Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Fujian, China: In Just Less Than an Hour on Gulangyu Island

Gulangyu or Kulangsu is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in Xiamen, in the Fujian province of southern China.

Pre-wedding photoshoots are very popular on Gulangyu Island.

Monks on a (touristy) field trip. Taking a souvenir photo on the promenade of Gulangyu with the panoramic skyline view of Xiamen as a backdrop.

Known for its rich history and architecture and as an ‘International Settlement’ during the 1840s to 1930s, it attracts a sizable number of tourists every year. It is a pedestrian-only island so people go around on foot. Only gulf caddies and official government vehicles are allowed on the island. Not even a bicycle is permitted to be used.

Apart from the preserved Victorian-style buildings, the island is largely a residential area with a population of 17,000. The residents commute with the ferry to Xiamen which only takes a few minutes.

The foreign enclave obviously has had its glorious days, and today it serves as a remembrance of Chinese foreign policy in the 1800s.

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Taking the bus from downtown Siming to Dongdu Terminal (Port of Xiamen).

Inside the terminal, there is a section only for Gulang Yu.

How to get to Gulangyu Island from Xiamen downtown? Well, very easy.

Only the locals, however, are allowed to make use of the quick 5-minute ferry from Lun Du Ferry terminal. This ferry is exclusive to commuting residents but they do allow everyone else for the last one-way evening rides from the island and back to Xiamen. Thus, during the day, tourists and non-locals will have to take the 20-minute ferry ride from Dongdu terminal. The ferry here goes every 20 minutes, so not bad at all.

From my hotel in Siming District, I walked to Siming Road and took the bus to Dongdu terminal. I do not remember anymore which bus it was but it was nonetheless the bus that ends at the terminal.

Dongdu terminal is big. It does not only serve Gulangyu island but also international destinations such as Hong Kong and Taiwan. In China, these places are considered outside of Chinese territory although they were Chinese jurisdiction in the past.

Buying the ticket to Gulangyu was a quick affair. There is a whole section of cashiers assigned only to Gulangyu destination. While waiting for boarding I checked out the photograph exhibits of the previous residents of the island.

European Christian missionaries in the island, mostly British and Dutch in the early 19th century, with the last photo dated 1930.

A bride waiting for boarding. She is not getting married in Gulangyu. She will be having her pre-wedding photo shoot, a very popular modern Chinese custom.

13 countries enjoyed extraterritorial privileges in the island of Gulangyu, which includes countries from Europe, namely Great Britain, France and the Netherlands. Many Europeans came as Christian missionaries, while others as medical practitioners.

On the island are many stately Victorian-styled architecture buildings in Amoy Deco influence – consulates, schools, hospitals, churches and many other public institutions. These buildings have now been restored and preserved, and many of them have become monuments and museums, perfectly available for public consumption.

To learn more about the island, please go here: Gulangyu Island (Kulangsu)

The ferry had an open deck which was full of passengers. I thought that since the sailing is just 20 minutes I better stay on the deck so I can take pictures but it looked like everyone had the same idea.

Here are the views during the 20-minute sail:

Xiamen coastline skyline panorama.

I really like the modern Xiamen skyline contrast against the traditional Chinese boats.

I am very much looking forward to exploring the island. I knew that I made the right choice of spending a whole day in Gulangyu.

As soon as we arrived at the port of Gulangyu, I quickly checked the ferry schedules going back. Although I do not plan on staying late, I am quite pleased that the boat services are available until midnight.

The first thing I noticed on the island is the panoramic view to Xiamen City. The view alone is worth visiting the island.

The map of Gulangyu Island. Vehicles are off limits on the island, including bicycles.

I just got off the ferry here.

The Gulangyu promenade with benches so you can sit down and enjoy the nice Xiamen skyline. This is a long boulevard with cafes, restaurants, shops, and street (food) vendors.

Although I was able to study the map, I did not really have a good idea where to start. So I just followed the crowds and before I know it I was walking on the main boulevard of the island. Gulangyu I noticed is very well maintained. Spic and span. On the boulevard, I could see many stores, shops, and cafes in pastel-colored European-style architecture.

Not too far ahead I spied a casual outdoors restaurant-eatery selling street-food style fares. A quick inspection led me to buy 2 fried items, a spring roll and prawn cake, which I cannot really say was the best decision, but nevertheless, I have convinced myself that I will always do my best in having an open mind, as well as an open stomach to try new foods.

What is it with street food that draws me to them anyway? =)

I am going to treat myself to an all-day street food affair here on Gulangyu Island. So these 2 fried items are just the beginning of the many all-day snacks I will be allowing myself to enjoy.

I right away hit my first snack of the day. Some morning fried stuff -- spring roll and prawn cake. This wasn't that bad.This was more like a trip down memory lane for me as we had these as well in the Philippines.

Chicken feet, I realized, is a delicacy in Xiamen. These pastel colors houses are very popular with the local tourists in Xiamen.

Speaking of which, after devouring the spring roll and prawn cake, I bought a set of 3 passion fruits. I was intrigued at how they sell the fruit with a straw stuck into it. I have always thought that you cut the passion fruit into two and scrape the fruit and the edible seeds with a spoon to your mouth. But I guess, this is a more efficient way of eating.

As I was paying the street vendor for the 3 passion fruits, I heard a sudden commotion. The street vendor, now very alert, quickly gave me the fruits inside a plastic, and then he took his basket in his arms and ran away, leaving me a bit perplexed.

A couple of distraught street vendors ran past me with their wares. At first, I was worried that they will stumble and fell, but then I thought, why not capture the moment? So I took a picture =).

I did not know what was going on. All that I knew is that I need to document this, haha.

Street vendors running away from the police. 

It turns out that hawking along the boulevard is prohibited. And that the police patrols the area from time to time to evict the street vendors. So it was one of those moments when police arrived and one of the street hawkers managed to promptly send a warning signal to the rest. Voila, they were quick to their feet!

The whole incident reminds me of the summer holiday in Malaga, Spain many years back. The African (migrant) vendors were not allowed to hawk their wares on the boulevard, so they alert each other when there is police patrolling the beach. I have never seen a street vendor pick up his wares (sunglasses, hats, bags all laid out on a mat) in just a matter of seconds!

Life is survival. We all have to earn our keep, don't we?

Knowing that the coast is again clear, the street vendors were in no time taking again their positions on the promenade and offering their stuff to the tourists passing by. Business as usual.

As for me, I am happily sipping the seeds of the sweet and sour passion fruit. Ah, this is exactly what I love about traveling. Trying new things and new food.

Perhaps the most efficient way of eating passion fruit. With a straw =)

Not too far away is a group of monks in flowing red and orange robes, some of them were walking arm in arm and laughing. Interestingly, the group was on a group tour. That small flag can’t be a mistake you know. I have to say that this is the first time for me to see monks on a tour. They were even taking pictures of themselves just like tourists. Who said monks are not allowed to enjoy the pleasures of this world? #notme

Anyway, I was quite tempted to ask a monk to have a picture with me. But I controlled myself and decided to walk further, before I change my mind and get some courage to actually do it, haha.

Buddhist monks on a field (touristy) trip in Gulangyu Island.

Traditional cargo boats waiting to unload the supplies before sailing. Gulangyu depends on these boats for the island supplies.

Then I heard a hasty commotion followed by hysterical shouting in Chinese – I am sure expletives – by a woman. What the heck is going on? Rather, WTF?

I looked around me and 30 meters ahead I see a group of people trying to break away a frenzied middle age woman from a man. She was very upset, her face red with tears flowing down her cheeks. She was desperately clawing him. Another man came to her defense, perhaps it was her husband, but he was also held up by the rest of the group. It was a chaos.

You know, it is very embarrassing to witness physical fighting on the street. When supposedly decent people are caught shouting at each other and ripping each other's hair and shirts with no shame, but I guess, if the people concerned are not embarrassed themselves, then why should I be for them?

Well, it turned out that the man was a street vendor, and perhaps the couple was his customer. Because it was difficult to follow everything in Chinese, I can only surmise that it was a negotiation gone bad case.

Hmm, I think I am very much enjoying this walk on the boulevard. I haven’t been an hour on the island and I have already seen and experienced a lot! Are there more surprises ahead? LOL

The commotion I heard. Fighting on the street.

In my previous posts about Xiamen, I mentioned that the Chinese take weddings very seriously in their culture. They have very strict rituals involving specific gift-giving instructions and observation of dates. There is also the famous bridal dowry.

The new trend in addition to the rituals is the pre-wedding photo shoot.

Pre-wedding photo shoots are usually carried out in dramatic and monumental locations. They can be over-the-top but to the Chinese, the grand the better, which is a sentiment they share with the gypsies who have larger than life weddings. Gulangyu island is one of these popular pre-wedding shooting locations. I must have met more than 5 couples on my day trip to the island.

Well, this is a much better option than shooting inside a fantasy-themed (faux) studio set!

Just one of the many pre-wedding photoshoots I saw in Gulangyu. I quite liked this girl's dress, and I mean the color.

In the old Gulangyu village.

The giant octopus sculpture just outside the Underwater World aquarium.

Stay tuned for my next Gulangyu posts.

Travel Period: December 2016
Destination: Gulangyu Island, Xiamen (Fujian), China

Keep in touch and follow me on Facebook: Travel & Lifestyle Diaries by Dutched Pinay Travels
Happy Travels! Enjoy Life =)

All pictures were taken by a point and shoot pocket camera or a smartphone.

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