Finally we were in Xiamen, although 7 hours behind schedule thanks to China Eastern. We went outside and quickly found a taxi to take us into the city. Driving along Xiamen’s streets it was quite clear that the city is in the process of getting a massive makeover like every other Chinese city it seems. Crowded apartment blocks with barred windows, making them seem less like homes and more like prisons, can be seen sandwiched between sparkling new office towers and luxury condominium projects. Low down and dirty buildings jumbled with gleaming new structures gives Xiaman a bit of a chaotic look which I thought was very “Chinese”. Obviously not much planning has gone into the overhaul of the central city.
Another aspect of the cityscape that caught my eye bringing a smile to my face were the hills. Shanghai is a depressingly flat city miles from the ocean while Xiamen is nestled in a bunch of hills right on the edge of the Pacific, only about 10 kilometers away from Taiwan. Were it not for the old communist people’s jails (60’s 70’s era apartments), Xiamen might be reasonably described as a beautiful city. There are lots of green hills and beautiful ocean views, and best of all, not too many people. There’s only about 3.5 million actually, which it makes it quite small compared with behemoths like Shanghai where approximately 23 million people live. Coming from Canada, lots of nature and fewer people was a welcome change of scenery. Also the cab driver only seemed only half as demented behind the wheel as the average driver in Shanghai, which was another bonus.
We arrived at our non-descript, yet “luxury” by Chinese standards, and quickly departed for Xiamen University. My girlfriend was quite excited to go there and I was curious as to what could be so great about a Chinese university. After-all, where I live in SongJiang, the University Town is probably the most boring unhappening university community on the world! Xiamen University turned out to be quite a surprise given my previous encounters with Chinese higher education facilities. For starters, it is quite old, founded in 1921, and had a number of historic buildings like the ones shown in the photos below. It also has a lot of green space, is built at the base of hill with a tunnel connecting the Uni to the other side, and all the students dorms and shops are housed on the campus. In short, it felt like a real university with a lively community.
We walked around the university for awhile while I snapped pictures of interesting things, like laundry, millions of articles hung outside thousands of dorm rooms is quite a site in my opinion. My girlfriend laughed at me and told me Chinese wold think I was trying to snap photos of female students in their underwear, lol! We then went to the cafeteria and had some of its “famous” fare before walking through the graffiti tunnel to the other side of the hill. After that and a bit more walking, it was time to head back to the hotel.
Right next to the university there is a temple complex with various appendages located along a meandering trail up the hill. At the top, there is a entrance to the Xiamen Botanical gardens which can take you back down into the city or right into Xiamen University’s campus. So on our second day there, this is where we decided to go. It was a pleasantly mild morning with a clear sky, clearer than the best “clean air” day in Shanghai, when we arrived at the temple complex. It was positively overrun with people, but the climb looked promising, and it was. The farther we climbed the less people we saw and the more relaxing it got. On my way up I imagined that this was the reason why the monks had built their various gods’ houses higher and higher up the hill, to get away from the masses, to get peace and quiet. We arrived at the summit and took a break while I downed a few beers.
Energized by the beer, we descended to the Botanical Garden. A few weeks before I had gone to the botanical gardens in SongJiang, paid a couple hundred kuai, and was wholly disappointed. In short, it was a large flat piece if former farmland with a bunch of semi-branchless trees stuck in the ground and about 10 kinds of tulips planted in small square beds everywhere. Not a garden at all in my opinion. But Xiamen was different. There garden was real. Covering the entire side f the hill it was positively enormous. There were different areas for different kinds of trees (real ones with branches), there was a cactus desert area, a rainforest, a lake area and many others that I didn’t have the time to get to. All in all we spent about 3 hours in the park and probably only saw about half of it. By this time it was mid-afternoon and we made our way back to the hotel to pick up our bags before heading over to Gulangyu Island, the real destination of our trip.
Xiamen photos here.