. Apparently this is a popular kid meetup spot.

Next stop: Hulishan Fortress.

Hulishan Fortress photo 2014-01-041100IMG_8925_zps80e5ca9e.jpg

View from Hulishan Fortress photo 2014-01-041100IMG_8928_zpscd052767.jpg

Hulishan Fortress photo 2014-01-041100IMG_8929_zpsf4150003.jpg

Hulishan Fortress photo 2014-01-041117IMG_8932_zpsd937a52d.jpg

Hulishan Fortress German Krupp Cannon photo 2014-01-041120IMG_8938_zps0978fca0.jpg
This place was teeming with Chinese tourists.

I felt a little like a traitor here, since I'd just fallen in love with Kinmen the day before. Michael pointed out that the weapons here were used for conflicts before the twenty years of bombing between Kinmen and Xiamen, so that was a bit comforting, but still. 

Xiamen University is well-known for its beautiful campus.
Xiamen University photo 2014-01-041100IMG_4973_zps74df9125.jpg

Xiamen University photo 2014-01-04110148_zps966cd76a.jpg
There's a lake in the middle of campus.

Nanputuo Temple photo 2014-01-041130IMG_4997_zpse020dde6.jpg

Nanputuo Temple photo 2014-01-041145IMG_4999_zpsd480524c.jpg

Nanputuo Temple photo 2014-01-04112814_zpsd1b01975.jpg
And a temple across the street.

Around lunchtime, the driver asked us what we wanted to eat, and when Michael relayed the question to me, I thought, "There isn't really more than one answer to that. Chinese food is pretty much all the same to me. It's either rice (blah) or noodles (better) with a lot of scary meat and a lot of grease." But after we'd ordered, I realized that all I needed to say was "not a lot of meat" and "no seafood." I actually liked most of the meal, and it of course helped that no one was hounding me to eat everything.

Xiamen Lunch photo XiamenFood_zpsf887ab36.jpg
That green stuff on the upper left is good for adding flavor to any dish. I think it's kelp. Also: taro and turnip cakes, he fen (one of my favorite kinds of stir-fried Chinese noodlesthey're really wide and chewy), thin noodles with cabbage, spongy tofu, and pumpkin cakes.

Next stop: Gulangyu Island, a car-less island about five minutes away by ferry. This island has historically been inhabited by a lot of Westerners, so it looks a bit European, making it a popular spot.

Lace to Prettify the Ferry Station photo 2014-01-04133114_zps75d584b3.jpg
I was amused by these lace doily cover thingies for the fans at the ferry station. They may as well have put some teddy bears on there, too.

Our first stop was the Organ Museum, which was less a museum and more a big, historic building full of organs you can walk by. There weren't signs or pamphlets to read more about everything, and I was surprised that there wasn't even any music playing.

Organ Museum on Gulangyu Island photo 2014-01-04142236_zps2c42b028.jpg

Organ Museum on Gulangyu Island photo 2014-01-04140414_zps45755331.jpg

After about three minutes, we were ready to move on, but I asked where the bathrooms were first and was directed to the back, where there was a lovely bit of land.

Organ Museum on Gulangyu Island photo 2014-01-04141044_zpsb61293c3.jpg

Of course, I discovered that there was no toilet paper or soap there (it's got to at least be one or the other, righthave I said that before?) and decided that I could wait. I got distracted by a small path that disappeared up the hill and convinced Michael to go up there with me.

Secret Garden Behind Organ Museum on Gulangyu Island photo 2014-01-04141705_zps305442be.jpg

Secret Garden Behind Organ Museum on Gulangyu Island photo 2014-01-04141837_zpsf98cb0b7.jpg
After pushing through some bushes, we walked around a secret garden of sortseverything was overgrown and people-less, but it was nevertheless beautiful, and we discovered a great view from a little stone veranda. There were really steep, cement steps back down on the other side, so we took those and continued on our way.

Our next stop was Sunlight Rock, a high point on the island. I loved this neat garden below:

View from Sunset Rock on Gulangyu Island photo 2014-01-041450IMG_5006_zps890f58e9.jpg
The path there was really crowded, and Michael chastised me for doing what I usually do: I ignored someone saying, "Hello, hello, hello" to me. This time it was a little girl, so he felt like I should say hello back. I said, "Ni hao" and continued on my way feeling a bit annoyed. The last time I answered was in Kaohsiung, where the man stopped dead in shock, and said, "She speaks Chinese!" (Just because I said, "Ni hao," really?) He was really excited and that amused Michael's family. I just kept walking.

Anyway, at the top of Sunlight Rock on Gulangyu Island, I noticed a few Caucasians. At the end of the day, I realized I'd seen fewer than 10 other Caucasians the entire day. I guess Xiamen isn't as popular for Westerners? Or the first week of January isn't a popular time to travel? Or both?

View from Gulangyu Island's Sunset Rock photo 2014-01-041451IMG_5016_zpsed77c238.jpg
Of course, the view of Xiamen from the island out was quite smoggy.

Not Sure What They Drink on Gulangyu Island photo 2014-01-041453IMG_5021_zps23171975.jpg
We're not sure what they put in the water there.

We passed quite a few stores and a lot of little food stands that handed out what looked like an octopus tentacle on a stick. Mlerg. We also saw a couple of Christian churches, where I happily recognized that "三位一体" or "three figures one body" must mean "trinity" (by the way, if the Trinity is confusing in English, imagine trying to explain it in Chinese). Finally, we stopped and watched a soccer game for a bit.

Michael Confusing People on Gulangyu Island photo 2014-01-04152311-2_zpsd2a66fce.jpg
For some reason, Michael decided to walk down the street with his hand like this to get people to stare at him. It worked.

Jimei School Village photo 2014-01-041730IMG_5023_zps0a364f50.jpg
After the driver picked us up back on the mainland, he took us out along the shore for at least half an hour while we fell asleep, to Jimei School Village. This is what I had read about the place:
Jimei School Village was built in 1993 with funds provided by a famous philanthropist and educationalist who was a native of Xiamen named Mr. Tan Kah-kee. Occupying an area of 100,000 sq meters, Jimei School Village has universities, colleges, secondary schools, primary schools and kindergartens with 10,000 students and teachers.
That sounded pretty cool to me. I saw that we were driving past what looked like schools, but when the driver stopped and let us out, we were quite some distance from it and it appeared as if he thought we wanted to see something else, which was about to close and cost more than we wanted to pay. We wandered along the streets, bought some dragon mustache, and realized when we came back that the gate had been opened and locals were wandering in there for free. So we followed them, glanced around at some red veranda thingies, and then left, still not knowing what we were seeing.

Jimei School Village photo 2014-01-04173100_zpseb4d96b8.jpg
Then, as we walked along the shore, we saw a lot of cement stairs leading up to big, beautiful buildings that must have been part of the school. So we kind of saw it, right?

Dragon Mustache in Jimei School Village photo 2014-01-04173913_zps35ece613.jpg
We sat down on some of the stairs to eat some dragon mustache and watched dog-walking, chicken-pecking, and beach-playing.

Near Jimei School Village photo 2014-01-041745IMG_5037_zps9aa0c3ae.jpg
These temples on the way back were lit up so beautifully that they appeared to float on the water. Apparently this location is used for dragon boat racing.

Dinner with Driver and Xiao Su and Xiao Liu photo 2014-01-041910IMG_5042_zps5292db52.jpg
The driver (you can kind of see his interesting jaw in this picture) brought us to a restaurant where we again saw the woman Michael's dad knows. I always feel great when people ask me to choose what to eat, but it never fails to happen: they order about seven more dishes than I ask for. At least there were enough things I liked for me to look busy eating throughout the meal, and this was a more casual setting than the night before (though that meant smokers inside and I hate that.

Our Soup Cooked in There photo 2014-01-04191847_zpsf6d1f6d2.jpg
Apparently the soup is made in this huge pot in front of the building. I wondered how and if they ever clean it.

Off to the airport. I had dreaded leaving Taiwan for China, with its cleanliness and politeness (even from sales people), but now that I was in China, I dreaded going back to Shanghai specifically. At least in Xiamen, the streets were relatively clean and people didn't spit as much.

Cool Star Pangea photo 2014-01-04201951_zpsdc5fc08d.jpg
I thought it was clever how the countries on this ad were formed into a red star that I guess is Heineken's trademark as well as a great link to China.

Crazy Santas photo 2014-01-04203206_zps2984ace3.jpg
Santas were crawling all over the place in that airport. We saw a big pack of passion fruit (百香果/bǎixiāng guǒ) for sale, and I was sorely tempted to buy it (I love passion fruit), but we figured that if they had it in Xiamen, they'd have it in Shanghai. WRONG. Michael asked a fruit lady in Shanghai a couple of days later and she didn't even know what it was. Woe was me until we asked Michael's cousin about it and he ordered them online for me!

Dead Animal Boots photo 2014-01-042100IMG_5048_zps85f288a9.jpg
I tried not to stare, but these boots . . . I don't even know what to say.

First Class the First Time! photo 2014-01-04230347_zpsae1597d7.jpg
It turns out that we were in "first class" (my first time in first class!) which really meant we were on the front row, in seats exactly like the other rows, but the flight attendants called us by name and gave us free dinners. Good or not, it was free. Woohoo! Apparently when Michael booked the tickets, the timing was just right and the first class tickets were cheaper than the others.

Within minutes of landing in Shanghai, Michael was shoved aside by a guy who wanted to get out of the plane first. We were in seats 1A and 1B, so that seemed a little extreme, but we just sighed and said, "Welcome back to Shanghai."

So there you go. Shanghai>Tokyo>Matsumoto>Kyoto>Nara>Osaka>Hiroshima>Taipei> Kaohsiung>Kinmen>Xiamen>Shanghai.

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