Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Xiamen, China

One of the benefits of having a husband that travels regularly, is getting to tag along once in a while. I have been hearing about Xiamen for about two years now. It was time for me to stop in for a week and see it for myself.

I'm not going to sit here and recite the history of Xiamen, or any other research that can be done on Xiamen travel sites or wiki pages. However, after my weeks of research, I will tell you my real life experience vs. what little I could find. 

One thing I've found about traveling in China is that research is very difficult if you don't speak/read Chinese. I found very few things that weren't the average "top ten things to do in in Xiamen" - major temples, gardens, shopping lane, etc. Some of the information is just outright incorrect. And there are many things that the locals just don't recognize unless written in Chinese. 

Also, if you know someone in china that can transfer you money, get the wechat app. Everything there is on wechat. Almost everyone takes payment through wechat. Vendors, taxi, restaurants, its so easy if you have money in your wechat account. But it doesn't connect to a US credit card. I'm pretty sure it needs to be a China Debit card.  Or someone else in wechat can send you money. So find someone you can pay to up your account.  Your life will be easier!!

Flying Xiamen Air was an above average experience. The prices were low, direct flight service, and the plane was very empty - translating to getting my own row on the flight over there. Super Score!! I just tucked myself in, watched a movie, and slept. 

Xiamen airport is pretty small and easy to navigate. Once you get through customs, exit the building, and turn right to the lines of taxis waiting to take you on your way.

Without a real plan, we went wandering around Zhongshan Road. Here's the problem I've encountered with travel to China...Its interesting, but there is are few "awe" experiences...It's not that there aren't events worth speaking about, but there aren't so many "wow, i really need a picture of that" times. Maybe its just that there are so many similar experiences that they all kinda turn into something that feels less monumental. Sure, there are food stalls, and street vendors and strange bites...but they're everywhere, making none of them seem any more interesting than the last. Blocks and blocks of tiny stores selling the same foods and plastic wares. Once you've seen one potato or squid on a stick, you've seen a hundred. It makes any individual store/food lackluster.

After wandering those alleys, we decided to wander some alleys near the zeng cuo an area. Another area, filled with many tiny food stalls and tourists. There is some shopping, but I probably wouldn't go back to this area. Its far from other things and just doesn't have anything worth seeing that you couldn't spot someplace else.

I will have to say, having these fruit cups everywhere for 10rmb (around $1.50) is amazing!!

We finished up the night having dinner at the Conrad hotel. Here's one of those things that happens when researching things in China. I found pictures of these buildings in Xiamen, but there are no descriptions of what is in side or where they are located. Even knowing a "location" is difficult because the google maps don't really match up. Finding usable street maps is difficult, even in Chinese, but in English, almost impossible. For most of the things that I researched, I had a general understanding of where it was, but you just can't trust the map. Also, cell service and gps is "iffy" at best in China. I had downloaded offline maps to have alternative ways of finding places and myself, but I found that I was looking at multiple maps as I wandered around just to make sure I was heading in a general correct direction.

Anyway, back to the Conrad. Two new tall buildings on the south shore of Xiamen island house an expensive but lack luster restaurant. Seriously. Don't go there for the food. Have a drink and dessert in the bar area, take in the view, but don't waste your money on dinner. The tortellini was good, felt fresh and was a decent sized serving. The steak skewers were tiny!! It looked like chunks of dog food had been skewered on small 8" skewers. There were 4 skewers presented in...something. It was a glass box with some sort of mixed seasoning (?) in it. We asked but the servers didn't speak much english and couldn't tell us what it was. The highlight of the meal really was the dessert. Called a "parfait", but really, it was an ice cream in a solid chocolate dome, which they melted with a hot creamy syrup. Not really a parfait, but it tasted good. 

The next day I went out on my own to Nanputuo Temple. 

We hadn't seen any birds or really, any wildlife the day before, so it was pretty exciting to see some birds today

 I knew there was a way to get to the wanshi botantical gardens from the temple, but in my research, no one was specific as to what to actually do. Do not exit the temple grounds to get there. At the top level of the temple, on the east side (to the right) a path up the hill is formed. Be ready to walk up a mountain worth or rocky uneven, narrow steps. 

Just keep going up. Luckily I was there on a less crowded day so there weren't too many times one of us had to stop to let someone pass...and about halfway up, I was pretty glad to stop for a second to let someone pass.

thats the conrad behind me

Just keep going. There will be ledges and rest stops. Gazebos and outcroppings. Just keep going up. Eventually you will be lead to the entrance to the garden.

Pay the ticket counter 40rmb, get a map, and start making your way back down the hill through the garden

They feed a mist in the rainforest area which is pretty fun for pictures

The whole thing reminded me a lot of walking around a zoo. winding small streets surrounding areas dedicated to an exhibit. 

There is also a skyway you can take to the top if you aren't wanting to do the hike. The tickets to the skyway were near where I was exiting, and I wasn't going to pay another 30something rmb to make my way back to the top.

I wasn't really sure what else to do with myself for the day, really, I didn't know how long until Joe would be done with work, so I decided to wander back toward Zhonshan Road.

At this point I'd walked about 11 miles so I headed back to the hotel.

After that serious walk, the next day I decided to take it a bit easier and just wander the area near the Westin. I had read that there was a jazz bar and a hamburger/hot dog restaurant nearby so I was on a hunt. I had though both were south of the hotel from my readings, but I came up empty handed.

I did stumble onto some martial arts performances though.

South of the Westin, downstairs  from  cultural center is a small shopping area and RT mart.  A GIANT grocery store. There were also some little shopping stores, Adidas, KFC, and Ajisen Ramen. 

I still had a little something in me after this since, realistically, I hadn't walked far at all, so I decided to head north of the Westin. There is a McDonalds that we could see from the hotel that looked like it was in a larger complex. I thought I should check it out. This building looks like it is full of salons...and maybe it is...but they were also having some sort of tournament

and more importantly, the burger place I was looking for. Called Westwood, it was much nicer than I had thought from what I found on it.  It was also in the direct opposite location and I had previously thought. So if you are looking for the Westwood - a restaurant selling hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, etc., head north from the Westin, North of Xianyue Road, in the complex that the McDonalds is attached to.  It was dumb luck, but I found it.  They have a pretty extensive menu, but I didn't get a chance to try it.

Lucky me was sick by now, so I didn't do much of anything on Sunday but rest up. We had a pretty late night Saturday and didn't get to bed until around 3...that plus having a cold - i needed a day or rest while Joe went to work.

Time to go to Gulangyu. Its much easier to have the hotel buy your ticket for the ferry. Trying to figure this this stuff out in China is not easy. There are multiple ferries, you need your passport and you need to arrive early. It's 50 rmb for a round trip ticket. They will swipe your ticket (paper) - MAKE SURE TO KEEP YOUR TICKET. You need it for the return trip.

A few hours wandering around the island is more than enough. I didn't feel the need to pay to go to Sunlight Rock - basically a look out from the top point of the island. The skies weren't clear and it cost as much as the ferry ride over. 

We decided to head over and check out Shapowei..a developing area on the southern end of the island, very near the Conrad.

What was once a small fishing port is being transformed into a few blocks of art studios, coffee shops, small stores, restaurants, bars, a skatepark and gaming facility.

We stumbled into the large building by the skatepark - easily identified by the "shapowei art zone" sign on the side. Inside were a cluster of new bars, restaurants, stores, turkish coffee shop, and lego wall.  We decided on japanese soups to help with our colds.  

I just had udon, but joe had some ramen,  a few orders of salmon sushi, salmon sashimi, and chicken/negi skewers. All were delicious and it turned out to be about a $40 lunch for the two of us. 

There are storefronts on both the waterside and streetside. You kinda have to go through an alley or slim strange walkways to get to the waterfront side. Just do it. 

Walking around the port was pretty quiet this evening. It was really cold out, right before chinese new year, and some of the shops aren't open yet. We went into a dutch bakery and asked where are drinking bar is. The girl was so nice and walked us down the block to a door. Go through the door, and upstairs and there was a really nice bar. Ding (partner/owner/bartender) spoke good english and made really tasty drinks. They were a little pricey ($12-20 a drink) but might be a good place to start your evening if you really want to enjoy your drink. They had only opened 2 weeks prior so it was all still very new - we were the first people to use their credit card reader.

Last full day in Xiamen to go exploring. I had a taxi drop me off across from the Xiamen railway station where there is some shopping areas. Mostly large department store type place (Broadway) with standard, not so interesting stores - but there was a Mos Burger. 

There is also a building that hosts a few floors of fast food type places - basically a giant food court. On the railway side are more department store type shopping (think H&M and WalMart) with some more interesting street vendors.

Joe and James picked me up for lunch at Yanyu. Definitely a fancier Chinese dining experience. There are multiple locations throughout Xiamen (I hear the main one is the nicest). 

They offer you a box with unlabeled "potions". All are sweet, but one is bitter. We were told the bitter one means good luck, but you know its just a little joke on one person at the table. One of the favorite items we ordered (sorry, no picture) was the vinegar pork. Little chunks of pork with a very light breading. Yum! They also have delicious "pig buns" - no not pork - they are buns, that look like pigs, but have a yellow custard on the inside - it almost looks like an egg yolk bursting when you bite into it. The texture of the custard is a little strange. It has a grit that I wouldn't normally like, but the taste makes up for it. 

They headed back to work after lunch and I wandered the streets, making my way to SM (Super Mall) which is exactly what it sounds like. A giant mall with multiple floors and a lot of basic mall type shopping. I spent a few hours there before heading to the hotel. 

We went to Tutto Bene for dinner - a surprising Italian restaurant near the bar street, had some pizza, carbonara, and salad and head out to the bars. Unfortunately the cold really drives people away. It was also early for nightlife (they start around midnight) and the Chinese New Year was keeping some bars closed. We went to Revolution but it was super dead, so after a few drinks, we went on back to the hotel