There is no direct train route from Guilin to Xiamen, and the journey would have been another twenty hour trip, so I had decided to take the plane.
Guilin airport is busy with flights to Hong Kong & Macao as well as the rest of China.
I am still addicted to window seats in a plane, it is like a poor mans astronaut trip when you can look down on the earth and wonder where we came from and how we got to this point. Down below mountains had been carved apart, ground up and turned into more of the ubiquitous tower blocks. Well I could see where we were going !
Xiamen is a busy airport serving not only the old town /island which previously was called Amoy, but the sprawling Freeport business district. One of the first designated Freeport zones under Deng. the area has had amazing investment in infrastructure with new airport and train stations along the high speed coastal line.
Xiamen is apparently China’s second most pleasant city and was voted China’s most romantic city. Although attractive and more cosmopolitan than other cities in China I don’t think Paris has to worry.
As Amoy it had the distinction of being one of Marco Polo’s destinations and the port that sent the tea to Boston for that party.
This popularity was perhaps why there was a chinese long queue for taxis.
It was an hours taxi ride to my hotel south of the Si Ming district. The taxi driver left me on the main sea road outside the seaside village gesticulating that he had no idea where the hotel was and he had better things to do. It is a warren of little streets of an old fishing village on the southern shore of the Island. After having wandered around for twenty minutes I found someone who knew the hotel. I think I booked it for its name, The Violet Cloudland Hotel. It was a very attractive sort of boutique courtyard hotel.
If the other big cities had few English speakers this place had none. I had gone out hungry and found lots of fish restaurants. I sat down at a table at one overlooking the sea, and a girl came up waving her arms and pointing inside. I went inside and saw tanks full of fish.
I left not quite understanding how this worked. The next restaurant had a guy cooking fish on a stick over coals, I pointed to the fish with a thumbs up and then pointed to me. No again. Then one of the girls gave me a plastic basket and led me to a fridge and it clicked, I was to put what I wanted into the basket and then give it to the chef to cook for me.
It was the best meal I had in China and returned everynight for my weeks stay in Xiamen. The large fresh anchovy like fish on a stick was supplemented with barbecued squid, scallops and oysters and they were cooked with chilli oil and a smattering of chopped up chilis and spring onions.
Next day I took the bus into the modern city centre , one yuan (10p) for any bus trip. It was a well laid out modern city with a overhead central road carrying only buses.
It was a rather soulless place and I couldn’t understand why Paul Theroux had described it as pretty and happy place, but I suppose that had been twenty five years before and the last twenty years had been the era of out with the old, bring in the new depressingly dull western style tower blocks, perhaps with a pagoda stuck on the top.
As it was a warm sunny day I took the one yuan bus back to the southern beaches.
Xiamen was a holiday destination for young Chinese lovers and it transpired it was also a wedding destination.
The beaches were packed with couples having their wedding photos taken. And what a sight. Many of the photos were themed, traditional, matelots, clowns etc.
On the walk back to my little village by the sea I came across a tall rather well fed African. He was so out of place I automatically greeted him in English. He was an Ethiopian in his sixth year at Xiamen university studying for a doctorate in economics. Everything was paid for by the Chinese state. I had recently seen a documentary where Chinese companies had set up shoe and clothing factories in Ethiopia manufacturing for the European market. The average pay was forty euros a month. Chinese labour was getting too expensive!