Xiamen and Gulang Yu: islands and gardens, fish and tourists


Seeing is believing. This was my first visit to a Walmart store ever and I really wanted go back and just video it but time did not permit. There were 62 checkouts for a start.

Take the standard dried rice as used by the Chinese in every dish, slightly sticky.

You can choose to buy it in all the packages that you would use at home, and then you can buy it in bulk in the type of bags that you find in Lidl by several kilos at the time, and you can also buy it loose from a large pile on a display and scooped into a bag. Similarly with dried fish.

Xiamen likes dried fish a lot and so there were several aisles full of dries fish that was loose and you scooped into a bag, also there was ready packaged fish in the more normal western supermarket way; there was also the fresh fish counter on ice; and then there were fish still swimming in tanks. Buying your fish live was very normal here and we saw lots of differing fish and crustaceans of many unknown types in bowls outside shops and stalls where the water was bubbling through to the animals and they wriggled and swam if room.

The supermarket had also lots of clothing made of very cheap material indeed and rather nasty looking stuff at that , much better clothing was available in the stalls and in the shops than was for sale here, and at better prices. The designs were also very tacky. But they sold a huge variety of items and many of them in bulk so it was interesting going around just to see what they had managed to get hold of. That said, my husband looked at the men’s shoes in Walmart as when we were in India he had managed to obtain some good quality and cheap shoes. But here, even in Walmart the shoes were £70 so he refused to buy them.

Our delightful boat companions

Our delightful boat companions

If it’s Thursday we said it must be Xiamen. Xiamen is actually an island with islands off it. But the university we were going to visit was not in the main island but at Zhangzhou. Looking at the maps we had available we could never quite work out whether it was on an island or the mainland. Either way we had to go by boat to it. (Once home I realised it was actually on the mainland but as Xiamen is an island we still needed a boat).

We stayed at the Sheraton in Xiamen. Another monster hotel but mostly completed.

They have interesting bathroom arrangements in Chinese hotels often it seems as we came across examples of most of them. The bathrooms are very modern with open shower stalls  – wet rooms – and connecting straight to the toilet and basins. The glass is see-through into the main bedroom so there is zero privacy! They must have had complaints about this which means that they have had to retro fit curtains or pull down shades that don’t quite fit… clearly someone has sold this idea to all the hotels as a single item to be built in easily with just glass and tiles and wet rooms. All the shelves and the basin in this Sheraton hotel were in the wet area so you had to wait for the floor to dry before you can access the wash basin again… and it was interesting trying to work out where to put a towel to keep it dry whilst you showered…

Example of a hotel bathroom

Example of a hotel bathroom


Is an island off Xiamen and basically a tourist island now. Chinese tourism for the Chinese. Dried fish, live fish, pearls and microphones. Bright Chinese paintings and street hawkers.. crowds pushing and eating.

The place to go was the Sunlight Rock … there were significantly more steps than shown on maps so I didn’t climb it but for the locals they must as it is the most important monument location as the place where freedom fighters held out.

As well as the dried fish, milk tea is very popular, with options of hazelnut or caramel flavouring – I’m afraid we refused to try this after realising just how sweet it was from our Chinese colleague. At our lunch stop we were surprised to find that all the desserts were sold out except for the muffins. But when the muffins arrived they turned out to be waffles. The translation on menus is not always quite accurate and the waitress insisted they were muffins. Note also that Nestle sells the locals coffee with milk already included, so bring some instant if you want cheap coffee in your room as the hotels here will supply just the Nestle version. Almost all Chinese hotels supply a kettle and a few will supply a coffee maker. The kettle is for making Chinese tea of course, and in one hotel we got the full traditional tea service as well as packets of very expensive green tea.

The island is very busy on weekends so ignore the guides and guide books which suggest it is a lovely quiet retreat – it isn’t. The islanders really want to sell to you and will shout into  their mikes to gain your attention. If you want to buy pearls this is a good place but bargain hard. Also check your purchases carefully. Real pearls can be shaved with a knife and they will still have a full sheen with powder coming off. Look also for tell tale lines which indicate they have been made from compressed powder and not grown in the shell. Always beware if the shop owners dash out next door for something with your items as something else may reappear.. especially if it re-appears already packed. My silk gown turned into a polyester gown when a different size was produced from next door! The pearls are available in amazing shapes and colours and I got an amber coloured necklace and the shop keeper made me some earrings to match. In fact if you don’t see what you like these owners will produce some loose pearls for you to choose from to make up into earrings, bracelets or necklaces to your own design. Thus I got them to make a necklace for me with 2 different coloured pearls and then I could have 2 different sets of earrings and one necklace to match. Very economical…

On Gulang Yu there is a small rocky garden where the tourists all make for. It has some nice flowers in pots and is, as usual, built around a small lake. or pond in this case with walkways across it. But it was made out of the mountain side and is very rocky. The rock has been carved into grottos and steps to climb up to see the view from the top. I didn’t climb but sat in the pavilion talking to some PhD students who were practising their English on me…

The Gulang Yu garden and beach for sunning and resting after climbing the steps!

The Gulang Yu garden and beach for sunning and resting after climbing the steps!

Chinese crowds Climbing up gulang yu garden Gulang .yu beach Gulang yu garden grotto 12 auspicious

Xiamen itself is a botanical garden city but a dirty one. This is the only place where we saw a lot of litter around and food dropped on the street, so watch your step. That said there are flowers and plants everywhere as the climate is warm. On the island the temperature got up to 22 or 23 with no rain, but overall it rained much more than it didn’t. The rain kept the humidity quite high as did the sea.

The university we visited had wonderful plants all over and a river running through it. It had 40,000 students across 3 campuses and islands. It had been built on virgin land out of a forest and under a mountain, and thus fulfilled most the external structural elements of a traditional Chinese garden.

Most of the students stay on campus in the week and go home for the weekend here, but at other universities we found that the students can’t go home as they are not local enough. Generally they come from the local State or Region although we met a few Koreans and Vietnamese at the higher ranked universities.

Xiamen uni at Zhanghou

Xiamen uni at Zhanghou

Chinese women, we found on our travels are generally a very friendly band – helpful and appreciated our attempts to speak simply. We got as far  as yes, no, good day, good night, goodbye, and waitress! We kept trying for rice but had some issues with that. Before we come again, we are going to try and learn the language. We have seen a good book which is easy and visual so even if your speech isn’t understood you have a picture to back you up.

Lawn with sculptures of famous people in front of library

Lawn with sculptures of famous people in front of library


5 thoughts on “Xiamen and Gulang Yu: islands and gardens, fish and tourists

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