Friday, February 12, 2010

Let’s go to Xiamen…wait, what’s there to do in Xiamen?!?

2/5 – 2/10, by Jason

So we finally boarded the bus in Hong Kong a little before 7pm, about a half hour late, which wasn’t bad except for the fact that we arrived an hour before departure, so we were a little cold! :)  Our bus was very nice and empty, a luxury that quickly changed when he made one more stop and what seemed like the entire nation of China boarded with more luggage than you can squeeze onto a 747! We arrived at the Hong Kong immigration station to exit China’s finest SAR (Special Administrative Region) and got to observe the Chinese custom or tendency towards RUSHING to do everything and pushing their way to do it also. It’s weird the first time you experience it, almost like a nation that used to push and shove and now does it in a slightly more gentle way because they do it in a line. We easily exited Hong Kong and re-boarded the bus to drive a little further to enter China. So after all the hassle of of getting a Chinese visa, the high price, being turned down in the USA, etc I had figured that crossing in would be difficult (don’t ask me how, I just had it in my head :) Well, the entry card was simple (the most simple of any country yet, they didn’t even ask when we’ve leaving!) and a quick glance at the visa in my passport and we were through. Well done China! We then all made a mad dash again to our bus which then took us to a bus station where we transferred to a sleeper bus. The nice part about sleeping buses here in China is that the roads are well paved and highways are multi-lane, so the ride is much smoother. We were told we’d arrive at 7am and our ticket listed a station in Xiamen (which I’d previously located on the map, so I thought I knew where we were going.) Well the bus attendant woke us at 5am, approximately 30 seconds before they pulled over on the side of the highway and let us out (along with 2 other Chinese people.) Conveniently there was a van there waiting for us to take us into town, although the attendant conveniently forgot to tell us that the driver, who didn’t speak English, wanted 100RMB to drive us into town. Since it was 5am and were still asleep we just got into the van…oops, oh well! The fun doesn’t stop there since neither of us had any Chinese yuan (RMB, same same.) So we got the driver to stop at an ATM and Swiss couldn’t get any cash. I tried my card, same miserable result. We both tried another 2 ATMs with no luck and ended up having to put it on our tab at our hostel. What a great start to China! :) Luckily Michelle at the hostel was very nice, paid the driver and put it on our bill. We both immediately called our banks and Skype and they said they had no record of any attempts to get cash and apparently the overseas links for these banks (at there “24 ATM” no less) were down at 5am. When we went back at 8am we were both able to withdraw cash no problem. So, in my opinion, I would not recommend booking a bus through China Travel Service (CTS Hong Kong.) While we probably should’ve been a little more firm with the bus attendant before getting off the bus, for the price we paid we also should’ve had much better service. Caveat emptor!

We were both fairly tired but tried to stay awake. We couldn’t actually check in until noon so we just did some catching up on the web and tried peanut soup in a can. Let me just say that in my humble opinion peanuts are best served dry and crunchy, not soft and mushy!

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We checked into our room and got ready for the day and did a little wandering around town in the afternoon. It quickly became apparent that finding food here in China would be a little more challenging than Hong Kong or Southeast Asia. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s an abundance of food available for sale, but finding a place with a picture menu, English menu or an English speaking staff person is certainly more challenging. We found, actually, a Japanese place with a picture menu and had some simple ramen soup for lunch, which was quite tasty given the cool temperatures. A little more walking around and we bought a Chinese mobile SIM card so that we could make broken english phone calls for the next month :) The evening was pretty quiet and I spent some time getting to know some of the people staying at our hostel.

Saturday was a rainy day and not much of anything happened. We stayed in and I got to know 2 Korean guys staying at our hostel. They’re young, 24, and bicycling around Asia and the world (one of them is only traveling for 8 months, though to India, the other wants to afterwards continue on to Europe, Africa, South America and then North America…a 2-3 year journey) I wish them both the best of luck in that journey! I’ve added a link to their blog on the right (in Korean, though.) Swiss spent some time creating his own Chinese food dictionary (quite creative if I do say, and I’m sure our Chinese speaking friends will enjoy this! :)

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And I played this game that roughly translates to 5 in a row…

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Given the bad weather that was about the extent of activities worth mentioning.

Sunday also happened to be Super Bowl Sunday and I felt the need to do something very American!! :) So I started wandering around town, down through the pedestrian shopping area (the street is closed off to car traffic…and I sampled a random meat sandwich there),

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up along the water, lost through a few back alleys and a food market and eventually out to the train station, where they have…tada!! a Walmart!! It doesn’t get more American than that on Super Bowl Sunday!!

P2071947_1And yes, that is a Pizza Hut sign below. The place is a maze that is, rightfully so, catered towards a Chinese market (although surprisingly few imported options) I also went on Sunday (the Sunday before Lunar New Year, no less) so it was packed! An hour later, fighting off Chinese people trying to cut in line around me at the checkout line (I stood my ground and won!) and I was out the door with some milk tea, some Kraft crackers and some Oreo’s, a random selection of food but at least the Oreo’s seemed like a good American choice to enjoy on super bowl Sunday :) I finally made it back home after 5 hours of wandering around Xiamen and it was a good journey. I joined some people from the hostel to go to a place around the corner for lo baozi (meat filled steamed buns) that were delicious!! At only 0.5 RMB each, or about 7 cents, I would be back to have a few more from this place!

Monday we decided that we would wander around Xiamen together to the University area and the beach since the rain had finally stopped! Of course, none of this would happen until the Super Bowl was over. It started at 7am Monday morning here and was broadcast live on CCTV 5, a state controlled sports station. Our hostel didn’t have it on their cable box so Swiss watched it streaming over the internet on one of the computers at the hostel. I popped in a few times to catch a play or two and to get score updates, but it was quite humorous to see the game being shown with Chinese characters all over the screen and Chinese commentators. (Of course, no US commercials were on here :( Afterwards we headed out for our walk around town. The Xiamen University is actually quite nice…it reminded me a little of Stanford’s campus meets Chinese style architecture.

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The beach was also quite nice and I think Xiamen would be a great summer destination, although in February it was a bit chilly!

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Right on the beach is the Hulishan Fortress, one of several fortresses in the area used to protect Xiamen from foreign invaders (especially the Japanese during WWII) Hulishan happens to be popular because it houses the largest (28cm diameter) preserved cannon in China. The site itself is quite nice and it’s a cool fortress to walk through.

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Monday night was also a bit quiet. We hung out at the hostel and called it a relatively early evening.

Tuesday we decided to finally visit Gulangyu Island, probably one of the most famous reasons to visit Xiamen. It’s a small carless island just off the coast of Xiamen (itself actually a rather large island.) The ferry ride over is free and only takes about 5-10 minutes. We spent the day wandering around the island with Espoo and other friends from the hostel. We sampled local foods, watched as Chinese bought bags of dried pork (literally duffle bags of this stuff!), took a nap in the park, possibly enjoyed a DQ Blizzard and in the evening enjoyed a nice piano concert with new friends we’d made at the local hostel on the island. While the island has become quite commercial (no shortage of banks, McDonald’s, KFC, Dairy Queen, etc) it’s also charming with many small local shops and the car free atmosphere is also a nice change from city life in China. Enjoy a few highlights of the day:

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Probably the most interesting part of the evening occurred about 5 minutes before the start of the piano concert. We’re sitting there waiting for things to start when a random Chinese woman (or at least she appeared ethnically Chinese) sat down behind me, thanked me for coming to the concert then begin to tell me (all of this is in English, mind you) that her neighbor is trying to kill her and that when she calls the police that they won’t help her either (later the story became that the police were also out to kill her.) When our friends responded to her in Chinese she would only respond in English and she kept smiling and asking for my help. We quickly determined that she was a bit mentally unstable and honestly as a foreigner that does not speak much Chinese (I’ve picked up a few words and phrases but that’s it!) I am not the best equipped to help her either. Not that this doesn’t happen back home either, it goes to show that people are the same all over the world (and suffer the same afflictions too.) Although the near perfect English at her age was an interesting touch, I’m still perplexed by that (it’s almost as if she’d lived outside of China.)

The rest of the evening we showed our new friends from a hostel on the island where our hostel in the city was located and they came over to visit. Swiss and Espoo enjoyed some Johnny Walker and Coke and around 11pm everyone was hungry (we hadn’t really eaten a proper dinner) and we succumbed to western urges and had McDonald’s, oops!

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Wednesday was a bit of a lazy day as it was also a travel day. We spent the morning getting caught up with the website, our flickr photo albums and e-mails. Around 1.30pm we boarded what we thought was the correct bus to the airport (and it actually was) but at one point (after pointing to the word for “airport” written in Chinese) we were told (or so we thought) that this wasn’t the right bus and to follow this woman. Well, she decided to get off the airport but before getting off she transferred us to the care of a Chinese woman (ironically a grade school English teacher) who was headed to the airport herself (returning home after a vacation to Xiamen with 3 of her coworkers.) We arrived with plenty of time to spare and successfully boarded our Spring Airlines flight to Shanghai…the next stop on our China tour and our home for Lunar New Year!

1 comments:

Alvin said...

Did you really expect to write "meat filled steamed buns" and not have me crack a joke?

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