Gulangyu Island, August 2017. As amazing as the Chinese city of Xiamen undoubtedly is, the real inspiration for my trip to Fujian Province was the prospect of a visit to Gulangyu Island. Reached via a fifteen-minute ferry ride from Xiamen International Passenger Terminal, I was horribly unprepared for what an almighty battle it would be to get a spot on one of the hourly boats! Actually, the behavior I encountered in the ticket office queue was one of the most distasteful experiences from all my Chinese adventures. There’s so much I could write about that crappy morning, but I shall save it for a future short story. In the end, all that mattered was that I got my ticket, fought my way onboard and, a short while later, planted both feet on Gulangyu.
Gulangyu Island, August 2017. Bypassing the assembled flock of jabbering hotel touts, I spontaneously decided to hang back for a minute or two and see where the squawking masses were heading. Once this became clear I then headed off in the opposite direction! In just a few minutes I was alone on the stone waterside path to don’t-know-where with its wooden fence, flourishing rose bushes and expansive sea views. Sometime later I came across this fisherman. At first I thought he might be a mirage, what with the morning haze and slanting spears of shape-shifting sunlight. But then he turned and unloaded a mouthful of spit on the floor and I thought Yup, he’s real alright!
Gulangyu Island, August 2017. Working my way around the island’s eastern edge, I dipped out of the path here and there to check out a number of tiny, pretty beaches. This one was the pick of the bunch, its modest platform of splintered rocks serving as the perfect photo point. Naturally there was a girl taking a million and one selfies with one of those infernal sticks. But at least she was happy to stop and take one of me, probably in the hope that it would get rid of me. How disappointed she must have been.
Gulangyu Island, August 2017. What sets Gulangyu apart from other Chinese islands is its fascinating colonial history. After China’s loss in the First Opium War, the city of Xiamen became a treaty port and Gulangyu morphed into an informal international territory. Military workers, merchants and government officials settled here from all over the word, including The Netherlands, France, America and Germany. The British also played a key role in the island’s transformation, establishing an embassy and appointing Sikh policemen to keep order. Later on, in 1902, residents were awarded extraterritorial privileges, while during The Second World War it fell under Japanese occupation. Today you can see European style churches, Victorian mansions, former consulates and grand old hotels renovated from former hospitals. Many of these buildings, like this one, have a little plaque at the entrance gate. Download the island’s audio guide app to learn a little about what you’re looking at.
Gulangyu Island, August 2017. For a quintessential Gulangyu experience, take an hour or so for a long, lazy breakfast at one of the island’s gorgeous colonial hotels. The place I stopped in at (no idea what it was called, Chinese language only) had a wide stone courtyard with a sleeping cat, scattered rocking chairs and gigantic plants. Despite the language barrier, I found the service agreeable and the coffee passable, while the breakfast itself; a curious mix of fruit, porridge, eggs, sausage, pastry and pickles, more than filled a hole.