Friday, 3 October 2008

National Day Holiday

October 1st is National Day in China, a day to celebrate the forming of the PRC. It is also a time when a massive proportion of the 1.4 billion people in the country have a holiday for three or four days -- this year I was one of those people.

A rare spark of generosity meant that I had a completely free time courtesy of Web International English. The decided locations were Quanzhou and Xiamen, the latter being the place Kimi and I wanted to travel to anyway. Just like our previous outing to Wuzhen and Xitang every single detail of the trip was planned, including coach, food, hotel, sightseeing spots, and duration of stay in each place. This makes for an easy ride and fulfilling holiday, but results in a very tiring experience due to the constant moving and lack of down time to relax. We had three days to cram in our trip, here is how we did it....

Day 1

Once again Kimi and I had to wake up very early (5:40 this time) to arrive at the coach on time for it's 6:40 departure. It was much less of a rush than previously because the coach left from outside the International Hotel (where I work) which is only a ten minute walk away from my apartment. Most of my workmates from Web had come on the holiday which was very pleasant to see, although only Chuck and I from the "foreign teachers" had decided to join in for one reason or another. Everybody on the bus seemed excited, some were very excited indeed. We left promptly and the eight hour journey commenced. We watched a few films, tried to sleep, and listened to the horn....a lot. By about two o'clock we finally arrived at our first destination, Quanzhou.

As we were entering the city I began noticing a large array of stone statues, all kinds of things from dragons to emperors. I guessed this must be the trademark of the city. We were dropped off outside a stone archway which was the entrance to what seemed like a large park. Although it was quite warm the unique feeling of sea-air was brushing against my face, then in the distance I caught a glimpse of the water reflecting the sun above it. As we began our approach into the park we were introduced to some traditionally dressed Quanzhou women. Apparently the women will only show you their ears if you are married or will get married to them. We didn't see one male worker here because another ancient tradition is that the men stay at home all day and the women go out to work (seems fair enough to me).

Traditionally dressed Quanzhou women

As we walked further the genuine culture we had witnessed seemed to wear off rapidly. More and more stone constructions kept popping up: cats, books, dogs, laughing Buddha's, it was neither culturally nor historically relevant in the slightest. On top of that, all of the statues were practically brand new. These thoughts disappeared in a second when I saw the beach and the sea.

We sneaked away from our tour group and walked around some large -- mildly dangerous -- rocks (see right). This brought us to the beach, which for some reason instantly reminded me of Scarborough. It is obviously quite different, but the shape of the coastline is almost identical and they even share castle-type buildings in the distance on top of their respective cliffs (see below).

On the left, Quanzhou, China, on the right, Scarborough, England

Me filming (taken by Chuck)

Kimi's feet in the sand

Kimi looking very happy after playing in the sea (taken by Chuck)

The paparazzi found me on holiday (actually taken by Chuck)

After spending some time admiring the beach and taking in the breeze, Kimi and I stumbled upon an area of hammocks. We gave them a go and relaxed for half an hour.

The hammock area, 1 RMB for five minutes

View of the trees from the hammock

Our time relaxing by the beach was over far too rapidly and we were called back to the coach to make our way for the next stop: a temple (there are always temples). After weaving around the city for some time, we arrived outside the temple to find that it was closed. The plan was to come back again in the morning to see it. We backtracked away and headed for dinner. The pre-planned food for the holiday was identical to our previous trip: quick, easy, cheap Chinese food. I left the restaurant still feeling hungry, but next stop was the hotel, so back in the bus we climbed.

First impressions of this hotel were a little better than our previous experience in Xitang, although I've learnt not to trust my instincts too much now. When we opened the door to our brown and pine 1970's furnished room (complete with brown leather sofa), Kimi instantly saw a cockroach scuttling away from the light -- brilliant. We threw down our bags, exited the building, and strolled around the area looking for places to eat. In the end our choice was a Japanese chain restaurant, I ate sushi and deep-fried cheese rolls.

It was back to the hotel and straight to sleep, for another early rise was ahead of us the next morning.

Day 2

The plan was to get up early, eat breakfast in the hotel (more cheap Chinese food) and head back to the temple. Instead Chuck, Kimi, and I bought a McDonald's breakfast and ate it on the coach while everybody else looked around the temple. In hindsight we definitely made the right choice. By the time I had finished my Egg McMuffin they were all finished and climbing back onto the bus again anyway.

Our time in Quanzhou was over, and the short journey to Xiamen would begin. It took about one hour in all, but for most of the time the tour guide was telling us a bunch of facts about the city. For example, Xiamen is the cleanest city in China and the word 'tea' originates from the ancient local dialect. I will be googling those facts later.

First stop was another temple, if one wasn't enough for one day already. Next door to this particular temple is Xiamen university, one of the most famous in China. Once again we decided to leave our tour group and check out the local uni. It was quite spectacular, like a small fortified city. Inside the grounds there were lakes, trees, green grass, and even a private beach.

The grounds of Xiamen university

Relaxing with one of the students (taken by Chuck)

Angel and Chuck

The halls of residence -- for years 3 and 4 only

We walked through the grounds of the university with Chuck, Angel (his girlfriend) and Grace (my manager) and her fiancé. We were about to cross over a bridge to take a look at a beach when Grace received a phone call from our boss, -- who had surprisingly decided to join us on the holiday with his wife and daughter -- we were late. He told her that everybody was waiting for us. We speed-walked and ran back through the school grounds, dodged each water sprinkler, and weaved through some of the holiday traffic. Finally we arrived outside the temple entrance and found our group who were mostly wearing white "I love Web" caps.

The bus was now becoming a second home, and we piled back on and headed for a mainstay of Chinese tourism and complete ripping-off -- the tea house. I was told that this kind of activity is simply for the tour guide to make some real money off the tourists. For the third time in two days we quietly crept into the shadows and ran away. This time to an unusually quiet beach next to the tea building. Why this area was completely ignored by the guide is beyond me. The islands we could see from this beach -- and later Gulangyu Island -- are all owned by Taiwan. On a clearer day it's also possible for Taiwan itself to be seen from Xiamen.

A fortuitously calm, quiet beach

Me looking wind-swept

The strict schedule had to be kept and we weren't going to be late this time. We entered the tea house and waited for the group to come out of the money-grabbing tour. I stood observing the area and noticed a picture of a familiar figure on the wall, it was Margaret Thatcher. It seems she had visited and drunk tea at this very place a good few years ago.

For the hundredth time in the holiday, we were back on the bus and headed for the next stop: Gulangyu Island, famous for it's history of British and European inhabitants.

To get to this island we had to get on a large ferry boat that took us across the water. Usually this would be no problem, but considering it was holiday time this meant for complete chaos. Standing in the waiting area for the boat to come was what I imagine cattle feel like when they are jammed together in a farm. Worse still, when the doors opened people were barging, pushing and desperately trying to get into the boat as fast as possible. At this point I stuck my elbows out and moved with the traffic. Once on the boat it was actually quite pleasant, although it became clear that October in Xiamen still meant soaring temperatures of plus 30 degrees.

I was expecting the island to be a tour of European architecture from the
1800's -- and it was later -- but for some strange reason our group was forced into another queue for something completely different. We were queuing to see a dolphin show. I have mixed feelings about these kinds of shows, I have no idea what situation the animals themselves are in and I can't enjoy watching them thinking that their lives could be better spent in the wild. There was no way out this time, we were trapped. A short sea lion and dolphin show commenced while security guards continually shouted down mega-phones to get people to sit down on their seats for the duration. After the show ended we were taken around an aquarium which we quickly got out of -- it was starting to feel claustrophobic with so many people around. Outside we were given the opportunity to see some real interest, a group of fishing boats attempting to dock.

A group of fishing boats arriving from Xiamen to Gulangyu Island

After a long stroll, the call came through that our group should meet and proceed to the tour of British and European buildings. By this time a large majority of people had purchased some massage sticks that when hit, made a fairly annoying sound that would continue until returning back to Wenzhou ("clack, clack, clack").

At the meeting place with (from far left to right) Lisa, Erin, Candy, Pinky and Olive (taken by Chuck)

A church -- one of the many European buildings on the island

Unfortunately I had succumbed to wearing the "I love Web" cap too

We walked and walked and walked until we came to one of the piano museums which Gulangyu is also famous for. It was interesting to see so many varieties of piano -- no photos allowed unfortunately -- and it was impossible to touch any of them, not even one. Outside of the museum we walked across a small bridge to another beach. Here we could relax at last, but this was a very difficult task due to the millions of people crammed onto the sand (can you see a recurring theme here?).

The bridge from the piano museum to the beach

Not quite as peaceful as one would hope

We didn't stick around for too long on this particular beach, and instead found a quieter grassy patch to lie down on for a few minutes. Of course, as soon we relaxed the time flew by, and we were approaching the meeting time for the ferry boat back to the mainland. I was completely disorientated and had no idea where we were on the island. We began in one direction and found ourselves in an old European-looking town. All of the buildings were shops and restaurants, it was a lovely sight, even though we were running right through it.

Just a few minutes late, we managed to scramble our way back to the dock -- there were one or two people there, you could call it a bit of a crowd.

Just a quiet day at the dock (taken by Chuck)

The boat arrived and the chaos began again, this time because there were even more people it meant more pushing and shoving. By the time others had sacrificed limbs to get on board, a few of us were left freely on the dock to wait for the next one. Looking into the cage of people who were still trapped behind us, it really did make my image of cattle come to life.

Factory farming

Once back on the mainland we checked into another hotel. I was initially nervous but completely surprised by the quality of this one, it was actually....nice. We went for dinner with most of the group in a famous Xiamen restaurant, walked up the large shopping street called Zhongshan Road, and finally collapsed in bed at the hotel, exhausted.

Day 3

There really wasn't much of a third day of the holiday. We awoke at about 9 o'clock, made the most of the free breakfast buffet (they actually had toast and butter), walked around the local area looking for any interesting sights and met back at the hotel entrance at 11:30. We promptly left Xiamen and began the final eight hour journey back to Wenzhou. It was much more uncomfortable this time, backs aren't built for constant coach travel. Finally we arrived outside the International Hotel in Wenzhou at 9pm, drained and hungry.

** I am obliged to point out that all photographs were taken by Kimi and Chuck (where marked). I was on filming duties for the holiday, I hope to have an edited video finished and uploaded soon. I must stop writing these huge blog entries, I get carried away far too easily.

1 comment:

大眼睛熊 said...

Haha,u finally finished it!!
This was a nice trip,Xiamen's such a beautiful city surrounded by the sea,i'd like to visit it again sometime,by AIRPLANE!!