According to the guide books and local tourist map the only old part of Xiamen is Gulangyu Island. I took the ferry across and was greeted by a fleet of silly looking extended electric golf carts vying for business for the round island tour. China is full of very odd electric vehicules , mainly used by the police and tourist operators. Its hard to believe that China has over one thousand design colleges when the best they can do is these odd looking cars. The buildings are not as beautiful as the guidesbooks led me to believe. These old merchant houses, well mainly nineteenth century, were often covered in a cement rendering and were quite frankly underwhelming. All in all it was like a dull Portmerion.
But behind the modern town centre, Gulangyu Island and the beachfront restaurants with their private dining rooms, however, there was, if one looked, an interesting side to Xiamen.
Just by chance I found behind the central built up area what was actually the old part of Xiamen. As I turned the corner into a street of the old houses and shops, with the first floor extending to give cover against sun and rain to the pavement outside the shops below, there was in front me a lively street with people on bicycles, traders hanging around in front of their clothes and antique shops.
I must admit I have a fondness for conspiracy theories and this part of Xiamen was not marked on the tourist map and from what I could see not even on google earth. A real live pulsating part of town, with great food markets and crowds of young and old people.
Perhaps China didn’t want people to see what they were destroying to create these sterile homogenous cities. Most of Xiamen must have been like this only twenty five years ago.
The sea shore next to this part of town was the most animated , with a large group of mainly retired Chinese participating in a sort of outdoor karaoke. All around there were small groups who had brought with them small tables and chairs, and flasks of tea.
All this was in such contrast to the new tower blocks and empty gardens in the other part of town.
Fortuitously next to my small village by the sea there was, albeit modern, an open air theatre with for some reason a small buddhist temple attached.
So every evening before eating I would wander down and listen to Chinese Opera. I could only mange half an hour or so, as the PA system was old and with the high pitch singing it became rather painful. There was a different opera each evening and on one evening the all the cast from the opera joined a procession to the temple and gave offerings.
I really wanted to know what and why but not for the first, nor the last time, I had no idea what was told to me in Chinese. I am quite good at interpreting sign language but the more philosophical concepts elude me. Even if I had some mandarin it would have been wasted as they speak a Hokkien dialect here.
My last wander took me to NanputuoTemple. I have a penchant for temple complexes as they are invariably the only peaceful part of any Chinese city. Many temples were ransacked during the cultural revolution and after were rebuilt almost exactly.
A great location with a mountain behind and a lake in front. In the main courtyard there is a stone pagoda with small windows that people were attempting to throw stones through.
My last evening of opera before my long train journey to Shanghai.