I can’t believe the last time we wrote a blog it was about the dragon boating – it seems so long ago! July already and we are in the beginnings of the summer here; the days begin at 30 degrees Celsius (plus) and they continue to warm right up to almost 40, a big thunderstorm in the afternoon/evening, and we begin again in the low 30’s the next day.
The beginning of summer has of course brought the summer holidays, and similar to the winter holidays, we are working extra hours (two or three every day) to run a course for the duration of the summer. All the classes are different, some are in the morning, some are in the afternoon, but we do only get one each (so as not to be overworked in this heat!). They are also different levels, ranging from Kindergarten classes all the way through to senior level and exam classes. Today is day one of this round of courses, so I am sure that we will keep you updated on how they go.
As these courses run across some of our weekend, (we only have one-day-weekends for the next few weeks) we decided that we should go away before they begin, for a bit of an adventure, a bit of a break, and a bit of sun (without so many thunderstorms).
We packed our bags and pootled off on the train to a place called Xiamen – you may remember it from previous blogs – Xiamen is a beautiful university city, famous mostly for it’s beaches and incredible landscaping.
Day one began abruptly; we arrived in Xiamen at around 9pm, tired and hungry after a long day at work, to find all the food places shutting and all the taxis overcharging. We settled in a burger joint called Mos Burgers, that ended up being a high end MacDonalds. After some sleepy antics with packets of ketchup ending up on someones shirt, we headed, zombie-like, into a taxi and finally to our hotel. We found it about half way up a driveway next to a national park, and although our view was of a neighbouring tree, the area was quiet and pleasant. All intentions of going for a walk were abandoned and we all headed straight to bed.
Waking early the next day (around 8 am…. way too early) we headed out to find some breakfast. As we were on holiday, we were attempting to steer clear of Chinese food (Xiamen has a whole host of Western style restaurants) yet the only open restaurants were Chinese! We walked for about an hour, as it had started raining we were both hungry and soggy, to no avail. We finally spotted a bakery that we skipped into.
The woman, by the name of Zoe, was so happy to see us. Apparently they are a new bakery/yoga studio, and so only had a limited stock of bread and drinks. Hangry as we were we were happy to stay for a bagel and a coffee.
Looking around, I spotted some eggs; “She has eggs,” I called to the others, “Maybe we can have eggs on toast?”
“Oh,” Zoe begins, “My chef is out at the shops, I can’t cook eggs…” our faces fell… “but you can cook them if you know how.”
So guess which muppet took an order, boiled some water, and began to poach everyone two eggs on a very good Chinese stove.
The bread was, of course, delicious and sweet. The bagels we ordered were full of cranberries, which made for a strange poached egg and dried fruit combination but was fulfilling nonetheless. Zoe, being so happy to see us, treated us to some incredible Colombian coffee and to finish off we split a strange looking but authentic tasting croissant. If you are heading to Xiamen, we highly recommend yonion/la boulange bakery, do stop in and try their bread, (and yoga, if you’re one of them.)
From here we went for a little walk though a park on an island in the river, albeit a zig-zag path in an attempt to find some water. We eventually left, still dry, and walked in the direction of some shops. An icecream and bottles of water later, we hopped on some pushbikes and headed to a Mexican for some lunch. (N.B. By that I mean a Mexican restaurant, not Mr Fernandez…..)
We entered, still a little full from breakfast, and so ordered cocktails before our meal (I do promise that the sun was past the yard arm) – a “Something With Brown Sugar” and a “Cosmopolitan” later, and after splitting a plate of nachos with our com-padres, we were ready to order delicious, spicy, Mexican food (and of course, another cocktail).
The meals here, Coyote, are large and tasty. They come with Mexican sides, which range from meat-mush-sauce, to beans, to a coleslaw type cabbage and sauce. The waiters and waitresses speak really good English, so it is easy to order around any allergies one may have (which is more difficult in Mandarin than you would imagine), and although the music isn’t to everyone’s taste, the atmosphere is great. Sitting in a booth we managed to whittle away an hour and a half before leaving to experience the afternoon heat. The rain had completely cleared and given way to a bright, sunny, and HOT afternoon.
Where better to go on a sunny holiday afternoon than the beach? And there we headed in a cool air conditioned taxi. Alighting, we realised that no one had hats, or sunglasses, and so stopping at the conveniently placed stalls, we all bought the relevant attire (and another ice cream) before de-shoe-ing and heading onto the sand.
With Callum being the only one with proper swimming attire we stood, jealous, in the shallows whilst he went for a swim. The water was warm and clear of litter, which surprised us all. The beach was busy but not as crowded as we expected, so we set up camp close to the water and did a little bit of sunburning. Here we met a quad of swimmers, all in the same shorts, who were super interested in us. They had spoken a little to Callum whilst they were swimming, and now were hovering around us on the beach.
Without sufficient Mandarin to ask what they were doing we ignored them and let them stare and chatter, and soon enough, as all parents will attest to, they got bored and wandered off.
Little did we know they would return 5 minutes later with a shovel. After convincing one of our group that he should definitely go and help them out with their digging, it ended with him digging a hole – purpose unknown – and the four of them standing around him watching and taking photos on their phones. Soon enough they got bored again and took their shovel back, digging their own hole and burying their friend. Again, we got involved, sending our digging friend over to make boob-like mounds on the Chinese boy’s chest, much to his dismay and their amusement.
They all left, and we went back to our sunburning, having a little chatter and half dozing in the heat, alongside jumping in the back of family photographs (as it’s a wonderful game in China). We were joined yet again, by one of our swimming/digging friends, who had brought us all ice cream (are you keeping count? We are up to three already) and sat to have a broken conversation with us. At one point he handed me his phone and asked me to speak English – the woman on the other end was so shocked that she didn’t speak aside from the odd giggle – and we came to learn that he was from Xiamen, and that he was happy to take us around and about, but not to the place that we were planning to go next because it was boring.
So we said our good byes and headed towards the “boring” temple on pushbikes.
When Callum and I had visited before some of the temple grounds were under renovation, and so it was delightful to see them finished. As with most temples here, it was beautiful, colourful, and lively. Walking into an area that we hadn’t visited before we found astonishing buildings, wonderfully painted, with incredible woodwork, and superbly carved stone shrines. The grounds were filled with trees, and also stairs, and leaving our com-padres sitting on the stairs Callum and I wandered a little further up to a peaceful shrine covered by trees.
How wonderfully the temples are landscaped, with small shrines dotted around and no large central sight drawing crowds, allowing the grounds to remain quiet and peaceful despite probably housing hundreds of visitors. We sat at one shrine for a while, just watching the people come and go, before realising we had left our friends a while back and thinking that we should probably go and find them, but not before we had said hello to a beautiful, large cockerel standing guard by a tree.
Finding our friends and deciding that a shower and some aftersun would probably be best at that point in time, we walked slowly back to our hotel before dinner.
Dinner was at a brewery located in the Art District of Xiamen – ShaPoWei – called Fat Fat Beer Horse. They brew their own beer and gin on the premises, and these are always delicious. The view from upstairs is super, with a light dusting of skyscrapers along Xiamen’s skyline. The burgers are also to die for, and after realising that they do not cook veggie burgers for our vegetarian friend, we sat anyway and played a couple of games of cards before our burgers (and her fries).
From here we vowed to find her some food, so walking along the pier we popped into many restaurants to no avail, in search for a vegetarian option. China is not accustomed to vegetarianism, unless you are Buddhist – and even then you have choice of few restaurants that you may frequent. Needless to say that after an hour and a half of walking around chasing non-existent veggieburgers, and being turned away from closing restaurants, she settled for ice cream (four).
By now our legs were tired, and so we headed for bed again, with a vow that we would be up early enough to visit the island of GuLangYu tomorrow
Waking late on Independence Day, we found the queues at the ferry terminal long, hot, and rowdy. Nonetheless we managed to buy our ticket for the next available ferry and we went for some breakfast of chao mien. We ate it in the sun, sitting outside, with the spray of the water on our faces and the heat of the day at our backs. The food wasn’t bad, and the atmosphere was great. We were all excited to get on the boat and see what the island had to offer.
Heading back towards the check in desk (it’s a little like an airport as international ferries go from there), we found queue after queue after queue. Jumping in one, and Callum in the next, we were winning the race when I realised that we may have been standing for 20 minutes in the wrong queue. So I thought I would ask the guard.
The guard was a guard like any other, middle aged, a little tired, relatively quiet, and good at his job. I asked if we were in the correct queue and he asked to see my passport. Handing it over with my ticket I realised that we were in the wrong queue, and that we would have to stand in another for a long long time.
“Are you alone?” he asked. “No,” I replied “There’s four of us.” We all came forward, the race abandoned, and showed our tickets and passports. “Follow me” he said.
He led us right through the crowd, past check in, and let us right through the gates (not without checking our bags through first, of course). What a cheeky way to skip a queue.
Finally on the ferry we set sail in a somewhat unexpected direction, and landed in a port quite far away from where we planned to be. We started to walk and found a cute little restaurant that offered food for our vegetarian friend (the chao mien hadn’t floated her boat). A delicious meal and an incredibly strong cocktail later and we set off on our adventures.
I believe the pictures here will tell a better story than I, so my blurb is quick.
We visited another beach, wandered the small streets, petted a kitten and a large sleepy dog, bought some coconut cake, escorted our American friend to the Old American Embassy on the island so that we could take a photo of him being an obscene American (it was closed, but did look somewhat like a mini White House), ate numerous ice creams and assorted fruits, walked for miles and miles before all retiring to the next queue in order to come home.
Actually, we forgot to take pictures, so they tell a rubbish story, but it was lovely.
After a long queue for the ferry we made our way to the station, grabbed a quick last helping of western food in an Italian restaurant, and headed for home.
As she does, Sam managed to draw the attention of a free roaming stray toddler on the train who was fascinated with our card game, and insisted he was involved. He had a great time holding his two jokers and running up and down the aisle, and kept us well entertained until we got home.