So before I start, I must make a mention to my friend, James Buckley, who died this morning in hospital after a long battle with cancer. My thoughts are with you, Amy, and your two wonderful children.
What a horrible piece of news to return to after a great girly weekend 171 miles south in the sunny (and incredibly warm) city of Xiamen! I apologise, therefore, if this post is tinged with sadness.
To reach Xiamen we travelled on a high speed bullet train (in first class!) at 207km p/h. The ride was incredibly smooth, even so much that you could pour a rum and coke on the passenger tables. We arrived a little merry, and with only two out of fourteen of us knowing where the hostel was, and only about 4 being able to speak enough Chinese to converse with taxi drivers, we inevitably got lost. Finding ourselves, drunk, without an address, and incredibly hungry, the three from our taxi sent out a distress signal and headed towards a McDonalds (which are EXACTLY the same as back in the UK except they deliver 24 hours a day).
After being rescued, we reached our cute little hostel and checked in, before a quick change of clothes, back in a taxi, and going out for a night on the town. The club we were being led to was in a pedestrianised complex of restaurants and bars. Needless to say, we were lost again, though thankfully this time, as a whole group.
The club appeared as a very spectacular building, with green marble walls, floor to ceiling velvet curtains, huge baroque paintings (all real) on the walls, and gold plate around the marble columns. Down a similarly adorned corridor there appeared a metal detector, and the music. House music could be heard at an uncomfortable level, and that did not ease as we came further to a room (without a ceiling) lit with lasers and large televisions in the place of walls. You could feel the baseline in your heart. It was super difficult to breathe (as you’re still allowed to smoke indoors here). But, we did get two free bottles of whiskey and a crate of 24 beers just for being white, so we stayed. It was an incredible experience; half naked dancing girls could be bought to dance on a podium set up at your table, a female Chinese rapper appeared on stage and rapped (incredibly well) in English, and there was a club-wide procession if you bought a very expensive bottle of liquor. A beautiful woman in blue was even auctioned off on the centre stage.
On our way home I saw my first “dog diner”; a shop with large pictures of dogs lit up in the windows and a Labrador in a cage out the front. It was an incredibly sad sight, especially for the vegetarian with us. Not wanting to eat in that area, we jumped in a taxi and asked the driver where we could find food at such an hour. He dropped us close to our hostel, assured us that there was a KFC/McDonalds around and about, and drove off. The only place we found open was a clothes shop.
The hostel staff were more than happy to try to phone for take away for us, but without luck we ended up making egg fried noodles in the hostel kitchen with food that we had been given by the staff but that wasn’t ours. They didn’t even charge us, though I suspect it was because we drunkenly washed up everything we used.
Upon waking the next day I met a beautiful lady who worked in the hostel. She was drawing amazing pictures in a sketch pad whilst she had nothing to do. We thought we could help with her boredom, so drew her away from her artwork to cook a wok-full of “American Breakfast”‘s for us. We headed from there to a pub run by an Irishman, called The Londoner. With Guinness on tap and the first savoury pastry pie I have found in China, we were quite at home. We had picked up a guy called Ed at the hostel (who was quite happy to come drinking with 14 girls) who just so happened to have a pack of cards, and we spent the afternoon drinking and beating him at cards.
Not wanting to go clubbing again (no amount of free booze will make me do that again), a couple of us and Ed headed out to “Shapowei”; the Art Quarter of Xiamen. No one walks in China (because transport is so cheap) and so we decided that a nice evening walk there was what we needed. Ed assured us that Shapowei was through national parkland built around a disused train line. Although it was no wider than 20 feet, it was beautiful. There were pergolas, and artwork all along the walls when we weren’t fenced in with hedges. The streetlights all worked, and it was busy. It’s definitely a place I’d revisit, and maybe attempt to walk the length of it.
We reached Shapowei with no issues, and had to walk all through the Art Quarter to find the “FatFat Horse” brewery and bar we’d been recommended. If anyone reading this is visiting Xiamen; visit the art quarter. It’s wonderful and reminded the three of us of Camden Town.
Finally finding FatFat Horse, we were disappointed. It was closed. As one of us set about on the phone to a friend-who-knew-a-guy-who-works-or-used-to-work-there-but-maybe-doesn’t-work-there-now, I approached the front doors. Inside was a little dog, and I called him over. He loved playing through the glass and under the front doors where there was a sizeable gap. His owners saw he was missing an came to the doors, “Are you here for the party?” they asked.
“No, we were recommended this place and wondered if we could eat here?” I replied.
“Sure,” she said, “Come on in”. And that was how we wangled FatFat Horse into opening up for us.
We were certainly not disappointed. Their craft beer was all brewed upstairs using old industrial equipment; the site of the bar used to be an old ice factory. We tried all 12 of their beers on tap, and when we were hungry they bought us German made burgers the size of our heads. I will say now that it was the best burger I’ve had this side of Germany. As we were about to leave to meet up with the others (who had been to a 5* restaurant all-you-can-eat-and-drink buffet), the owner approached us with a pitcher of beer. “This is from your friend”, she says. The friend that recommended us the bar, the friend that was a hundred miles away, the friend that is in the biggest punk band in China. Sometimes, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
From FatFat Horse we walked to a bar called Phoebe’s, where we met up with the rest of the group. We played a lot of pool and table football (that the Canadians we were with called Foozball), before I finally conceded and made my way back to the hostel.
Final day/day three, I slept in. It was wonderful to still be in bed at 12midday, and to chill out. We left the hostel shortly after, visited a Mexican restaurant that was delicious but expensive, and bullet-trained it home (I even slept on the train!)