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 25RMB fee is required to go inside.
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.