Sweet Mao, August 2017. It was mid afternoon on Gulangyu when, all of a sudden, the heavens opened and the rain came beating down. So I sprinted off through the nearest stone gate and into a colonial courtyard with brick arches, twisting trees and a statue of a red-haired, cartoon cat. Sweet Mao announced a number of playful signs; the home of sweet tea, handmade nougat and thoughtful gifts.
Lee House, August 2017. Many of Gulangyu Island’s grand old colonial buildings are now home to shops, restaurants and luxury boutiques. Whilst I have very little interest in shopping, it was still cool to duck into some of these amazing buildings and check out the courtyards and architecture. One of the coolest structures is the huge four-storey Lee House, a listed Xiamen Municipal Government Building dating back o the 1920s. Today it’s home to the Chinese retail company ‘Sincere Co’.
Haoyue Park, August 2017. You could easily spend two or three days exploring Gulangyu. But if you find yourself on limited time, map out a walking route to the island’s northwestern tip for the dramatically located Haoyue Park. The complex can be accessed via this pretty beach and is situated on, in and around Fuding Rock. A 25RM fee is required to go inside.
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.
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.