27 July 2010
What a difference a day makes; 24 little hours, 8 hours commuting on 2 D-class “bullet” trains and narrowly making the connection and it’s a different world. Gone are the expensive tourist traps, scams and foreign-hating northern Chinese and I’m welcomed and smiled at warmly by all. This is Xiamen and what contrast there is between here and my previous three destinations; by all accounts China may as well be a country of two halves – with a longitudinal line drawn straight through Shanghai dividing it: Where once the subway cost 8Y for a short journey, here it’s for the first 3K in a modern air-conditioned taxi.
It’s very reminiscent of Taiwan here – and for good reason as it’s located only a few hundred K East – though whilst not quite as friendly or modern as the electronic giant, it’s certainly a lovely place to meet up with some friends, hit the beach, Gulangyu island and spend little money. It’s not that I’m being frugal, more that every time I put my hand in my pocket I’m blocked by shaking heads speaking “meyoh” and waving hands insisting I don’t pay. Back in April and on a tour to the Flute caves just outside Guilin and I befriended Coco, who kept in touch through email and suggested I visit her hometown.
I’m glad I listened as I’m currently waiting for one of my new friends to finish her ride on the fairground; located at the end of the 15k beach strip and at 20Y a go, it’s expensive considering the average salary here is a few thousand per month. I’m stunned by their generosity; people I only met a few hours ago covering my costs and it’s so humbling I’m not quite sure how to repay their generosity, or if they’ll even let me.
Renting a taxi for the day, it’s only fair I cover the 300Y cost for hire. At almost a quarter of her salary, I’m happy to shout this one; Coco and I are headed to Nanjing County to visit the incredible Hakka buildings that are still standing over 700 years after their construction. The design is ludicrously clever for the time; a circular fortress housing scores of families with only a single point of entry, itself reinforced with steel to prevent any potential attacks from succeeding. Inside, each ground-floor kitchen features a fresh-water supply and along with the central well for general use, this supply system means each building is self-sufficient.
It’s nicknamed the pots and pans (or soup bowls), and having reached the photo-taking gate I’m a little disappointed to find it guarded by ticket clerks. Thankfully the 160Y ticket price includes entrance to take stock-shot, though sadly not a single Yuan goes to the locals; necessitating sale of random tat and tea instead. Thank you communism.
A tour around Xiamen reveals plenty on offer to keep both tourists and locals happy. The University is a recently finished educational establishment as modern as any I’ve seen; housing students in style with serene lakes, greenery and an old Temple. It’s the kind of University that makes mine seem positively mediocre and hence little wonder why so many overseas students choose to study here. Next stop is Gulangyu Island, a 8Y round-trip away and with it harbouring so many famous attractions, it’s a fight to the ferry to load up.
Much of the remainder of my time in Xiamen is spent frequenting KTV joints, which sadly offer little in the way of Western music and hence force evenings of flat-sung Chinese pop (somewhat painful), and Barbeque spots, where skewers of meat and vegetables are sprinkled with enough spices and salt to absolutely require non-polar refreshment. It’s a fantastic place and goes someway to resetting my opinion on China, though I just wish there were more places like this. Last night my taxi was paid for by three complete strangers who called English-speaking friends to help ensure the driver knew where to drop me off; these are the kind of ambassadors that China needs.