Tour of my ancestral land – Part 1 – Xiamen

For a long time, I had in mind to bring my father to his father’s birthplace. It finally came to pass. My grandfather came from Fuqing, Fujian. Since then, none among my relatives have gone back to visit, so nobody has an idea what the place is like. Not sure about you, but I find it intriguing to get a glimpse of how my ancestors lived.

When I chanced upon a cheap flight (S$280) to Xiamen, without second thoughts, I went ahead to book. If one keeps procrastinating, it will never happen.

Here are some tips on organizing a free-and-easy trip in China:

Accomodation

I booked hotel rooms through Ctrip because, being a Chinese site, they seem to have more hotels available for booking. If you’re wondering, they do offer cashback on Shopback as well. Checking into the hotels was easy, and they did not require you to show a print-out of your booking confirmation.

Transport

To get to the places of interest in China, most likely you will have to engage a driver. Unfortunately, most car rental companies require you to call them, and it is probably quite hard to communicate over the phone, especially if you have a multiple day itinerary. You will have to search for those renters (most likely private individuals) who publish their email address (and they rarely check their email), or QQ, or WeChat id. Usually, they are not open to negotiation on the price, so you’ll just have to try to get a few quotations and go for the lowest. They may ask for a nominal deposit, which you can do through WeChat transfer.

Money

Now, about WeChat, i think everyone knows by now that it is now the de facto mode of payment in China. Sometimes, you may be asked to pay by WeChat only, because the merchant isn’t able or is lazy to provide you with change. So, first of all, if you don’t have a WeChat account, sign up one. It will be wise to have some credit in your WeChat wallet when you are visiting China. Unfortunately, There is no way you can top up your WeChat wallet directly. Yes, much as the Chinese pride themselves on being on the forefront of technology, the use of their technology is limited to the Chinese and within China only. You need a Chinese bank card, or Chinese identity card, or minimally a Chinese mobile phone number to be able to use the services. Nevertheless, it is very easy to top up WeChat wallet. Just Google for it and you will find many people providing this service for a fee.

Tourism

Excuse me for saying this, but this trip i have just completed confirms yet again that the Chinese in general don’t know what tourism is about. During my last trip, the driver commented that he didn’t understand what was interesting to see at those places we went. Well, this trip, it was worse. The driver zoomed past places that would have been interesting to see. He was only concerned about getting from point to point quickly, to finish his task. So here’s the tip: you have to do due research and precisely specify the places (the exact point on a map) you want to go. There are many wonderful places yet awaiting your discovery in China that have not yet been tainted by the commercialization brought about by tourism.

I’ve been to China about once a year recently, and there is always something new that impresses me during every trip. This time, it is the the effort made in keeping the environment clean and less polluted.

In the city area of Xiamen, motorcycles are totally off limits. Illegal parking is also strictly enforced. In Fuzhou, only electric motorcycles are allowed, and the effect on air quality can be felt.

Electric scooters in Fuzhou

In Fuzhou, i saw a truck spraying particles into the air, and my suspicion was confirmed, it had to do with cleaning up the environment. It served to suppress dust. It looks rather scary, actually. I didn’t snap a photo, but here’s an image from the web that shows what it looks like:

What if there were pedestrians at the sidewalk?

I saw yet another truck cleaning the streets in Fuzhou, and it looked like a novel way of doing so (image from the web):

The spray extends across the entire road on both sides, and the truck operates without affecting the usual traffic. Impressive!

Things move REALLY quickly in China. Indeed, they could catch up even in the area of their mannerism, which have often been the subject of criticisms directed towards the Chinese. If i were to borrow a line from Santa’s song – “you better watch out”, it looks like China is on-track to leaving the world behind.

There are electric car charging stations at the highway recreation stops

Generally speaking, there isn’t so much to see in Fujian, relative to some other provinces, and they have only just started on promoting tourism. The attractions most worthwhile checking out, in my opinion, are the Tulou and Wuyi Mountains, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I had time only to see the Tulou. Here’s how my trip turned out, chronologically.

The Zhongshan pedestrian street is not to be missed when in Xiamen, and i made sure i did so by staying at the very edge of the street. The “1980 Sio Bak Chang” (grilled rice dumpling) shop is just a few steps from the hotel.

1980 Sio Bak Chang
The Bak Chang was excellent. They sell a variety of other foodstuff as well, such as Ngoh Hiang (minced meat wrapped in beancurd fritters).
Zhongshan pedestrian street
Peanut soup is another famous street food here
The buildings are lit around 630pm
Xiamen specialty street food – sea worm jelly. Made from boiling worms dug up from muddy beaches. Would you be game enough to try this?

After checking reviews, we settled on 清菜家 for dinner. Restaurants are found in the side alleys but not on Zhongshan street itself. A word of caution when ordering food – the portion is huge! and they’re cheap too.

Signature braised pork (49 Yuan). Huge pot of meat.
Chicken on a pole (49 Yuan)
Bucket of Tofu (22 Yuan)

The food was pretty good, fantastic for the price, though not mind blowing good. Granted, we had street food just before, so we had less appetite for this meal, and we were totally unprepared for the portion.

Gulangyu is the must visit place in Xiamen. During peak season, you won’t even be able to step foot on the island if you didn’t pre-book your ferry ticket. We were able to get on the ferry that departed just 40 minutes after the ticket purchase. Apparently, they allow up to fifty thousand visitors per day.

Pleasant looking island. The monolithic Sunlight Rock (日光岩) is seen on the right.
One of the pianos in the collection of the piano museum, located in Shuzhuang garden (菽庄花园). Looks cute, but i doubt it is playable.
The rock facade in the garden reminds me of Quinta da Regaleira
View of Gulangyu island and Xiamen city from Sunlight Rock
East-meets-west architecture
Victorian era style buildings
Elaborately decorated villa entrance. Gulangyu does look like a pleasant place to live.
Laundry art, Chinese edition. One thing i noticed, the Chinese don’t try to hide their lingerie at all.. which is something oxymoronic to me

For dinner, i chose 堂宴, which supposedly specializes in traditional Xiamen dishes. It was a little like fine dining, and priced accordingly. The dishes were pretty good.

Sea snail cooked in wine and spices
Yellow fish Mee Suah
Duck in crispy Yam, with mango sauce
Crab with fritters
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