Thursday, 4 July 2013

China Travel: #13 - In to Xiamen city, China, to see the lights, and have an amazing Chinese meal!


Checking into the 'Hilford' hotel in Xiamen


That hotel name sounds familiar, right?

After a long day on it's time to drop off the backpacks of clothes and such we've been lugging around all day, and check in to our hotel at last! The hotel had some extravagant carvings painted an impressive gold colour -
hilford hotel xiamen china
The Hilto-.... I mean the Hilford hotel in Xiamen!

After we argued ourselves better rooms (better than the initial ones, directly next door to reception and the popular tea room area), we managed to get a very quick rest to get changed after the long day on Gulangyu.

Travel to the Chinese restaurant

We then somehow managed to hail some taxi's, and after working out where we were going, distributed the (very) limited Chinese speakers between the two cars.
When we arrived at our destination, it was back on the sea-shore, and there were lovely decorative lights to be seen all around.

Tree light decorations Xiamen China
Lovely tree light decorations near the seafront in Xiamen.

Step lights Xiamen China decoration
Stair decorations into a large building facing the sea.
Going up the escalator by the side of the lighting up stairs, I make my way into what looks like a very posh restaurant, to be greeted by some of my sister-in-laws old school friends sitting at a table. The table itself is by the window which overlooks the sea stretching away from Xiamen, which must be quite a view in the day. But in the day this meant you could see the lights on Gulangyu island faintly.

Posh restaurant, marble tables

At last, a rest for my well-traveled feet in a Xiamen restaurant

The meal itself is up there with the best I had the whole holiday, which may be partly due to the fact it contained a lot of meat (mmm!).
Although having walked and traveled all day, I hadn't worked up a huge appetite. This was nothing some beer and a lot of very nice food couldn't solve...
And the food just kept coming out. I won't bore you with more pictures of it, but it was great!

Xiamen restaurant chinese food
Plenty of meat and beer!
My niece and nephew were somewhat tired and irritable at this point (as was I!), but luckily, the waiter knew what would solve this problem... a ridiculously large bowl of chocolate ice-cream!

Eventually it got shared around the entire table, and it in-fact tasted more like cocoa-sorbet, if I had to describe it. It was icey and watery, and only slightly chocolately. This was a nice change to the more savoury desserts you find in China though!

ice cream xiamen restaurant china
Mountain of ice-cream

Xiamens Night-Lights and Night-Life

After the food (and beer), we all required a small stroll to walk off the food. Well what we actually needed was bed, but why would you pass on the opportunity to see a major Chinese city at night?

Chinese building xiamen
A large building right next to the restaurant.
I am confused for a moment, when I see a blue shining UFO falling from the sky... which later turns out to be a throwing helicopter style light-up toy being demonstrated by a street seller - 

xiamen at night, china
My brother and nephew looking at a building.

Xiamen lights at night, china
A woman cycling with a trailor that I almost managed to catch an un-blurred picture of...

xiamen night lights city, china
Xiamen night lights, side-street.

Xiamens main street

Here we see the main shopping street that we were walking down in Xiamen. It was great to stare at the city lights at night, to walk between the hustle and bustle, and to see children and parents out at such a late time.

It's so different from any city in the UK that I've been to. No-one was obnoxiously drunk (no, neither was I!), everyone seemed nice, and all of the shops were open!

xiamen shopping street at night, china
Busy Xiamen shopping street with lights at night.

In the next China travel blog post, I go to Xiamens amazing and famous temple, see some monks, lots of tortoises and more!

Saturday, 29 June 2013

China Travel: #12 - Crazy monkey and evil octopus, goodbye at last Gulangyu Island

Back down from sunlight rock, in to the streets of Gulangyu Island

Waving goodbye to Sunlight Rock up on top of the hill you can see below, we travel back in to the town area of Gulangyu Island.

Sunlight rock from streets of gulangyu island

My brother and I stand around watching an artist draw a couple, as several other people take a moment to watch us... 
Walking further through the alleys, I happen across an interesting quote translated from Chinese, which I'm still not all that sure what to think of it -

Chinese quote, gulangyu island

My confusion is interrupted further down the crowded street when I walk past a restaurant. There's a little commotion inside, I peek in and see a monkey running back and forth inside a cage; the poor little thing seemed to have gone crazy.

Monkey, China, GUlangyu island

More authentic Chinese food!

Further into the town I see some more culinary delights, which although not as lively as the foods I pictured in the last post, I chose not to sample. I have had my fair share of seafood here before, although I am not a huge fan of squid and the like!

GUlangyu island grilled squid, xiamen

Here you can see again how crowded this place was, possibly because of its status as a AAAAA rated tourist attraction. You can also see the craze for these straw style hats which all of the street-sellers were selling.

Crowded Gulangyu Island street, China

Do you like beef jerky?

Someone bought some miniature cupcakes. Unfortunately, they tasted almost savoury, but at least they look nice!

I had to take a picture of this little old lady, carrying what I can only assume was her own weight on her back. 

After some pestering, my nephew persuaded my brother to get him a bubble-gun. My brother used his almost-fluent Chinese to haggle the guy down, and to provide batteries.
Unsurprisingly, due to wage and economic differentials between China and the West, there is a tendency for people to try and charge ten times more to Westerners. 
Their shock at meeting an English person who can speak Chinese well usually provokes some funny reactions, and seemed to sometimes bring the price down a bit!

Gulangyu Islands port - time to travel back to Xiamen at last!

After what was a long day walking around Gulangyu Island, this giant evil octopus signalled that the port back to Xiamen was close... 

It really was a long day, and I didn't realise how many blog posts it would be! 

In the next China travel blog post - we get back into Xiamen, drop our bags off finally after the big train journey in the morning, and go to an awesome restaurant before checking out Xiamen's city lights at night.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

China Travel: #11 - Sunlight rock on Gulangyu island, temples and freaky foods!

I hope you like your food fresh

Still on Gulangyu island (off Xiamen's coast, south-east China), wandering through the town part, I notice some restaurants. The food at these seem particularly fresh, in that it is swimming in buckets outside the entrance.

gulangyu restaurant eels
Eels - Are you feeling hungry?

Fresh fish to eat, Gulangyu island, Xiamen
Very fresh fish!

manta rays gulangyu china food
Now I don't believe I've eaten manta rays before.

Now you can't get much fresher than that. After a while here, I decide to carry on, encouraged by the restaurants staff shouting something at me which presumably meant "you picture; you buy".

The interesting foods on offer by no means ended there. In this next picture you can see what else is on offer, whether you need sunglasses, coral, dried snakes, dried sea horses etc.

Dried snakes and seahorses, gulangyu island, xiamen
Dried snake skins, dried seahorses on the shelf, and I don't know what else...

Walking to Sunlight Rock

More walking later, we stumble upon some very nice houses with ornate wooden carvings and green rooves (and another rock which isn't the 'sunlight rock'). 

Gulangyu island temple - Xiamen, China

Walking past these building's, I emerge in a temple or holy-shrine-type area, overlooked by a female Buddha statue. 

Chinese goddess in Xiamen temple
Very nice, a Gulangyu temple courtyard

The temple courtyard area would be a very relaxing and picturesque situation to be in at this moment in time, but that feeling is somewhat overridden by the heat and amount of walking involved. It's still very nice though, relaxation is overwhelmed by a determination to make it to the top of whatever we're climbing, to hopefully find the now mystical 'sunlight rock', which must be amazing if all of these rocks were just bog-standard in comparison...

Next we can see the view that the female Buddha statue has had for probably quite a while:

View of Gulangyu island from temple goddesss statue
Gulangyu Island and the temple, as seen by the female goddess statue

And here we have another view of the skyscrapers in Xiamen, as well as the town on Gulangyu island.

view of xiamen from gunlangyu island
View of Gulangyu Island and Xiamen's skyscrapers

And... At last! I can see where we've heading all of this time, the peak on the island, sunlight rock.

sunlight rock on gulangyu island
The peak of Sunlight Rock

Yes, it is as crowded as it looks, and by now we're pretty high up as you can see by this picture of the peak from the bottom which I posted in the last post:

view of sunlight rock from gulangyu island
Sunlight rock, as seen from below in a courtyard on Gulangyu Island

So, I finally reach the top, after taking a quick picture of what I thought was a funny sign, I took some pictures of the view from all the way on top of sunlight rock, on Gulangyu island:

view of xiamen from gulangyu island 1

view of xiamen from gulangyu island 2

view of xiamen from gulangyu island 3

view from sunlight rock, gulangyu island

Sign text - 

"There is a common saying that "You have not been to Xiamen unless you have climbed Sunlight Rock". The symbol of Xiamen, this 40 meter diameter rock towers over Gulangyu islet, and is popular for its grotesque rocks, natural caves, colorful trees, flowers, and bird's-eye view of both Gulangyu and Xiamen."

On the next China travel blog - I go back down from sunlight rock and walk through the town, seeing even more strange foods.

To be continued!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

China Travel: #10 - Gulangyu island - Zheng Chenggong the Chinese warrior and Sunlight Rock

Walking to the massive statue of 'Zheng Chenggong'

I noticed some writing on the tourist board about the Zheng Chenggong fellow before we caught the ferry, I figure he must be a pretty historically cool dude to have a granite statue over 50 feet tall.

Just as I'm beginning to march towards the statues' general direction, I notice one of the many street sellers with a few people around her. I take a look at what she's doing that's so interesting, and it turns out to be engraving people's names onto colourful shaped rocks as personalised necklaces. I then notice my back-of-mind need to acquire gifts or souvenirs of some kind, and the unspent Yuan burning a hole in my pocket. Unfortunately at this point, it's worth mentioning that my Chinese only stretches a very limited amount past a simple "Nihao" (or, "Hello"), so barging past these people and trying to explain I want a name (which I also don't know in Chinese, conveniently) on a necklace seemed somewhat out of the question. So I carry on walking, and proceed to notice a gentleman street-seller with almost exactly the same store, so I decide to wait for my sister-in-law who, being Chinese, I assume might have more success both translating a name for me, and actually talking to the street seller at all. And all goes swimmingly (pictured).

China street seller, gulangyu, xiamen
Chinese street seller carving personalised necklaces!

Yes; Zheng Chenggong is a badass

A little later, I reach some kind of garden entrance, and as there are official looking people standing at the gate, I approach confident in the knowledge I am armed with some kind of 'access all areas' ticket (ok maybe not at all as glamorous as that). They stamp the appropriate section of the ticket, relating to what soon turns out to be a garden dedicated to telling people about the awesomeness of Zheng Changong. And I will certainly not be one to argue, as it appears he was a great soldier, particularly judging by what I deemed to be a 'Lord of the Rings' level brass cast (pictures below) statue of him and his buddies, riding to war. Not only that, but some inscribed rocks are telling me (they seem to be popular, by the way) that he also writes poetry.

Zheng Chenggong cast, Gulangyu island, Xiamen, China
Giant cast of Zheng Chenggong and his cavalry buddies!

Zheng Chenggong on Gulangyu Island
Closeup of Zheng, he's pretty tall...

A quick browse of his past exploits quickly shows that Zheng Chenggong is also known as "Koxinga" popular and revered in China, Taiwan and Japan. This is weird because apparently Zheng was born in Japan, and there is a well known animosity between these two countries. So why do both appear to regard him as a hero? Well, during his apparently exciting life, some of it was in fact spent defending Chinese shores from Dutch invaders.

Stone carved steps on Gulangyu island, China
Stone carved steps up to the statue area

Koxinga statue, gulangyu island, xiamen, china
Walking up to the 'Koxinga' 

Eventually I make it up to the statue, and after marvelling at its size and comparing shoe sizes, I make my way down to the shore to get a better view of the statue from a better vantage point.

Zheng Chenggong statue, gulangyu island, xiamen
Zheng Chenggong statue, in all of its glory!

zheng chenggong, xiamen, gulangyu island
Zheng Chenggong wins in the foot size department

gulangyu island, xiamen
Going to the purpose-made statue viewing point...

Zheng Chenggong statue, Gulangyu Island, Xiamen
Quite a large rock, Gulangyu seems to have some sizeable rocks, if the legendary Sunlight Rock lives up to its name...

Into the town, towards 'Sunlight Rock'

Walking around the tourist trail further in to the island itself, it begins to seem more like a town. We go past some music schools and museums, which the island is apparently famous for, and many street sellers and shops. It's then that I begin to notice some culinary delights... Like squid on a stick (right)! 

Chinese food, xiamen, squid
Squids on sticks, and other delicacies.
There was a quite impressive stone carved wall of dolphins in water, outside what I assume was another music school, and by now I'm beginning to notice my feet ache a bit.... That is until I notice these poor guys dragging a big trailer of beer crates up the street I was walking down.

chinese dolphin carvings gulangyu island xiamen

Chinese men pulling bud ice beer cart, gulangyu island
Poor guys, I hope they get to drink it at the top of the hill...

Next I happen across a big rock next to the sea, and wonder whether it's the "Sunlight rock" I noticed while glancing at the tourist board before catching the ferry, but then a quick look behind me shows me otherwise.

big rock gulangyu island xiamen china
Not sunlight rock.

 In the distance I see a small mountain-type-structure rising up, with people at the top of it, so I make this the new destination, assuming it to be Sunlight rock...

sunlight rock, gulangyu island, xiamen, temple
Sunlight rock in the distance

In the next China travel blog post, I make my way to Sunlight rock!