Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Asian Eyes' China - Fujian Amoy

China map shaped like a hen, with a
leg lifted (Hong Kong) and another 

leg jutted out (Taiwan?)
          Xiamen (厦门), also known as Amoy or its Hokkien version - 'Eh Mng'), remains one of my top favourite cities in China. It is situated by China's southeast coast, overlooking Taiwan Island, separated by Taiwan Strait. Xiamen is in fact closer to Taiwan that anyone outside Fujian would know. Kinmen Islands, famous for its kitchen chopper knife, are being ruled by Taiwan, is less than 10 kilometers away from Xiamen. The closeness to Taiwan had spurred local tour agents to do a "Tour of Taiwan" from Xiamen. Even though technically it is not a hoax, but actually is a boat ride close to Kinmen Island for a glimpse of the Taiwanese island without actually landing on it. I once heard a story about China's shape is like a 'big hen', with a leg standing and the other lifted close to its body. Some said the lifted leg was Hainan island, but other referred it to Hong Kong and Macau which was returned back to China in 1997 and 1999. The other leg is Taiwan, still standing out there. Interesting to note also that since Xiamen is so close by Taiwan, Chinese government had erected a big billboard on its coastline facing Taiwan, to broadcast its political propaganda of "Peaceful Reunification and One country two system" to try to win over her neighbor. To counter this Taiwan erected a similar propaganda sign on Jinmen that faced Xiamen that stated "Three Principles of the People Unite China" - the political philosophy to make China a free, prosperous, and powerful nation.
"Peaceful Reunification" and "One Country 
Two System" billboard propaganda in 
Xiamen, aimed at Taiwan
"Three Principles of the People Unite China",
          After visited Xiamen, I must say in a way Xiamen is similar to Penang,  in fact Penang is one of Xiamen's sister city since 1993.  Both are on a main island, and both have other suburban districts on the mainland. Xiamen consists of  Xiamen dao (厦门岛 - Xiamen Island), Jimei, Tong'an, Haicang and Xiang'an with a total population of over 3.5 million people. Xiamen Island itself has close to 2 million people on an island about half the size of Penang Island. When one visit Xiamen Island, you will feel the crowds, the harbinger, the traffic jams and the high rise apartment buildings. Xiamen and the surrounding southern Fujian countryside are the ancestral home to large communities of overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia and Taiwan. My ancestors came from Nan'an (南安), very close to Xiamen and I still have some close relatives who lives there today. They are no longer in poverty and some are even better off than me!
           The first time I visited Xiamen was in October 2002 via Hong Kong. From the air as my plane approached Xiamen Gaoqi Airport, Xiamen city look brownish and garish, a sign of pollution. Landing at the Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport was a breeze. It is a modern airport with domestic flight terminal on the left and international flight terminal on the right. The first impression of Xiamen Gaoqi airport that caught my attention were those antique planes that hung onto the wall above overhead as we headed towards the immigration counter. The immigration process was a little bit cumbersome but I emerged out of the airport some 30 minutes later, with my fellow colleague in tow. While queuing for the taxi, we were harassed by touts and young chaps who thrust name cards with seductively dressed lady with phone numbers, onto our hands. The taxi service was good and every taxi uses meter - no need to hassle over the fare. Right before my taxi were about to pull out of the airport to my hotel, a young chap, around 20 years old, threw more calling cards into my taxi through the open window. I guess everyone also have KPIs to meet!
         In my previous posting I wrote about 3 culture shock lessons on the very first day itself. The lessons did not stop, in fact the following day I had another one more. That day, after dinner with my Chinese counterparts, we decided to walk to a shopping mall. It was about 10-15 minutes stroll along a busy road. The Chinese drove on the right side of the road like in America, but it was not an issue for me since I am used to America's road system. The honking was incessant, but what worried me most was the electric bicycle that can sneaked up on you without sound and gave you a fright. However what caught me by surprise was not the bicycle. As we neared the shopping mall, from afar I saw a big group of people congregated on a peddler frying some something. Then the smell hit me - the air was putrid and rancid, like someone's smelly socks not washed for ages and mixed with shit. I nearly vomited and had to pinch my nose to stop the inhalation. I cannot place in my memory what those smell was. However as I neared the group, I realized the smell came from the busy peddler frying a food called 'stinky tofu (臭豆腐) '. I have heard of stinky tofu before but never seen or smell or eaten one before. After the whiff, I will definitely not try them even though aficionados claims how good it is and some droll over it. Taiwan and Hong Kong had their own stinky tofu version and each claimed they have the world best. I just cannot force myself to stomach stinky tofu even though it was served in a restaurant setting. There was a rumor that stinking tofu was soak in shit. I hope the rumor came about because of its smell and not true. Yuck!     
Stinky tofu anyone? This food smells strongly, 
like durian or salted fish or heko or belacan. It 
is either one hate it or love it.  

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