Saturday, September 22, 2012

Asian Eyes' China - Xiamen Gulangyu

Ferry is the only option 
for tourist to reach 
Gulangyu from Xiamen 
             There are a number of interesting places in Xiamen that are worth checking out if you are a tourist.  Top on my list is an island off Xiamen Island called Gulangyu (鼓浪屿) which I have visited numerous of times. The Chinese name has musical roots, as 'Gu lang' means drum waves because of the sound generated by the ocean waves hitting the reefs and 'Yu' means "islet". Gulangyu is about 2 square kilometres in area and home to about 20,000 people. It is a domestic tourist destination where one can reach it by ferry from Xiamen Island in about 5 minutes. Gulangyu Island is renowned for its beaches, winding lanes and its varied architecture. The way to enjoy Gulangyu is by foot as this island is a pedestrian-only destination, where the only vehicles on the islands are several fire trucks and electric tourist buggies. The narrow streets on the island, together with the architecture of various styles around the world, give the island a unique appearance. As a place of residence for Westerners during Xiamen's colonial past, Gulangyu is famous for its architecture and for hosting China's only piano museum, giving it the nickname of "Piano Island" or "The Town of Pianos" (鋼琴之鄉) or "The Island of Music" (音樂之島). There are over 200 pianos on this island. In addition, there is a museum dedicated to Koxinga, Haidi Shijie Marine World (海底世界), a subtropical garden containing plants introduced by overseas Chinese, as well as Xiamen Museum, formerly the Eight Diagrams Tower (八卦樓).  
Gulangyu had good spread 
of seafood available
but it's at high tourist price
         I remember my first and third trip to Gulangyu. On the first trip with a Chinese colleague and a Malaysian colleague, we were being pestered by touts selling map or by tourist guides to hire them to show around the island. We were followed, cajoled and pleaded non-stop, one after another, when they saw that we were not accompanied by a guide. To stop the pestering, we finally relented and hire a young guide but we asked her to quietly follow us to keep other guides off. After hiring the guide, our stroll became more peaceful and we can enjoyed the serene scenery and take in the beauty of the island. We went to the museum and marvelled at many pianos on display and at the exhibits of all the past athletes who had won gold medal for China in Olympic games and other international sport events. Then we walked almost round the whole island before finally made our way back to the ferry jetty. We had lunch at a nearby seafood restaurant near the jetty. The seafood was nice but the price was on the high side. After lunch we did some sight seeings in myriad of shops selling souvenirs, foodstuffs, shirts, dried seafood, pearls, umbrella, fans, paintings and bags. I bought a Chinese painting entitled '100 children' for RMB80 after bargained down from an opening price of RMB300.
100 Children painting bought from Gulangyu
        On the third trip there with American colleagues, after the normal tourist sites, they all went to a pearl shop near the jetty.  I did not plan to buy any of the freshwater pearls, so just tagged along. I helped explained the price and the quality to my colleagues. Once they had selected the pearls and the lengths, the proprietor will then strung them into a necklace. Since they buy quite a lot, it took a while to process all the pearls into necklace. Once all necklaces had been strung and payment done, I was the last one to leave the shop. As I about to walk out the pearl shop, someone patted on my shoulder. I turn around to find the shop proprietor. A sweat broke out on my forehead "Oh, oh, what now", I said to myself. Before I can open my mouth, she continued "Today, I am very happy you brought in some many customers to my shop, and thanks to your help in explaining to these Laowai ('foreigner'), I had many sales. Let me know you what type of pearl necklaces you would like". I looked at her, puzzled written on my face, and then replied her "Sis, I do not need anything". However she did not take a no for an answer, and insisted "Sir, I will choose 2 necklaces for you. It is a small token for your help in my shop just now". In the end I relented and chosen a pearl white necklace and a black pearl necklace. I was still dazed when I exited the shop with the pearl necklaces in a pouch in my hand. Later when I confided this story to my Chinese colleagues, they told me that the necklaces were incentives and the shop proprietor may had mistaken me as a tourist guide. However I do not think that was the case - most likely she make a big kill instead. Ah, sweet memory of Gulangyu, tourist guide and pearl necklaces!

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