Last post: Adventure in the Yellow Moutain: Huangshan
Traveling can also be a challenge and, even though I was very happy to be nearly finishing my Chinese odissey I started to show clear signs of fatigue. The long and tiring walk in Huangshan was kept in my body memories. Foot blisters, body pains, very sleepy, etc., and still, I could not rest properly because I had to take a 15-hour train journey to reach Xiamen. I took the train in Huangshan - almost late - and once again I had a great experience interacting with Chinese common people. This time I had a guidebook about Brazil, with some pictures - Cá's gift - and that left my train fellows really excited!
Xiamen has a population of more than 3.5 million people and sits in coastal China being maybe the biggest and nearest city to Taiwan. It's also frequently ranked as one of the best big Chinese cities to live in.
I had no specific focus in Xiamen since the city have no famous touristic attraction. The option to go over there was because it was easier/cheaper to get from Huangshan to Hong Kong without taking a flight and making more use of my time in China.
Because of this context I went directly to the area that has the greatest touristic potential in Xiamen, the island of Gulangyu. It's a tiny island - around 2 km² - where just 20,000 people live but has its charm. It's one of the busiest domestic tourism spots in China.
Xiamen was one of the forced cities to open to international trade after China lost the Opium War to the British. Gulangyu at that time was assigned as an international area, and 1903 became a safe refuge for Europeans, Japaneses and wealthy Chinese. Thus, the island - even though not as much as described in Lonely Planet - recalls to an European colonial feeling given to its common architecture totally different from Chinese tradition.
How to get there
Arriving at Xiamen's train station you'll need to catch the bus to the seafront area. There are lots of buses going that way, thus it's worth to check at the time you get there. It wasn't that difficult to find people who could speak English in this city.
After you get to the pier, turn left and you'll probably find the crowds in front of the ticket counters. Get on those lines and buy your ticket (~12 RMB return) to get to Gulangyu. After a 5 min ferry tour you'll arrive in the island.
Where to stay
Unfortunately Gulangyu doesn't have too many options of accommodation for the low cost traveler. Therefore, booking in advance is the rule, especially in the high season as July. Out of the three low cost accomodation options commonly known I stayed in two. The first, Gulangyu International Youth Hostel, it's not bad but it doesn't make any effort to get better, it's in the Chinese hostels average. The second one, Bay View Inn, it's extremely clean and the staff are really attentive and nice, above average. The price was almost the same so if you have the chance to choose the take the second one. I think both can be booked at Hostelbookers.com or Hostelworld.com.
When I got there and unloaded my stuff I had some goals. First, have a shower, because I had no shower for 2 days while I had to walk, take trains, etc., so really needed that. Second, to eat, because I was starving. Third, wash my clothes because I had no clean ones to wear anymore. Fourth, find out how to get to Hong Kong, where to stay there, the flight to Singapore, the flight to Paris, Europe details and, finally, the way back to Brazil. Last but not least, I had to sleep.
However, before I went to sleep I could take a picture of Xiamen seen from Gulangyu.
However, before I went to sleep I could take a picture of Xiamen seen from Gulangyu.
|View of Xiamen at night from Gulangyu|
Statue of Koxinga
|Picture of Statue of Koxinga|
looking at the sea
The highest spot in Gulangyu and surely worth a visit. From it one can see the view of the whole island historic center and city of Xiamen in the back. It's worth saying that the place was p-a-c-k-e-d with tourists making almost impossible to walk in the rock. It costs 60 RMB to go up. I'd like tosay that, only in this place during my whole stay in China they didn't want to accept my student ID. I first paid for the full fare but after I saw that it was written in English that they accepted student ID for half-fare I called the manager and after a short period of tension she decided to give my money back and charge me just the half-fare.
|View of Gulangyu and Xiamen|
from Sunlight Rock
|Picture of the nutcracker's store|
There were many others tourist attractions but that was enough for me. Just walking through Gulangyu's alleys was making me happy I had no pacience anymore for museums and gardens, etc, etc, etc. I walked through the whole island and tasted lots of local street food. One of my findings was a delicious oyster pancake for 10 RMB - which, yeah, it gives you diarrhea but it was really good - and a bizarre ice cream made of pasta, beans and, of course, ice cream for just 20 RMB. In Gulangyu you can find many cafés which sell capuccino, fappuccino, etc., expensive and not that interesting but which seems to be the latest fashion among youngsters in China. Another curious point in times of world economic crisis was to find the ice cream places that advertise to have an authentic italiano gelatto. I really saw Italian men mixing the ice cream as an attraction to Chinese tourists. I also saw many stores selling nutcrackers. There were whole stores of nutcrackers, probably another coming up fashion in China.
Going to Yongding
For a solo traveler getting to Yongding could be an excessive adventure which I wasn't looking for in the rainy season and just some days before I would leave China. So I tried to find a travel agency that could offer the tour to Yongding. I found one that stays almost next to the place where the ferry dropps you off in Gulangyu. It costs arround 150 RMB including tickets, transportation and lunch. This place was also one of the reasons for me to put the Xiamen region in my travel plan so I was pretty excited about what I would find.
Yongding stays in the province of Fujian and has around 30,000 tulous, the original samples of what we could call as buildings or modern condominiums. These were built by the Hakka people - they used to live in the East coast of China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and they spread around the world - as a solution to protect their community from the attack of animals or other people.
The area my tour went to visit is a 3-hour drive from Xiamen, in the mountains of Fujian and we faced some rain on the way. We went to visit the Hongkeng Tulou, which is the most touristy one, so not the most authentic, but which still reserved a nice experience for me.
When we arrived there our group would follow a tour script. Since I could not understand a thing about what they were saying I ended up visiting all the place on my own. Instead of going to the tulous first I decided to have the views from the top since there were no crowds there yet.
|View from the Hongkeng Tulou complex|
The view is really impressive, there are many tulous in circle, egg and even squared forms. This is the kind of different architecture that even when you get used to watch at the first view it's hard to forget.
|Woman next to the|
The Hakka people went through a real diaspora not just around Asia but to the whole world. There are Hakka descendants scattered around US, Europe and Asia, many times occupying leadership positions. To be a Hakka it's almost like making part of a global fraternity that looks to keep their tradition and honor their ethnic group. Besides being from a different ethnic group, these people communicate through a different language, the Hakka language, which is different from Mandarim.
|Central area inside the tulou|
As impressive as looking to the tulous from the outside is when you can get a glimpse from inside. Even though the people who live inside - with the government incentive - are transforming it in something directed towards tourism there are still some people living there as they usually did, especially on those which are in bad state of conservation.
I got into a tulou which as really bad maintained and apparently not openned to visits. It was pouring hard but still I could admire the wooden made structure inside the tulou that circled the inner garden.
In of the greatest tulous there was a ceremony area making the view even more interesting. Unfortunately, as there are people still living there, tourists - especially those who could be taken as foreigners as me - can only get access to the ground level. So I could not go upstairs for a panoramic picture. However, the locals know the tourists curiosity and they sell your picture taken in the entrance. I could lower the price to 12 RMB and took this plastified and enlarged picture home. To avoid loosing it I took a picture with my camera. This surely is one of the most impressive views inside a tulou.
|My picture inside the biggest tulou|
And I reach the end of my Chinese adventure. Almost a whole month with plenty of happiness, different people, learning, challenges, stress, and unforgetable experiences. China is a millenial giant which is just getting back to its power position. Has lots of things to teach us in terms of culture, citzenship and urbanistic approaches. Besides the language barriers this is for sure a wonderful place to travel in terms of landscapes, culture and safety. I broke my prejudices about the Chinese people and I was offer help everywhere I went and from everyone in order to accomplish my plan. Thank you China for this unforgettable experience.
Now, let's go to Europe. 1 day in Paris!