A Travellerspoint blog

Xiamen and Gulang Yu

View Xiamen and Gulangyu on rdut's travel map.

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to have a five day weekend due to my classes having mid-term exams (None of the other teachers' schedules lined up like mine, so they didn't have the days off as I did. Since I had five days off on a non-Chinese holiday, I decided it was a good time to make my way south to Xiamen, which is on the coast of China across from Taiwan. According to Lonely Planet, Xiamen used to be known to Westerners as Amoy, but neither name sounded familiar to me. Xiamen was recently ranked most livable city in China; it's famous in China for being clean, having nice weather, and nice beaches.
Beach in Xiamen
I managed to get a sweet deal on a flight out of Shanghai to Xiamen, which cut my travel time from 24 hours on the train to 1 1/2 by plane. I had decided that my first couple of days would be spent on Gulang Yu, which is a fairly small island right of off the coast of Xiamen that used to be an old foreign settlement back in the mid 1800's, meaning that most of the buildings are colonial and Victorian style, and not Chinese-looking. The hostel I stayed in actually used to be the German consulate. What makes Gulang Yu special is that cars and bicycles are not allowed on the island.
Now, this may not sound that amazing, but in China, where every second is spent with horns, cars, and jackhammers in the background, it was really nice to be somewhere totally peaceful and quiet. I spent time wandering around the island, eating seafood, and practicing my very limited, but improving Chinese. Since there were no bikes or cars and the fact that fewer people stared at me here, it almost seemed like I wasn't in China. Except for the fact that I couldn't speak the language. And that everyone around me was Asian. Gulang Yu is also famous for the number of classical musicians that are from the island. Supposedly there are more pianos on the island per capita than anywhere else in China. And truth be told, I actually did hear a few pianos, a violin, and trumpet being practiced as I wondered the streets of the island. I felt more cultured just being there!
Me along a "beach" in Xiamen - notice the freeway built over the water (ocean). It's like this for a couple of miles.

After a couple of days on the island and also exploring Xiamen (a 5 minute ferry takes you from the mainland to Xiamen), I hopped on a bus to head inland 3ish hours to an area that contains tulous, which are huge, 3-4 story (mostly) circular compounds made of dirt with wooden reinforcements that entire families live in. They were built this way to keep out invading groups and tribes as well as predatory animals. They only have one big door to get in and out of the tulou, and the usually a huge courtyard with open corridors leading to all of the rooms.
When I got to Hukeng, which was my destination and the jumping-off point to see the many tulou, I ran into a group of three Chinese siblings who asked if I wanted to go with them and the driver they had hired to tour a number of the tulou. We spent the rest of the day being driven to various different tulou ((probably) the oldest one, built in 1308; the biggest one, with over 400 rooms, used to house more than 1000 people; and a famous group of tulous with a square tulous surrounded by four round ones). Xiamen_249.jpgWe then headed back to Hukeng, ate, and then I went to look more closely at the room that I had procured earlier in the day to sleep in that night. I had told our driver that I wanted to stay in a tulou that night (where in Rome...).
A lady showed me a room which consisted of not much more than three beds, a fan, and a light bulb, but it looked fine for a one night stay. Mind you, this would not have been an acceptable room for many people (when I asked the lady where the bathroom was, she walked me about 10 meters down the exterior corridor and pointed to a giant, clay pot. No kidding.), but I survived. The three Chinese that I spent the day with stayed in a normal hotel room and were told by the hotel people that only foreigners stay the night in the tulou... Luckily, after dinner, I found out that the restaurant also is owned by the owner of that tulou and they had a bathroom in the restaurant that I could use, although it wasn't much better at all...). The next day, I toured Hukeng, the town I stayed in that has a number of tulou near each other, and then caught an afternoon bus back to Xiamen for my fligt back to Shanghai the next morning.
It turns out that there are lots of an orange-colored fruit grown in this area, and everyone dries them and then sells them. They taste really good, but I didn't know what I was eating until I got back home and found out that they were persimmons.
All in all, it was a great trip going somewhere that I hadn't known much at all about before I read the guidebooks, but managed to have a great time and see some really interesting things.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Posted by rdut 03:15 Comments (0)

Chi de (Food)

As many of you know, I enjoy eating. And luckily, since landing in China, I have had the opportunity to try eating a seemingly endless variety of food. From eggplant and rabbit's leg to dumplings and fried rice, most of the food I've had has been great (and as many of you know, is nothing like the "Chinese food" in America). However, there are some things that are unique to the Chinese palate that I do not find as appetizing...

Two weekends ago, I was invited by a teacher at my school to go to Tiger Hill, the number 1 tourist spot in Suzhou.
Noah (the teacher), his girlfriend Emily, and Emily's sister Cherry and I spent the afternoon at the Hill, which includes a leaning pagoda (taller and older than the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but is leaning 1° less), and then walked along some canals and had dinner at a Suzhou style restaurant (I was unaware before the invite that the other three had conspired to make this a double-date type things, which I've now found out is quite common with foreigners!
They were all very nice, and in typical Chinese fashion, did not allow me to pay for anything for the day, as they were treating me. For dinner, we had some great food (and one bad item): baby eel (SO good), a fried-corn type thing (in trying to explain what they had ordered before it came, then kept saying "comb" and said that George Bush liked to eat it...), some green vegetables, shrimp, beef simmered with onions, and (the bad item): pig's *something* - I think it was either tendon, hoof, or some other part from the foot, which were essentially big pieces of gelatin (at least I hope it was gelatin and not fat) - I only ate one.

The next day, I was invited to one of Suzhou's gardens by another Chinese teacher and another foreign teacher.
After the garden, the three of us went to another typical Suzhou restaurant where we had bamboo shoots, mushroom soup, eggplant, and chicken foot. Yes, chicken foot. It is a VERY popular dish in China. Our school sometimes serves it as the main course for meals, it's in all of the restaurants, and you can get it shrink-wrapped in the snack aisle at the grocery store. Below is my first attempt at eating chicken foot, which turns out has NO meat, and is just skin, fat, and tendon. To me, not real satisfying, but the Chinese love them. I cut myself off after one.

Today, my 'Coordinator' Heather (each teacher has a Coordinator - a fellow teacher that helps us transition into school, answer questions, etc - I use my coordinator mainly to make phone calls to find hotel rooms and train tickets for me!) had me over to her house for lunch and to meet her 18 month year old son and husband. They are all really nice and fun and we had a great lunch made by her husband's mom who also lives with them. The meal included broccoli, cucumber, beef with bell pepper, shrimp, fruit soup, breaded chicken pieces, and something I'm forgetting. It was a terrific meal; my first homemade Chinese lunch! After lunch we went to Mudu, another water town near Suzhou that has an old section along some canals. Afterward, we went to a restaurant that they like and we had the following: cooked spinach, chicken feet, goose (mainly bones and fat) with chestnuts, tofu soup, chicken's blood soup, snails, and pig's intestines. I tried everything, but needless to say, I ate a lot of spinach. Every time a dish was brought out I thought that there was no possible way that they could have ordered anything else unappetizing, yet they proved me wrong dish after dish. Don't worry though, I was a good sport and actually did fill up by grazing and trying everything. The chicken's blood soup wasn't too bad, but I couldn't get over the thought of what I was eating when it came to the pig's intestines.

I've also had the pleasure of eating stinky tofu, which really is horrible smelling, but tastes pretty good, duck's neck, a still-unidentified body part of a chicken, and some things that I'm sure I'm forgetting.

Overall though, the food in China really is amazing; everything's very fresh, they eat tons of fruits and veggies (as well as a healthy amount of meat). Though I've identified a few things that I'm not real keen on (see above).

I'll update this again soon about last weekend in Shanghai (lots of fun!)... I hope that everyone's voted - I have and I also can't stop reading any and all news stories online about the race. I'm really excited for Tuesday and also a little nervous!

Posted by rdut 04:45 Archived in China Tagged food Comments (1)

Huangshan trip, part 2

View Huangshan on rdut's travel map.

The second portion of my trip south for the National Holiday consisted of visiting some more remote areas of Jiangxi province. After the day of visiting the small city of Yuliang, we went back to Tunxi where I reserved a room for that night. Jon and Emma were planning on catching the night train back to Shanghai to get to a wedding the following evening. Long story short, they ended up staying at the hostel that night as well as the tickets they had purchased were for the wrong day. So, they had to get up VERY early the next morning to try and get to the wedding in time (which they did).

That morning, I headed to the bus station to catch a bus 2 hours south the Wuyuan, which is the main city in the area that I wanted to visit. According to Lonely Planet, this area contains "some of China's most delightful and picturesque" villages in the country. This area has now been discovered by tourists (mostly Chinese), but you can still see many instances of how village life is still the same as it was decades ago. After arriving in Wuyuan safely (which I consider no small feat as the long bus seemed as if it would slide off the windy mountain road at any time), I caught a mini-bus to the village of Qinghua. Qinghua is famous mostly for an 800 year old wooden bridge called Caihong bridge (Rainbow bridge). As you can see, if was pretty nice, and had great scenery of the area. I especially liked the stepping stone dam that doubles as another bridge across the river.
After wandering through the old part of Qinghua among chickens and dumbfounded locals, I caught the bus back to Wuyuan to then get a ride to another of the villages, Likeng, where I planned to stay the night. Arriving in Likeng was like walking into an old Chinese movie, meaning it looked like what I think China should look like - red lanterns swaying about, tucked in the hills with cows and water buffalo grazing along with rice and tea plants, and women washing clothes and gutting fish in the streams.
When I first got to the city, it was swarming with tour groups, but I found a room, and knowing that I had a place to stay, I started wandering outside of the village proper. It was one of the first times since being in China that I was somewhere quiet and peaceful, which was great. Later in the day, the tour groups all headed off to their next destination, and the city became much more pleasant as it seemed that no tourists stay the night in the village. I'm almost positive I was the only waiguoren (foreigner) in the village that night.
The next morning, I got up, wandered around some before the return of the tourists, and then escaped the masses and headed back to Wuyuan. I wandered around Wuyuan for a couple of hours until my bus back to Tunxi at the base of Huangshan, where I met a couple of French guys, Paf and Thomy, who were also staying at the hostel I was to be staying at that night. We wandered around the city, talked, drank, and ate (of course they ordered snails - they're French (they even commented on how stereotypical they were being)!). The next day I had a few hours before my bus back to Suzhou (via Shanghai) and I went to the "Old Street" in Tunxi, which is a preserved street of tourist shops in some really neat old buildings (all the architecture that you see in the pictures of this area are in the Huizhou style, which is special to this region of China).
Then I was on a bus back to Shanghai and then directly home to Suzhou. I got back to my apartment at about midnight on Sunday, just ready to start classes the next morning. Overall, it was a great trip. I was able to see a lot of beautiful areas of China, meet some really friendly people, and eat some great food.

Just tonight I got my first haircut while in China. I walked into a barbershop, and 30 minutes later, I was the owner of a brand new 'do. It actually is a pretty good haircut, and it only cost 10 kuai, or $1.50... China's great! I hope that everyone is doing well and I'll try to update this more often as I need to catch up on my exploits from the last couple of weeks.

Also, I've uploaded more photos into the photo gallery that I didn't post in the body in case you're interested in perusing.

Posted by rdut 06:30 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Huangshan trip, part 1

View Huangshan on rdut's travel map.

All last week was a holiday in China, meaning school was not in session and we had from Monday through the following Sunday to travel. Hence, two other teachers and I decided to travel to Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), about 6 hours South of Suzhou by bus. Of course, with it being a national holiday, most of the country was on vacation, and Huangshan in one of, if not the, most popular tourist destination in China for the Chinese. Needless to say, anytime the previous week we would tell someone we were going to Huangshan, they told us that it would be packed and that we should go another time. We went anyways, and I'm definitely glad that we did. We managed to snag some of the last dorm beds at one of the hotels at the summit of the mountain for one night so that we could see the sunrise, which is supposed to be quite spectacular. After a very early wake up call on Monday, we made it to the town at the base of the mountain Monday afternoon. We visited "Emerald Valley" late Monday afternoon, where many of the scenes in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were filmed, and then prepared to leave early the next morning to hike up the mountain.

The next morning, we boarded a bus to drive us to the spot where the trail starts up the mountain (and by "trail" I mean a paved path - every path on the mountain was paved...the Chinese do love concrete!). According to Lonely Planet, there are three ways to arrive at the summit of the mountain: "the very short, easy way (cable car), the short, hard way (the East steps), and the longer, harder way (the West steps)." Us, being young and fairly intelligent, decided that the East, or easier stairs, would be very crowded with hikers, so we of course decided to hike up the harder, longer way. After 15 km of climbing (and climbing, and climbing, and climbing) nothing but stairs, we arrived at the top of the mountain, but we did get some great pictures along the way (and pictures definitely do not do the scenery justice - this place was amazing).
We checked into our hotel, and relaxed the rest of the afternoon and night. The next morning, we got up bright and early with every single other person that was on the mountain (there are more than 10 big hotels at the top, so there were A LOT of people) to see the sunrise. Since Huangshan is so high compared to everything else around it, the summit of the mountain is higher than the clouds that descend on the area at night, and as the sun comes, the clouds start swirling around and lifting, making a pretty impressive scene.
After the sunrise, we went back to the hotel, slept for a couple more hours, and then went on a 5 hour hike around (and down and up part of) the mountain, and got some more great pictures and views. One of the most impressive parts to me was the crazy paths on some of the hike which consisted of nothing more that a concrete path jutting directly out of a vertical cliff. See pictures below - as you can see, there's only air under the path, and some people were not as impressed (and more nauseous) by this as others (ex: picture of Chinese lady not very happy).
After the hike around the mountain, we then took the shorter path to go down the mountain, although going down 7 km of steep stairs still seemed long enough. This is also the path that all of the porters use to carry up all supplies for the restaurants and hotels at the top. It's amazing to think that these guys climb up and down the mountain multiple times a day.

The next day, we were all sore enough that seeing any stairs made us shudder (and look like we were 75 while climbing them). We stayed once again at the bottom of the mountain and the next day took a day trip to a village (Yuliang) along a river in the area. It was nice and relaxing to wander around and enjoy the relative peace and quiet compared to some parts on the mountain.
One thing not mentioned above is that my modeling career took off while at Huangshan. While at one of the main tourist points on the mountain (the Welcoming Guest Pine - for some reason every Chinese MUST have their picture taken in front of this tree), I was approached by two soldiers in uniform. I quickly thought of the things I had done so far that day that the Chinese Government would not have approved of and decided that I was probably not in trouble. It turns out, there was a professional photographer with them as well and they wanted me to pose for some pictures while the officer pretended to be showing me certain points on the mountain. Doing this mainly involved the soldier pointing at a random point, and me looking and smiling (and continuously being told by the photographer to "smile more"). The photographs below aren't from the photographer - these are thanks to Jon and Emma, who were also having a great time laughing at me while taking pictures of the silly scene. I sure hope their photographer got some better pictures than we did; I think it's safe to say my modeling career may already be over...
My bike is still currently broken - I took it to the repair man today, and it turns out he was almost falling-over drunk. I think that with all its troubles, my bike needs someone working on it that is stone-cold sober. So, we'll try again tomorrow! I hope that everyone is doing well. I'll write about the second half of my trip soon.

Posted by rdut 08:08 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Latest in the bicycle saga

I got back from a week-long vacation late last night and will be writing about the trip (it was great!) shortly. Right now though, I would like to update everyone on the latest developments of my"free" bicycle that I got a few weeks ago. As many of you mentioned, the basket on the front of the bike made a good bike even better. However, I have had continuous problems with the thing and unfortunately the oft-used basket does not make up for these problems. First, the bike simply made lots of weird noises as I rode it around the city. Slowly, most of these noises went away after I found the cause of each noise (usually two metal parts rubbing against each other or something else simple). Next, the bike's seat became way to uncomfortable for me to sit on it (I suspect this is mainly due to the fact that the previous owner was a rather large middle-aged women. Our butts just aren't the same size and shape). So, after installing a new, much more comfortable seat, one of the pedals and the bar connecting the pedal to the gears started wobbling. Two weeks ago, the bar had had enough and rather than falling off, rotated 180 degrees so that it was at the exact same position on the gear as the one that it should be opposite (see figure 1 below for how your pedals should not be (and how mine were)).
Trying to "pedal" down the street right after this happened was not fruitful as it is impossible to get the one pedal (since the two pedals were right next to each other, I might as well have had only one pedal) to turn a full 360 degrees so that I could once again push it to continue moving forward. The people watching me try to move by lifting the pedal with my foot just to push it around to keep going said it all. Even though I am still not used to being stared at constantly in China, at least this time they had a legitimate reason for staring. I would have stared at myself too. I took the bike directly to the road-side bike mechanic (they are pretty much everywhere around China), and they fixed the broken pedal as well as a couple of other little things. After this, things went well for a couple of days. My tires got low, I got a bicycle pump and learned how to use the weird Chinese valves on my tires.

However, today, while going to a fairly close supermarket for some break and wine (my contribution to another teacher's birthday dinner tonight - I fee that already-baked bread and alcohol are the best thing for me to contribute given my complete absence of cooking abilities). I made it to the store successfully, although there was a new noise that had started recently that did not sound promising. After exiting the store though, things went from good to worse. I got on the bike, started pedaling and realized that the pedaling was in vain and that even though my legs, the chain, and the back tire's gear were moving, the wheels weren't. A security guard in the parking lot came up to me, looked at it and we both came to the same conclusion: "wo bujidao" - "I don't know". I then got on the bike and commenced Fred Flinstone-ing it all the way home - me sitting on the bike, and using one or both of my legs to push at the ground to move me along. Although this isn't nearly as fast as actually riding a bicycle, it's quicker than walking and luckily it was getting dark so I couldn't see ALL of the stares that I'm sure I was getting. Tomorrow I'll once again take the bike to the repair-man and see if he know s what's wrong. I'm quickly realizing that I've sunk a fair amount of money into this "free" bike, but at least now I have a nice bicycle seat, a new bike lock and tire pump, and a wrench, hammer, and screwdriver. More tools are never a bad thing.

Posted by rdut 03:08 Archived in China Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

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