Sarah had the advantage of being, ethnically, just as much a 广东人 as any of the millions of people around us when we traveled through Southern China. I didn’t. I’m a big, white, “high”-nosed, “yellow”-haired foreigner. As such, when we get off a train or bus, I am immediately identifiable as a tourist and thus an easy target for the 500 taxi drivers hanging out at the station. So after fighting through waves of taxi drivers trying to get us into their cabs, along with people who get commissions if they convince someone to go to their hotel, we made it to the Xiamen Plaza Hotel, which was ridiculously nice and had free Chinese breakfast (the last of the Congee breakfasts, sadly). We got in late and had dinner at the “Southeast Asian”themed restaurant. (not great compared to the real thing in KL!) The next morning we walked downtown and took a ferry to Gulang Yu, an island just off Xiamen (which is itself an island). It’s an amazing place for the following reasons:
1. There are no cars anywhere on the island. It’s tiny, and the streets are narrow, so the only vehicles are some bikes and a little electric tourist car. The atmosphere is serene and peaceful, and in fact, there’s piped-in piano music playing almost everywhere. Why? Glad you asked…
2. …Gulang Yu is the Chinese capital of classical piano music. Who knew? We stumbled onto the amazing piano museum, which houses over 100 antique pianos from all over the world. This little island is also home to a prestigious music academy for children, a piano competition, and piano concert hall. (Check it out here.)
3. The architecture is fascinating — they’ve preserved many old colonial buildings from the early 20th century, when the Germans set up shop there. We saw what I think is China’s oldest Catholic church, and a number of other beautiful old buildings.
4. We got some durian for the first time since moving to China. If you don’t know what durian is, I feel sorry for you.
5. There’s a real live beach, with great views, on about half of the island’s coast. (This is one of about 4 photo shoots — three for wedding photos — that were taking place that day. More about photo shoots in the coming weeks…)
We had dinner in an oceanfront hotel in Xiamen with a great view of Gulang Yu and the sunset. The waitress explained that we could get “snacks”or dinner. We opted for dinner, but it turns out “snacks” meant dim sum. So we ate a (decent) regular meal, noticing halfway through, with some covetousness, that everyone else was eating delicious-looking 点心.
We wandered the streets and ate ice cream, and then it was time to head back to the hotel. Next morning we flew from the Xiamen airport back to Hangzhou — a 2-hour flight, not a 22-hour train ride as we’d once planned — and caught a bus to Shaoxing. And that was it! Just like that our monthlong trip was over. Back to the grind and the freezing weather…