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.
Zhongshan Road, August 2017. Even if shopping isn’t your cup of tea, a trip to Zhongshan Road is an essential part of any Xiamen itinerary. Teeming with stores, restaurants and cafes, this strictly pedestrianised road offers up a pleasing fusion of European architecture, chattering locals and determined, bug-eyed sales clerks armed with microphones. My first walk down this 1200-meter road came during a boiling hot afternoon and indeed the sun was so fierce most people clung to the covered walkways at the side of the street.
Bailuzhou Park, August 2017. A nomadic friend of mine once described China as a place with “lots of beautiful things to see, nothing to do”. On more than one level, I know exactly what he meant. When it comes to Chinese cities I know what I’m gonna get in a round about way – another stunning temple, delicious, cheap, rough and ready street food and at least a handful of meticulously sculpted parks and gardens. I’d like to think of myself as something of a Chinese park connoisseur, lord only knows I’ve seen enough of them over the years. In Xiamen alone there are ten in and around the city centre, so I had to do my research and handpick just a few for special attention.
Xiamen University, August 2017. I hadn’t even thought of visiting Xiamen University, not until a friend of mine suggested it. “It’s one of the most beautiful campuses in China!” she claimed, so off I went, full of anticipation. When I arrived at the entrance gates I was met by a long line of people snaking down Yanwu Road and immediately found myself wondering if this was really worth it. But then fate intervened in the form of a bookish medical student who offered to take me directly inside if I agreed to speak on camera about my experiences in Xiamen. So we skipped the queue, I gave the city some gushing praise and then I was released, free to roam with what felt like half of China.
Hulishan Fortress, August 2017. Hulishan Fortress is one of Xiamen’s most defining landmarks; a sprawling granite castle perched atop a rocky hill in the south of the island. Built in 1894 in the dying days of the Qing Dynasty, the fort was armed with some of the world’s most powerful cannons and went on to play a key role in China’s war of resistance against Japanese aggression.
Railroad Culture Park, August 2017. One of my favorite Xiamen experiences was this simple but ingenious nature trail in the southwest of the city. It stands as a towering testament to brilliant urban planning and creative reuse, with five kilometers of landscaped gardens set around a stretch of preserved rails. Popular with ramblers, dog walkers, joggers and people simply wanting to get from A to B, I found myself instantly charmed.
Hexiang West Road, August 2017. My five-day trip to the island city of Xiamen very nearly didn’t happen. In the days preceding my visit, Typhoon Nesat swept through southern China, causing considerable mayhem to Taiwan and mainland Fujian Province. In fact, just the day before my journey all trains to Xiamen had been cancelled! Luckily for me god wagged his finger, the clouds parted and the train schedules were brought back from the dead. Happier still, my three and a half hour train journey from Rui’an turned out to be mercifully straightforward. On arrival I found a city engulfed in rain, light winds and an eerie afternoon darkness. The streets in and around my hotel were virtually deserted, save for the carcasses of unearthed plants, broken bushes and fallen trees.